Do Nursery Rhymes Have Any Basis in Reality?

On a spring morning in 1816, Mary Elizabeth Sawyer and her father found two newborn lambs in their sheep pen in Sterling, Massachusetts. One had been rejected by its mother and was nearly dead. Mary cared for the animal, nursing it back to health, and it became her companion. One day, when she headed off to school, the lamb followed along -- the real story behind the famous nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The best-known first 12 lines of the nursery rhyme were written by John Roulstone, who heard the story while visiting his uncle in the area, en route to Harvard University.

Mary, a lamb, and nursery rhyme history:

  • Three additional stanzas were added later by Sarah Josepha Hale and included in her 1830 book Poems for Our Children.
  • Hale’s contribution is written in a different style than Roulstone’s, and gives the poem a moral. The rhyme later appeared as a lesson in the McGuffey Readers.
  • Mary Sawyer's mother made some stockings out of the lamb's wool for her daughter, who treasured them. Later in life, Mary donated the stockings to help raise money for the restoration of the Old South Meeting House in Boston.
More Info: Smithsonian magazine

Discussion Comments


This is why we have to slaughter animals for food humanely. We need international laws to standardize the killings for food.


Nice story. Thanks for sharing.


Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow;

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go.

It 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.

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