Who wrote the nursery rhyme 'Mary had a little lamb'?

It is believed American writer and teacher Sarah Josepha Buell Hale wrote the poem 'Mary had a little lamb' in the early 19th century after one of her pupils - a Mary - brought a pet lamb to school. The story goes that , not permitted inside, the lamb waited outside for Mary to finish school and the children asked Hale why it loved Mary so much, and she used the situation to teach the children a valuable lesson.


However Hale's authorship of the poem was challenged in 1876 when 70 year-old Mary Tyler (née Sawyer) declared she was the Mary in the poem and a John Roulstone wrote the words after visiting her school and seeing her with her pet lamb, but no proof has ever been found of this claim.

The poem was set to music by in 1830 by Lowell Mason who also added some repetition in the verses and it was first published in the same year by Marsh, Capen & Lyon. Today it is a much-loved nursery rhyme the world over.

What are the lyrics to 'Mary had a little lamb'?

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And every where that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go ;
He followed her to school one day—
That was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.

And so the Teacher turned him out,
But still he lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear ;
And then he ran to her, and laid
His head upon her arm,
As if he said—‘ I’m not afraid—
You’ll keep me from all harm.’

‘ What makes the lamb love Mary so ?’
The eager children smile—
‘ O, Mary loves the lamb, you know,’
The Teacher did reply ;—
‘ And you each gentle animal
In confidence may bind,
And make them follow at your call,
If you are always kind.’

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Illustration by William Wallace Denslow