A mild panic swept over the U.S. in 1939, following a brave decision by President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving forward from the final Thursday of November to its penultimate Thursday, in an effort to lengthen and boost Christmas spending after the holiday during what were the last groans of the Great Depression. In the days and weeks following his announcement, the White House saw an influx of incoming correspondence from all manner of sources, filled to the brim with heated opinion and response to FDR’s controversial decision. Such was the ill-feeling that many people ignored the change and celebrated on the 30th, while others opted to celebrate on both dates just to be sure. For the next couple of years, the holiday was called Franksgiving by many.
Below are just six of the letters, all followed by transcripts. All are from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.
P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Budget Press. Calendars. “Gift” cards
August 15, 1939
Millions of calendars for 1940 have already been printed and sold. We alone have printed over two million 1940 calendars. As you probably know, calendars are sold mostly in January, February, and March, for delivery in the Fall of the year, for use during the coming year, in order that we may keep our employees busy throughout the full twelve months. Otherwise, we would be working day and night the last few months and shut down most of the year.
This situation makes it necessary to print calendars almost a full year in advance. As stated before, at the present time nearly all calendars are printed for 1940 and we have in preparation most of the preliminary work for 1941 calendars, which are sold by salesmen starting the first of December. In other words, actual samples of 1941 calendars are placed on display in December 1939.
Your change for Thanksgiving naturally makes all 1939 calendars obsolete, as well as all 1940 calendars, although it is not too late to change the preliminary work for 1941.
I am afraid your change for Thanksgiving is going to cause the calendar manufacturers untold grief. If very many customers demand 1940 calendars to correspond with your proclamation, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be lost by the calendar companies, and in many instances it will result in bankruptcy.
You will realize, I am sure, that if you had purchased calendars last January for delivery this coming December, to be distributed January 1940, you would want those calendars to show the correct date for Thanksgiving, and you would expect the manufacturer to furnish them – Presidential Proclamation notwithstanding. Due to the fact that 90% of the calendars will be showing Thanksgiving on the usual date for 1940, your Presidential Proclamation should be rescinded; and if it is necessary to change Thanksgiving it should not be changed until 1941. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult for calendar manufactures to get their customers to use the calendars already printed.
REAL ESTATE, RENTALS
INSURANCE IN ALL FORMS
GROTON, SOUTH DAKOTA
August 17, 1939
Mr. F.D. Roosevelt
Referring to your proposal as to changing the date of Thanksgiving to November 23, we think we have just the place for you out here in South, Dakota. Yankton.
After all this country is not entirely money-minded, we need a certain amount of idealism and sentiment to keep up the morale of our people, and you, would even take that from us. After all we want to make this country better for our posterity, and you must remember we are not running a Russia or communistic government.
Between your ideas of running for a third term, and your changing dates of century old holidays, we believe you have practically lost your popularity and the good will of the people of the Northwest.
(Signed, ‘Robert S. Benson & Clarabelle Voight’)
As representatives of the northwest
ARNOLD’S MEN’S SHOP, INC.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Dear President Roosevelt:
Would like to give you the view point of the small merchant in regard to your change of the Thanksgiving date.
The small storekeeper would prefer leaving Thanksgiving Day where it belongs. If the large department stores are over-crowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store.
Before writing, have consulted with my fellow directors of the Flatbush Chamber of Commerce, as well as my fellow trustees of the Kings Highway Board of Trade, and the executive council of the Associated Retailers of Greater New York, of which I am chairman.
We have waited many years for a late Thanksgiving to give us an advantage over the large stores, and we are sadly disappointed at your action, in this matter.
Kindly reconsider and oblige thousands of small retail storekeepers throughout this country.
(Signed, ‘Charles A. Arnold’)
ARNOLD’S MEN’S SHOP INC.
CHARLES A. ARNOLD
N. B. Written in behalf of over 500 Adam Hat Agents whose association I head. CAA
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY BOARD OF ATHLETIC CONTROL
WASHINGTON SQUARE, NEW YORK
August 22, 1939
The Secretary to the President,
The White House,
My dear Mr. Secretary:
I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.
Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day, although there have been some instances during this period when the game has been played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day. As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.
Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President’s proposal.
As soon as I read of the President’s proposal, I advised our Graduate Manager in charge of schedule making simply to mark time pending further public pronouncement by the President as to the definiteness of his proposal. I thought that there might be a change of mind on his part following such public comment which has been made in the press. However, time is slipping past and if it is necessary for us to make arrangements for changing the date of our game this year, we should be taking steps very shortly to make such change effective and to make public announcement with regard to it.
In short, I am wondering if you could furnish me with answers to the following questions which should prove helpful to us in reaching a decision:
1. Has the plan of the President as announced in the press been definitely established, with the result that Thanksgiving Day in 1939 will come on November 23 and not upon November 30 as had been generally anticipated?
2. If no definite decision has been reached as yet, are you in a position to state the earliest possible date upon which a final decision will be rendered?
3. Granted that the President does proclaim the third Thursday, November 23, as Thanksgiving Day for 1939, does it necessarily follow that the same procedure will be employed in 1940, with the result that Thanksgiving Day during the course of that year would fall upon November 21 rather than upon the fourth Thursday of the month, namely, November 28?
I realize, of course, that you may not be in a position to furnish me at this time with the information sought, but you will appreciate that any light which you may be able to throw upon our problem will be extremely helpful.
Very truly yours,
Philip O. Badger,
Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control, and Assistant to the Chancellor
Shinnston, W. Va.
August 15, 1939
I see by the paper this morning where you want to change Thanksgiving Day to November 23 of which I heartily approve. Thanks.
Now, there are some things that I would like done and would appreciate your approval:
1. Have Sunday changed to Wednesday;
2. Have Monday’s to be Christmas;
3. Have it strictly against the Will of God to work on Tuesday;
4. Have Thursday to be Pay Day with time and one-half for overtime;
5. Require everyone to take Friday and Saturday off for a fishing trip down the Potomac.
With these in view and hoping you will give me some consideration at your next Congress, I remain,
Yours very truly
Shelby O. Bennett
171 Steuben Street
Brooklyn, New York
October 18, 1939
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House
Your recent decision to change the date of our Thanksgiving Day has just taken effect here at Pratt Institute. Our directors announced that our school vacation would begin on the twenty-third of November and last until the twenty-sixth because New York, being your home state, is abiding by your decision. However, where I come from, Connecticut, they’ll be observing it on the thirtieth of November as usual. Really, this situation makes my heart ache because I love our Thanksgiving Holidays as much if not a bit more than our Christmas Holidays.
Oh, I’ve missed one other Thanksgiving at home with my parents because I was away at college and too far away to get home to celebrate with them and I didn’t like being away at that time either but I see its going to happen again.
I would really like to know just why you did change the date, my curiosity has been aroused. You probably won’t see or hear of this letter because you are so busy however, it’s been nice writing you about the situation.
(Miss) Eleanor Lucy Blydenburgh