Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell, 1788-1879

Titles by this author
The ladies' new book of cookery : a practical system for private families in town and country; with directions for carving, and arranging the table...
The good housekeeper : or, The way to live well and to be well while we live : containing directions for choosing and preparing food, in regard to ...

Sarah Josepha Hale was born in Newport, New Hampshire, the third of four children and the daughter of Martha Whittlesey and Gordon Buell, who had been an officer during the American Revolution and was an innkeeper. Raised by a mother who valued education, intelligence and literature, Hale received her education at home, aided by her older brother Horatio who guided Hale's studies based on his own work at Dartmouth College. Hale started a private school for boys and girls in 1806. In 1811, tuberculosis claimed the lives of her sister and mother, who died on the same day. She continued teaching for two more years, and married David Hale, a New Hampshire attorney, in 1813. They enjoyed a happy marriage, but in 1822, when she was two weeks away from giving birth to the couple's fifth child, her husband died of pneumonia. Left with five small children, the eldest only seven years old, Hale turned to writing to earn an income.

She published her first book of poetry in 1823, entitled The Genius of Oblivion, and her first novel, Northwood, in 1827. Her Poems for Our Children (1830) introduced the world to her nursery rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb." By this time, Hale had moved to Boston to edit a woman's magazine called Ladies' Magazine, a position she held from 1828 until 1837, when she joined Godey's Lady's Book as its editor. Through her editorship at Godey's, which she held for forty years, Hale became famous. Her editorials generally bespoke the conservative attitudes of the day concerning woman's duties, privileges, and place in nineteenth century America; Hale advocated the idea of "separate spheres of influence," and was not in favor of woman's suffrage. One contemporary of hers, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, would later call Hale's career "a tribute to the respectabilities, decorums and moralities of life, devoid of its enthusiasms." But Godey's founder, Louis Godey, would not allow strident or controversial opinions that might upset the paying readers, and Hale herself was conformist by nature, not a reformer. As one account explains, "Unlike many nineteenth-century feminists, her early ideas were the product not of the reformist 1830's and 1840's, but of the remote Jeffersonian and even Federalist eras, when woman's rights was still a distant prospect." However, Hale did advocate for women's interests; she spoke out in favor of improved education and property rights for women, the freedom for women to pursue a livelihood when necessary, the importance of exercise for women, the efficacy of training women doctors, and, despite contrary religious opinion, the improvement anesthesia would provide in the lives of women faced with childbirth or a medical operation. She helped many woman writers get their start, and hired women as writers and employees at the magazine.

Hale led Godey's Lady's Book to prosperity; by mid-century it was the most widely read magazine in America. Hale also authored and edited close to fifty books during her long career, including the two in this collection, The Good Housekeeper, or The Way to Live Well and to Be Well While We Live (1839) and The Ladies' New Book of Cookery: A Practical System for Private Families in Town and Country (1852). Both cookbooks were innovative for their time. The Good Housekeeper, which sold 2000 copies in its first month of publication, reiterated the theories of the day on digestion and diet based on Dr. Andrew Combe's principles of dietetics and Dr. William Beaumont's digestion experiments of the 1820's. The Ladies' New Book of Cookery continued this approach, stressing the relation of food to health, but also including rich dishes appropriate to a middle class readership interested in entertaining, and some international dishes, such as chicken curry from Bengal and a Portuguese dressing for tomatoes. Hale published other cookbooks as well, all of which went through many printings. She also revised an important contemporary English cookbook, Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery in All Its Branches, adapting it for an American audience. The most enduring work Hale compiled and edited was a 900-page reference book entitled Woman's Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women from "the Beginning" till A.D. 1850 (1853, updated 1855, 1870), a biographical dictionary with entries on more than 1,600 women that remains a valuable reference source today.

Hale led many public-minded causes, including funding the completion of Bunker Hill Monument and preserving Mount Vernon as a national shrine. She founded the Seaman's Aid Society, which provided women with employment and housing cooperatives, job-training and free libraries. She also sponsored a charity called Fatherless and Widow's Society, to alleviate the financial problems of poor women caught in circumstances she once experienced. Her most far-reaching cause, the one that directly affects most Americans today, was her long and successful effort to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In her novel Northwood, she describes a Thanksgiving dinner with roasted turkey, stuffing, a sirloin of beef, leg of pork, loin of mutton, gravies, vegetables, ducklings, goose, chicken pie, pickles, preserves, butter, wheat bread, plum pudding, custards, cake, sweetmeats, and "pies of every name and description known in Yankee land; yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche." As historic cookbook curator Jan Longone points out, recipes for all of Hale's Northwood dishes are contained in The Good Housekeeper.

Hale retired from Godey's at the end of 1877, less than two years before her death in Philadelphia at age ninety. As a nineteenth-century woman born the same year the U.S. Constitution took effect, Hale's remarkable rise, her long career, and her influence in the area of woman's periodicals and American culture make her a leading figure of historical study.


  • Boyer, Paul S., "Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell," Notable American Women 1607 - 1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 2. Ed. Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • Hale, Sarah Joespha, The Good Housekeeper, or The Way to Live Well and to Be Well While We Live. Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Company, 1839.
  • ---------The Ladies' New Book of Cookery: A Practical System for Private Families in Town and Country. New York: H. Long & Brothers, 1852.
  • ----------Early American Cookery: "The Good Housekeeper," 1841. With a new introduction by Jan Longone. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996.
  • Kitch, Carolyn, "Hale, Sarah Josepha," Women in World History. Vol. 6. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, 1999.

Written by Anne-Marie Rachman