Blogging Along the Brandywine


Seventy years ago, in November 1939, there were indeed two
Thanksgivings–one week apart. And the diary of a Chadds Ford woman bears
witness to this fact.

I had never heard about this odd blip in American history
until I was reading the diaries of Hanna Carmack Sanderson.

Born in 1856, Hanna lived with her son Chris as tenants of
Lottie Brittingham Eachus in the back wing of what is now Chadds Ford’s
Sanderson Museum.  

In Hanna’s 1939 diary, Thursday, Nov. 30, is preprinted with
“Thanksgiving Day”, but at the top of the page, Hanna’s handwriting noted,  “moved up to 23.”

What did this mean?

While a day of thanksgiving had been celebrated prior to the
Civil War, it was President Lincoln who, in 1863, proclaimed the last Thursday
of November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving. The holiday was thereafter
based on Presidential Proclamation and was traditionally celebrated on the last
Thursday of November.

However, in the fall of 1939, the outlook in our country was
somber. Hitler had just marched into Poland on September 30 and our own country
was still in the grips of the Great Depression.

And since 1933 merchants had been urging President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt to give the stagnant economy a boost (sound familiar?) by
moving Thanksgiving up one week to extend the holiday shopping season.

The last Thursday of November 1939 fell on November 30,
leaving a short three weeks of shopping until Christmas.  And so on Oct. 18, 1939, Roosevelt
proclaimed Thanksgiving would be on November 23 that year instead of November
30.

With barely a month’s notice, our country was thrown into
absolute chaos!

Calendars had already been printed with “Thanksgiving Day”
on November 30; traditional Thanksgiving high school and college football games
were only weeks away; school vacations and public events were already in place.

So while 23 states defied President Roosevelt’s
Proclamation, 23, including Pennsylvania, complied, with two celebrating
Thanksgiving on both dates. (Yes, all you mathematical geniuses  - I hear you cry. We had only 48 states
in 1939!)

It became even more confusing when families from neighboring
states such as NewYork and Connecticut tried to get together for the holidays.

Under Thursday, November 23 Hanna writes:

“A bright day, first sunshine this week. Thankful indeed for
that and other blessings in the whole year. Christie at [Peter] Hurd’s. Then he
and Andy [Wyeth] went up to Plunkett Stewart’s to get pictures of the hunt for
Andy. We had a fine dinner at 2:30pm.”

In reading Hanna’s diaries, there is no mention of Chris
going to the traditional Thanksgiving day “West Chester – Berwyn” football
game, a match he never missed and one that would last for decades as the
Thanksgiving Day rivalry between the Henderson and Conestoga High Schools. Had
this too been a casualty of the calendar change?

And what about the Thanksgiving?

In 1940, a few more states came in line with Roosevelt’s
proclamation, and on Dec. 26, 1941, Congress passed a law making the fourth
Thursday of November the now legal Thanksgiving holiday.

Hanna Sanderson’s diaries are incredible gems of Chadds Ford
people, life and events in the 1930s and 1940s.

And while there can be a tendency to think Chadds Ford
history stopped on Sept 11, 1777, history lives in the journalism of Hanna
Sanderson.

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