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Classic Covers: Thanksgiving

Published: November 22, 2011

No, “Freedom from Want” was never a Post cover. It appeared inside the magazine in 1943 as one of the four freedoms we were fighting for.

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell From March 3, 1943

Freedom from Want
Norman Rockwell
March 3, 1942


Franklin Roosevelt outlined “four essential human freedoms” in 1941: “Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.” An artist named Rockwell set out to depict these on canvas. “In six feverish months during the war days in 1942,” wrote Maynard Good Stoddard in the Post in 1995, Rockwell worked diligently on the “images of those freedoms, images destined to become enduring national symbols.”

The artist himself was more succinct about this classic depiction of a Thanksgiving turkey: “our cook, Mrs. Wheaton, roasted it, I painted it, and we ate it.”

“Boy Watching Grandmother Trim Pie” by J.C. Leyendecker

“Boy Watching Grandmother Trim Pie” by J.C. Leyendecker From November 21, 1908

Boy Watching Grandmother Trim Pie
J.C. Leyendecker
November 21, 1908


This cover by J.C. Leyendecker goes clear back to 1908 and will spawn memories of Thanksgivings in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and so on. In other words, it is timeless. Somewhere this Thanksgiving is a little boy who can’t wait for grandma’s pies to be done.

Leyendecker’s first Post cover was a dark black and white story illustration in May of 1899. The story began right on the front page in those days, when the issue was a cross between a newspaper and what we think of as a magazine today. He did 322 Post covers, ending with his final New Year’s baby in 1943. Norman Rockwell did 321 Post covers, not wanting to break his idol’s record.

A Thankful Mother by Norman Rockwell

 “A Thankful Mother” by Norman Rockwell From November 24, 1945

A Thankful Mother
Norman Rockwell
November 24, 1945


Truly a painting to make us thankful for Norman Rockwell. The artist went to Maine for this 1945 cover, harboring the belief that that state boasted the most homelike kitchens to be found. Note that the table isn’t “cleaned up” or artfully arranged, but looks like it might for a big Thanksgiving meal preparation. The artist did his preliminary sketches in Maine and returned to Vermont for his model search. The result: Dick Hagelberg, who was a bombardier with sixty-five missions over Germany to his credit, is happily pulling K.P. duty with his real-life mother.

Childhood Thanksgiving by J.C. Leyendecker

 “Childhood Thanksgiving” by J.C. Leyendecker From November 26, 1927

Childhood Thanksgiving
J.C. Leyendecker
November 26, 1927


What a treat rediscovering this obscure but delightful 1927 Leyendecker. The old gent dozes after perhaps reading something that triggers memories of his childhood Thanksgivings.

Make a Wish by Norman Rockwell

Make a Wish – Norman Rockwell From November 19, 1921

Make a Wish
Norman Rockwell
November 19, 1921


Make a wish! Whoever got the biggest piece of the wishbone after pulling it apart got their wish. The young lady is giving it a lot of thought. Perhaps she wishes to catch the eye of a special boy or is dreaming of something pretty for Christmas. The boy, and we’re just guessing here, is wishing for more turkey…or another slice of pie. This was a Rockwell cover in 1921 for The Country Gentleman, the Post‘s sister publication.

After Turkey Nap by J.C. Leyendecker

After Turkey Nap by J.C. Leyendecker From November 26, 1938

After Turkey Nap
J.C. Leyendecker
November 26, 1938


Ah, what we all wish for—an after turkey nap. But at least most of us make it up from the table first. This is a Leyendecker from 1938.

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  • shirlee tibbetts

    One of my favorite memories when growing up (1940-1950 era) was reading the SATURDAY EVENING POST. It was delivered every Saturday.

    Thank You!

  • Charles Neumann

    Excellent Thanksgiving covers. I enjoyed the “Make a Wish” cover by Rockwell, it is not shown as often as many of his other works. Leyendecker’s “Childhood Thanksgiving” is a very interesting piece, showing an old man’s dream of a Thanksgiving from his childhood, or at least the way he remembered it.”

  • Jeff R. Lonto

    The 1927 Leyendecker cover almost has the look of a circa 1967 psychedelic rock poster.