Open main menu

"Mary Had a Little Lamb" is an English language nursery rhyme of nineteenth-century American origin. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 7622.

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"
Mary had a little lamb 2 - WW Denslow - Project Gutenberg etext 18546.jpg
Illustration by William Wallace Denslow
Nursery rhyme
PublishedMay 24, 1830
Songwriter(s)Sarah Josepha Hale, John Roulstone



The Redstone School (1798), now in Sudbury, Massachusetts, is believed to be the schoolhouse mentioned in the nursery rhyme.

The nursery rhyme was first published by the Boston publishing firm Marsh, Capen & Lyon, as a poem by Sarah Josepha Hale on May 24, 1830, and was possibly inspired by an actual incident.[1]

There are competing theories on the origin and inspiration of this poem. One holds that John Roulstone wrote the first four lines and that the final twelve lines, less childlike than the first, were composed by Sarah Josepha Hale; others claim that Hale was responsible for the entire poem.[2][3]

As a young girl, Mary Sawyer (later Mary Tyler) kept a pet lamb that she took to school one day at the suggestion of her brother. A commotion naturally ensued. Mary recalled: "Visiting school that morning was a young man by the name of John Roulstone, a nephew of the Reverend Lemuel Capen, who was then settled in Sterling. It was the custom then for students to prepare for college with ministers, and for this purpose Roulstone was studying with his uncle. The young man was very much pleased with the incident of the lamb; and the next day he rode across the fields on horseback to the little old schoolhouse and handed me a slip of paper which had written upon it the three original stanzas of the poem ..."[4]

Mary Sawyer's house, located in Sterling, Massachusetts, was destroyed by arson on August 12, 2007.[5] A statue representing Mary's Little Lamb stands in the town center.[6] The Redstone School, which was built in 1798, was purchased by Henry Ford and relocated to a churchyard on the property of Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts.[citation needed]


In the 1830s, Lowell Mason set the nursery rhyme to a melody adding repetition in the verses:

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,
Everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day,
School one day, school one day,
He 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,

He waited patiently about,
Patiently about, patiently about,
He 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 cried.

"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,
Lamb, you know, lamb, you know,
Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher did reply.[7]


William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for Mary had a little lamb, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose

The rhyme was the first audio recorded by Thomas Edison on his newly invented phonograph in 1877.[8] It was the first instance of recorded verse.[8] In 1927, Edison reenacted the recording, which still survives.[9] The earliest recording (1878) was retrieved by 3D imaging equipment in 2012.[10]

Blues musicians Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan both recorded the song: Guy composing his own bluesy version of the song for his album A Man and the Blues in 1968 and Vaughan covering Guy's version in his 1983 debut album, Texas Flood, with both also incorporating the first four lines of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", into the song.

In 1972, Paul McCartney released a version of the song. Just as he had done with the 16th-century poem "Golden Slumbers" which was released on The Beatles' Abbey Road album in 1969, he added his own melody to the lyrics. Following the lukewarm sales of his recent album[clarification needed] and the major controversy surrounding his previous single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" which was banned by most media outlets including the BBC, the single returned him to the top 10 of the UK charts. McCartney included "Mary Had a Little lamb" as a bonus feature on the 2018 CD reissue of the former, as well as in a box set that same year.

It had also been available earlier on the 1993 CD issue of the Wild Life album.[11]. McCartney had also played the song during Wings' 1972 summer tour and it was included in the Spring 1973 James Paul McCartney television special.


Note: This melody is the British version, which is slightly different from the American version.[how?]

Uses of the musicEdit

  • The first Korean musical road, created using grooves cut into the ground and intended to help motorists stay alert and awake (68% of traffic accidents in South Korea are due to inattentive, sleeping or speeding drivers.[12]) plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and took four days to construct.[12] It can be found close to Anyang, Gyeonggi, South Korea.

In popular cultureEdit

The song is used in:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Full text of Poems for our children: including Mary had a little lamb : designed for families, Sabbath schools, and infant schools : written to inculcate moral truths and virtuous sentiments
  2. ^ Mary Had A Little Lamb. Song Facts
  3. ^ Sonnichsen, Sandra (2016). "Who wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb?". Richards Free Library, Newport, New Hampshire. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  4. ^ Roulstone, John; Mary (Sawyer) and her friends (1928). The Story of Mary's Little Lamb. Dearborn: Mr. & Mrs. Henry Ford. p. 8.
  5. ^ "Sterling fire called arson". Worcester Telegram & Gazette News. August 14, 2007. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
  6. ^ Bronze of lamb. The 2-foot-tall statue and historical marker are on the town common in Sterling, Massachusetts.
  7. ^ "LOWELL MASON, "Mary Lamb" [music] in Juvenile Lyre, Or, Hymns and Songs, Religious, Moral, and Cheerful, Set to Appropriate Music, For the Use of Primary and Common Schools, Boston: Richardson, Lord & Holbrook; Hartford, H. & F. J. Huntington, – Richards". Forgotten Chapters of Boston's Literary History. Retrieved 2014-06-14.
  8. ^ a b Matthew Rubery, ed. (2011). "Introduction". Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies. Routledge. pp. 1–21. ISBN 978-0-415-88352-8.
  9. ^ Thomas Edison (30 November 1926). "Mary had a little lamb" – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Grondahl, Paul (2012-10-26). "Hear the earliest known recording of voice, music". Retrieved 2014-06-14.
  11. ^ "Mary Had a Little Lamb".
  12. ^ a b Choo, Joohee; Lee, Rebecca (29 November 2007). "Singing Streets and Melody Roads". ABC News. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  13. ^ SNAP! - Mary had a Little Boy on YouTube