The nursery rhyme, ‘Mary had a little lamb’ was first published by the Boston publishing firm Marsh, Capen & Lyon, as an original poem by Sarah Josepha Hale on May 24, 1830, and was inspired by an actual incident.
As a young girl, Mary Sawyer (later Mrs. Mary Tyler) kept a pet lamb, which she took to school one day at the suggestion of her brother. A commotion naturally ensued. Visiting school that morning was a young man by the name of John Roulstone, a nephew of the Reverend Lemuel Capen, who was then settled in Sterling. The young man was very much pleased with the incident of the lamb; and the next day he rode across the fields on horseback to the little old schoolhouse and handed Mary a slip of paper which had written upon it the three original stanzas of the poem.
The Redstone School built in 1798, believed to be the school house mentioned in the rhyme, is now located in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In Sterling, Massachusetts, a statue representing Mary’s Little Lamb stands in the town center. The rhyme is also famous for being the very first thing recorded by Thomas Edison on his newly invented phonograph in 1877. It was the first instance of recorded verse. In 1927 Edison re-enacted the recording which still survives.
It was reported in a 1902 edition of the New York Times Book Review that when Dr Lowell Mason introduced singing into Boston schools in 1827 he asked noted writers to contribute songs and rhymes, and one of the contributors was Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879), who supplied ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’.