Sarah Josepha Hale Collage

The Powerful Woman Behind ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ (And Thanksgiving!)

“Mary had a little lamb…”

Be honest. Did you go, “little lamb” again after you read that?

Those five words are so catchy, they were the first words Thomas Edison ever recorded in the phonograph (making them the first words ever recorded on a machine). Not only that, but they were also some of the first words Alexander Graham Bell spoke into the telephone!

It’s astonishing to me that a mere century (or so) after her death, Sarah Josepha Hale — the creator of this nursery rhyme — has faded into obscurity. It would be one thing if her accomplishments had also faded, but we’re still hugely impacted by her legacy.

And I’m not just talking about ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ In fact, if you’d asked Sarah to list what she was most proud of, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” probably wouldn’t even make the first page!

She wrote countless books, served as the “Editress-in-Chief” of the most popular women’s magazine of her day, and is credited with badgering Abraham Lincoln until he consented to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The only reason I know about this woman is that I’m lucky to be (very) loosely related to her. But it got me thinking, how many other remarkable women have been forgotten?

In episode 70 of the Vocabbett podcast, I share the (very abbreviated) story of Sarah Josepha Hale in a new “Forgotten Women” mini-series. I’m still boosting your vocabulary throughout; I’m just finding new, fun stories to incorporate while doing it! : )

You can listen to the podcast for free on your favorite player, and I’ve included a video accompaniment to the podcast below. I definitely suggest listening or watching — it’s an incredible story!


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Welcome to Vocabbett! If you're here to improve your high-level English vocabulary – whether it's to move abroad, study for the SAT, or improve your life – you're in the right place.

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