The question of who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” a can of worms one might not want to open in polite New England company.
There are two stories behind the origins of the poem and two New England towns divided.
We’ll begin with the Sterling, Massachusetts, story and a little girl named Mary Sawyer, who lived there in 1815.
This version has Mary’s lamb following her to school one day and her classmate, John Roulston, writing the first verse of the poem about it.
The townspeople and all of Mary Sterling’s descendants swear the story is true and have erected a monument to Mary and her lamb in the town square.
In Newport, New Hampshire, the townspeople are livid over these claims.
Local poet and publisher Sarah Josepha Hale is the first to have published the poem in books and magazines in 1820, and Newport citizens swear she is the one true author.
The people in Sterling admit she added verses, but say that the first verse is Roulston’s.
Incidentally, Hale is also remembered for badgering President Lincoln into naming Thanksgiving a national holiday.
She wrote against slavery and was well known in her time for both her politics and her children’s nursery rhymes.