Category Archives: Sandra Wagner-Wright

A Lamb’s Tale

Mary and her lamb

Once upon a time on a blustery March morning in 1816, Mary Sawyer and her father got up early to feed the cows, and then made their way to the sheep pen. There were two new lambs, one of which the mother rejected. It was nearly dead when Mary saw it.

Mary took the lamb back to the house, wrapped it in old clothes, and held it in her arms beside the fire. Curiously, she tried to feed the lamb – whose name remains unknown – catnip tea. All day and through the night, Mary sat up with her lamb. In the morning, it was able to stand and began drinking milk. The hand-fed lamb became Mary’s special pet, coming when she called

Mary takes her lamb to school

A few days later, Mary and her brother Nat set off for the local school. Mary called out to the lamb which came trotting forward. Nat suggested they take the lamb to school so Mary put the lamb in her basket with a blanket over it. When they got to the classroom, she set her parcel by her feet. All was well until the lamb decided to bleat.

Teacher Evicts Lamb

The teacher shooed the lamb outside, where it waited patiently until Mary appeared to take it home for lunch.

Serendipitously, a young man named John Roulstone was present at the school that day, and composed a few lines of doggeral poetry to mark the occasion. It went something like this:

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 rules

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 til Mary did appear.

In due course, the lamb grew big enough for Mary’s mother to harvest the wool and knit her daughter a pair of lamb’s wool stockings.

Sarah Josepha Hale

Some years later, Sarah Josepha Hale came across the poem, added some uplifting stanzas, and published Mary’s Lamb in her collection of Poems for our Children in 1830. Sarah’s additions:

Why does the lamb love Mary so, the eager children cry.

Why Mary loves the lamb, you know, the teacher did reply.

Later in the decade Lowell Mason set the rhyme to music and added the repeating lines that make the poem fun to sing.

Remember Mary’s lamb’s wool stockings? Mary kept them. In the 1870s, Mary donated the stockings to a fundraising project for the Old South Meeting House in Boston. Wool from the stockings was attached to cards that said “Knitted wool from the first fleece of Mary’s Little Lamb.” Who could resist?

Perhaps Thomas Edison recited the most famous rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb. In 1877 Edison demonstrated his new invention: the phonograph. As he recalled events a year later: 

“I designed a little machine using a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface. Over this was to be placed tinfoil, which easily received and recorded the movements of the diaphragm … Kruesi (the machinist), when he had nearly finished it, asked what it was for.

“I told him I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly.

“I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”

In 1927 Edison made a second recording for the Golden Jubilee of the Phonograph.

Paul McCartney and Wings recorded their own version of Mary Had a Little Lamb in 1972. It was not a hit.

Spoofs on Mary Had a Little Lamb, many on the naughty side, are plentiful. This one is called Mary’s Last Supper:

Mary had a little lamb, a litte pork, a little jam,

a little egg, a little toast, some pickles and a great big roast,

an ice cream soda topped with fizz —

and, oh, how sick our Mary is!

Ewe and Lamb


Mary and Her Lamb, 1877

Two illustrations by William Wallace Denslow, 1902

Sarah Josepha Hale, about 1831. Artist James Reid Lambdin

Newborn Lamb on Indby-Fields Fferm Dyrrfryn Mymbryr by Eric Jones

“Mary Had a Little Lamb.” New England Historical Society.

“Mary’s Last Supper.” All Poetry.

Kat Eschner. “Mary Had a Little Lamb is Based on a True Story.” Smithsonian, May 24, 2017

Backyard Grilling

May with its promise of summer is the time of year when the local home improvement store features rows and rows of shiny barbecue grills. There’s the simple, basic grill; the ubiquitous Weber grill, and upscale gas grills with temperature control. People have been cooking over an open flame since the discovery of fire. Grilling… Continue Reading

Titanic Survivors: The Socialite, The Actress, and The “Unsinkable” Woman

At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. At 00.25 a.m. the next morning, the Titanic sent out a distress call. At 2:20 a.m. the ship sank. At 4:00 a.m. the Carpathia began picking up the 710 survivors. This is a story about three women who traveled in first class. One… Continue Reading

Dinner with Penelope

The question came up yesterday. If I could have dinner with any literary heroine, who would I invite?  I felt like should choose Elizabeth Bennett, because her character resonates with modern readers. But then I thought, one has tea with Elizabeth Bennett, not dinner. So, I set her to the side. Next I thought of… Continue Reading

Honey – Nectar of the Gods

Spring officially begins on Wednesday, though winter is often slow in leaving. As the earth warms up, flowers begin to peek through, inviting bees to gather pollen. Bees, of course, produce honey from floral nectar and store it in wax honeycombs within their hives. During their six-week lifespan, each worker bee produces half a teaspoon… Continue Reading

The White Rabbit Needs a Cup of Tea

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Poor White Rabbit. He was under such stress, always looking at his watch and fretting. And we do exactly the same. Over-scheduling. Multi-Tasking. Running from here to there and back again. Texting while walking. Listening to podcasts while jogging. Fidgeting while waiting in the spa Quiet Room.… Continue Reading

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