Honoring of Woman of Letters
James Holmes of New York City shows his daughter, Catherine Holmes, 15 months, the cutout of Mary and her lamb at the Sarah Josepha Hale Memorial in Newport, N.H., on Nov. 23, 2013. Catherine Holmes' grandmother, Patricial Hale McLain, is the great great great granddaughter of Sarah Josepha Hale, the author Mary Had a Little Lamb" and person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday, among many other influential acts.
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Sarah Josepha Hale, played by Sharon Wood, describes her life to attendees of the dedication of Sarah Josepha Hale Memorial Park in Newport, N.H., on Nov. 23, 2013.
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Newport — In a small park next to the Richards Free Library, the steadfast visage of literary legend Sarah Josepha Hale gazes out across the town common, an image residents hope will inspire future generations of strong women leaders in New Hampshire and beyond.
Arguably Newport’s most famous resident, Hale, born in 1788, is best known as the author of the poem that inspired the nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb, editor of one of the most important women’s periodicals of the 19th century, an advocate for the completion of the Bunker Hill monument in Boston, the writer of some 30 books — including one of the first American novels to criticize slavery — and of course, as the woman who persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
On Saturday, the Sarah Josepha Hale Memorial Park was dedicated in her honor.
Peter Irwin, chairman of the Richards Free Library Board of Trustees, said Hale “greatly influenced American culture in the 19th century, and we still hear her influence 150 years later, particularly at Thanksgiving.
“It is our hope that this sculpture park will be visited by people from every walk of life, and that it will be a reminder to the citizens of Newport and the world at large that anyone can achieve greatness, as long as they are willing to follow the example of Sarah Josepha Hale,” said Irwin. “Be determined, be willing to step outside of your comfort zone, and have faith in the basic American values of education, care for the welfare of others and working at all times for the good of the country.”
Michael York, New Hampshire’s state librarian, said that the park will be New Hampshire’s first national literary landmark. York said that, “as is often the case, people with many accomplishments and important accomplishments will be remembered by the less, and even least, important of those accomplishments.”
While all of the above solidified Hale’s place in history, York said, perhaps her most important accomplishment was the work she did with the authors as an editor of influential 19th century periodicals. York said Hale worked with authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and helped them to find an audience.
It is that impact, he said, that is addressed by the park’s literary plaque.
Patricia Hale McLain, the great-great-granddaughter of William George Hale — son of Sarah Josepha Hale — was especially moved at the ceremony, which she described as “wonderful.
“I’m almost in tears,” said McLain.
McLain, who made the trip up to Newport from New Orleans just to attend the event, said she has always admired Hale growing up.
“I grew up hearing about her my entire life,” she said.
Many at the ceremony remarked that they hoped such inspiration would now be imparted to all of Newport’s children.
Newport resident Mary Lou McGuire said the most important part of the monument is that it “will hopefully give the younger kids an idea of the legacy that Newport historically has had.
“Especially, if they could see that someone from little old Newport could rise to this stature,” said McGuire. “I hope that — whenever they see it — it will be a visual reminder that you can do this too if you really put your mind to it.”
Bruce Cronin, who was raised in Sunapee but lived in Massachusetts before retiring back to his native community 13 years ago, described the sculpture as “beautiful.” He said that Newport “has the reputation of a blue-collar town, a working class town, but the interesting thing is that there’s a lot of culture and a lot of history.”
“What I like about Newport is its diversity,” said Cronin. “It’s not just one socioeconomic group here. You feel like you’re in a real town, a normal town. Some places tend to be more heterogeneous.”
Given that Newport has a “mix of many different people of different interests and different educational backgrounds, I think this keeps us in line with our cultural influence here.”
State Sen. Bob Odell, a Newport-area Republican, also spoke at the park dedication, describing himself as a “history buff.
“I like to think of the people that trod these roads and these byways and backwoods back in the time of Sara Josepha Hale,” he said. “The idea that she would have known this town, she would have known this Main Street, she would have known the intersections, she would have known some of the covered bridges. She would have understood the culture and the kinds of people who lived here, worked here, and people from various parts of the world that ended up here.”
Odell continued, “I think this celebration of her life is such a reminder that we can inspire other generations of children and grandchildren that come after us, that this memorial could be something of a symbol of the opportunity that exists in this part of the country and in the United States of America.”
Barry Williams, of Sunapee, said he has long been an admirer of Hale’s, and is always reminded of her around Thanksgiving. For the past five or six years, he said, he’s gone over to the historic marker where she lived on Thursday morning each Thanksgiving Day.
“Sadly, nobody shows up and I’m the only one,” he said.
For Williams, the sculpture is about the accomplishments of Hale, which he said are especially remarkable given the time period she lived in.
“She was a real leader and a real example to other women,” Williams said. “She was proof that women could do what other men though they couldn’t.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.
Republican state Sen. Bob Odell represents the Newport area but is from Lempster, N.H. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect hometown.