Mary Had a Little Lamb…

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…is a real poem

Written by a woman (not a Mother Goose, who was imaginary)

Real: Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale

Who made a real difference

(Besides her own writing):

Editing, hiring, encouraging

Women of her time (while married with children),

Including but not limited to helping found Vassar.

Then, petitioning presidents for 17 years

Finally—at the right time—

Convincing Abraham Lincoln

To declare a Thanksgiving.

He delivered a proclamation

Written by his Secretary of State

William Seward (who bought Alaska, known first as his folly,

And when it became a state in 1959, saddened Texans because it was

Twice as large),

Who (Seward still) opposed slavery and supported immigrants

And Catholics (a strong prejudice at the time), views which

Cost him the Republican nomination which in fact

Lincoln won. Still, he helped Lincoln win the presidency and the same

Plotters who worked to assassinate Lincoln sent someone to

Stab him the night before Lincoln died. That was Seward.

So, in 1863 Thanksgiving became official. Finally.


No, there’s more.

A blues guitarist, Billy Guy,

Born in Texas

Used the poem as lyrics for a hit song,

1968, adding only a “yeah,”

Later covered by a sweaty Stevie Ray Vaughan (both these guys can really play)

Or here by Shenandoah as a Christmas version—

Same tune and first words,

But the lamb is THE Lamb)

(and also your first piano solo by ear, because it’s just that easy,

And here is a tutorial meaning you can play it on

Your first attempt at the piano, if you never have before).

That tune by Lowell Mason

Who also wrote the melody for “Nearer, My God, to Thee”

Played by the string quartet as the Titanic sank in 1912,

Here from Titanic (1997), which will make you cry

Or here, in a straight version which won’t,

And here by the BYU Men’s Chorus, stunning.


Back to the 19th century we go.

Thomas Edison spoke a few words from that poem–

First American recording (1877) of the human voice; hear,

See here (just a re-enactment but real Edison).

And American because the actual first human voice

Recording was French, 1860, scratchy, “Au Claire de Lune.”


Thus, our Sarah is responsible for:

A song lyric everyone knows, a historical moment,

Thanksgiving somewhere other than the North

(Its own history, the spread to a reluctant South),

The Boston Seaman’s Aid Society, the preservation of Mount Vernon,

Much more, too (yes, married with children).


Now, that little poem, based on a True Story

(although Sarah said she didn’t know it)

Which, like dear Sarah’s,

I knew nothing about until today.


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