Little Bits of History

Mary’s Poem

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 24, 2012

Sarah Josepha Hale

May 24, 1830: Sarah Josepha Hale published her world-famous poem. She was born in Newport, New Hampshire. Her mother was a firm believer in education and egalitarian in her methods; both her son and daughter were given instruction. Sarah married David Hale in 1813 and the couple had five children in quick succession. David died in 1822 and Sarah never quit mourning his loss, wearing black for the rest of her life. Sarah published the first set of her collected poems in 1823 and a novel soon after. Both were successful. She published a book of children’s poems and Mary’s Lamb was included.

Today, we know the poem as Mary Had a Little Lamb. The poem was inspired by actual events. Mary Sawyer kept a pet lamb. Her brother encouraged her to take the lamb to school which she did. The stir created was intensified by an unexpected guest’s appearance. At the time, ministers visited schools to help prepare students for college. John Roulstone, visiting with his uncle, the Reverend Lemuel Capen, was so impressed by the lamb at school, he returned the next day. Some claim John wrote the beginning of the poem and Ms Hale wrote the more moralistic ending. Others assert Sarah was the sole author. Lowell Mason set the poem to music later in the decade.

Mary Had a Little Lamb is considered to be a Nursery Rhyme. These are “traditional” songs for British or American children. The term “nursery rhyme” only came into use in the 19th century. Prior to that, the sing-song poems were called “Mother Goose Rhymes.” The earliest form of these poems, both historically and as presented to children, is the lullaby. Many nursery rhymes have a hidden or secondary meaning. For instance, Baa, Baa Black Sheep speaks to the practice of slave trading or possibly the steep medieval taxes. However, many of today’s interpretations are simply added on to the poems without any supporting historical evidence.

Sarah Hale did more than just write poetry and novels. It was due to her tireless effort that we have Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the US. Prior to the declaration of this holiday, it was celebrated only in New England.  Each state would create it’s own holiday anywhere from October to January. It took seventeen years of campaigning before Ms Hale was successful in creating the National Holiday we know today. She wrote letters to five US Presidents before she was finally able to convince Abraham Lincoln to support legislation for the November holiday. It was the third national holiday celebrated with the other two being Washington’s Birthday and July 4.

A blessing on the printer’s art!– /  Books are the mentors of the heart.

I’ve learned to judge of men by their own deeds; /  I do not make the accident of birth / The standard of their merit.

O wondrous power! how little understood,– / Entrusted to the mother’s mind alone, / To fashion genius, form the soul for good, / Inspire a West, or train a Washington!

The temple of our purest thoughts is silence! –  all from Sarah Josepha Hale

Also on this day:

Caveat Emptor – In 1626 Peter Minuit buys Manhattan.
News – In 1958, the UPI was formed.
Wedding Disaster – In 2001, the Versailles wedding hall collapsed.

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