“Happy Franksgiving to You!”
No, rest assured this is not a blog about Halloween crossing over into Thanksgiving. This is just a brief peak at a moment in history when the United States struggled with a looming question – what day should Thanksgiving fall on?
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving would be observed that year on the last Thursday in November. The country quickly embraced the idea and every president following Mr. Lincoln followed this tradition . . . until 1939.
The year 1939 found the United States still wrestling with the Great Depression and the month of November containing five Thursdays instead of four. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Commerce, Henry Hopkins, warned the president retail owners were nervous about the late start to the Christmas shopping season with Thanksgiving falling so late in the calendar month. The president was swayed to make a change in Thanksgiving tradition.
On October 31, 1939, FDR passed a proclamation for Thanksgiving to be held on November 23, 1939, instead of the traditional last Thursday of the month, which was November 30th. This would allow more shopping time for the Christmas holiday.
As a proclamation is not law, many states debated what to do. About half of the states followed FDR to the new date while the other half of the country remained faithful to the last Thursday of the month. To make things more confusing, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, Idaho and Mississippi elected to have two Thanksgiving days. Some individuals began to call the November 23rd Thanksgiving Day “Franksgiving” in honor (mocking or not) of the president.
Locally, the two-holiday system created a bit of chaos. Illinois went with the 23rd and Iowa with the 30th. Those who worked at the Rock Island Arsenal (which is technically in Illinois), but lived on the Iowa side found their families at home on the 30th while they worked. The Scott County Court House closed for both Thanksgiving days. Davenport city workers only had the 30th off. Davenport stores were open on the 23rd and closed on the 30th. It was, of course, the other way around on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities. Local schools were divided as well, having to decide which Thanksgiving Day to follow while some lucky children had both days off.
1940 and 1941 saw the same Thanksgiving confusion with President Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving again one week ahead of the traditional last Thursday of the month. Only 16 states remained now with the traditional last Thursday of November celebration. Once again, Iowa and Illinois had chosen opposite days to feast and give thanks, with Iowa being one of the 16 states still refusing to move from the day.
A solution was finally found when both houses of U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution on December 26, 1941 requiring Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. President Roosevelt signed the bill that same day, making Thanksgiving a federal law for the first time.
One might imagine relief and relaxation would follow the end to the controversy, but that would have to wait. By 1942 the United States was at war and factories and other war time enterprises would not take the day off for a holiday. Regardless of the day, celebration could wait; there was a war to be won!
(posted by Amy D.)