Not Just A Nursery Rhyme, Mary Really Did Have A Little Lamb

The true story that inspired the beloved nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb.

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There are few songs that have had as big of a reach as the nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little Lamb has had. Nearly everyone knows the lyrics from the time they were in preschool, and the catchy tune can be plucked out on the piano by just about anyone, trained pianists or not. However, what’s lesser known, is the true story that inspired the famous song.

The Story is About a Student Who Actually Did Have a Little Lamb

Sarah Josepha Hale was a school teacher in New Hampshire. She was shocked one day to see one of her students, Mary, bring along her pet lamb with her to school. Apparently, the small animal was too much of a distraction for all of the children in the class, and Sarah was forced to turn him out until class was finished.

The loyal pet lamb stayed near the schoolhouse the rest of the day. When school was finished, he bounded back into Mary’s arms for safety and comfort, having missed his loving caretaker. The schoolchildren wanted to know what made the lamb love Mary so dearly, so they asked their teacher. She told them it was simply because Mary loved him and was always kind to him. Sarah used Mary’s relationship with her lamb as a chance to get a moral across to the children. Show love to others and they will show love back to you.


From Poem to Song

Later, after the rhyme was published in 1830, composer Lowell Mason took the words written by Sarah Hale and turned them into the song we all know and love. The last two verses of the song are not as popular as the first two, but they express what Sarah Hale was trying to teach her students.

“Why does the lamb love Mary so?

Mary so, Mary so?

Why does the lamb love Mary so?” 

The eager children smile.

“Mary loves the lamb, you know,

Lamb, you know, lamb, you know,

Mary loves the lamb, you know,”

The teacher did reply.

And now you know, Mary really did have a little lamb, and he loved her so!

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