Was There Really a Mary Who Had a Little Lamb?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about nursery rhymes and whether they are true or false.

NURSERY RHYME URBAN LEGEND: There actually was a Mary who had a little lamb.

Like I noted in the last nursery rhyme urban legend, for almost all nursery rhymes we really don’t know the origin of the rhyme.

In the case of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” we appear to know a little bit more than others.

Here’s the rhyme (the adapted version that was set to music in the 1830s)…

Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
and everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day
school one day, school one day,
It followed her to school one day,
which was against the rules.
It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play,
it made the children laugh and play
to see a lamb at school.

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

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

So, WAS there a real Mary?

While there have been some challengers to the “throne,” it is generally accepted that there actually WAS a “Mary” who brought a lamb to school with her one day, which caused much amusement.

That Mary was Mary Sawyer, who lived in Sterling, Massachusetts and was born in 1806 and died in 1889.

Her age DOES call into question, though, exactly when the rhyme was first written.

The first published version of the rhyme was by Sarah Josepha Hale in 1830.

However, if Sawyer was born in 1806, the actual incident had to have been a number of years before 1830.

Sawyer herself recalled that a young man named John Roulstone wrote the first few lines of the poem at the time, and that Hale wrote the rest of the poem years later, with Hale’s just being the one which got published.

Naturally, there are those who argue that Hale wrote the whole thing.

Mary’s claim of being “the” Mary has been basically accepted, though.

Here is a statue of “her” lamb in Sterling, Massachusetts…

(Thanks to thebudman623 for the pictures of the statue)

It’s amazing to think that we appear to actually know the name of the “Mary” from “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

The legend is…

STATUS: Surprisingly True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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