May 24 – “Mary Had a Little Lamb” Published

Posted May 24, 2015

There really was a Mary who took a lamb to school!

The girl's name was Mary Sawyer (no record of the pet lamb's name), and she took her pet to school at the suggestion of her brother. Apparently, the lamb did cause commotion in the classroom!

This happened some time in the early 1800s, in the town of Sterling, Massachusetts.

A young man named John Roulstone was studying with his uncle and saw the lamb-at-school incident. Some people say that he was so pleased by it that he wrote these lines and gave them to Mary the day after her lamb's visit:

Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

Hale was a writer and editor.
Later a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale added three more verses to the simple ditty and published the poem on this date in 1830. (Some people say that Hale wrote the entire poem, and Roulstone – though he had been there for the lamb's visit – had nothing to do with the poem.) Here is the rest of the poem:

He followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear.

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cry.
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know."
The teacher did reply.

A musician later set the nursery rhyme to a tune and created a song. After that, two different blues musicians popularized the song. Famed inventor Thomas Edison recorded the poem on his newly invented phonograph – actually, it was the very first recorded verse anywhere in the world! At some point since the poem was published, the town of Sterling put up a statue representing Mary's Little Lamb in the town center.

Does it seem surprising to you that such a simple little poem and song can become and stay so famous? I think I am surprised by the facts that (1) it's American, not British (I think I thought it was a lot older than it is), and (2) it's based on a real incident.

Also on this date:

Day of Slavic Script, Education, and Culture

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