Since 1987, many schools and libraries have celebrated Mother Goose Day on May 1. It’s a time to remember and enjoy the fairy tales and nursery rhymes of youth.
Nursery rhymes are traditional children’s rhyming songs that got their start hundreds of years ago as lullabies mothers would use to help their children sleep.
If you ever visit Boston, Massachusetts, you may hear that the original Mother Goose was a real person — either named Elizabeth Goose or Mary Goose — who lived in Boston in the 1660s. Legend has it that this woman, the second wife of Isaac Goose, cared for 16 children and loved to sing songs and create rhyming stories for them. However, no one has ever been able to prove this old story.
In fact, although many fairy tales and nursery rhymes are attributed to Mother Goose, no specific person has ever been identified as “Mother Goose” or the author of these popular stories. No one has ever been able to figure out exactly how or when or why the imaginary figure of Mother Goose became connected to these stories hundreds of years ago.
Typically portrayed as an old country woman with a tall hat and a shawl, Mother Goose is given credit for dozens of stories, including such classics as “Jack and Jill,” “Humpty Dumpty,” “Little Miss Muffet” and “Hey Diddle Diddle.” She also appears as the title character in one nursery rhyme:
Old Mother Goose, When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.
Jack’s mother came in,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Flew up to the moon.
The first publication of Mother Goose stories appears to be a collection of fairy tales published in 1695 by Charles Perrault, which was called Contes de ma mère l’Oye or Tales of my Mother Goose. Perrault’s collection included several classics, such as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Cinderella.”
Mother Goose became and remained closely associated with nursery rhymes with the publication around 1765 of John Newberry’s Mother Goose’s Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle. In 1781, Mother Goose’s Melody, a book of children’s poems, was published in England. The name “Mother Goose” has been synonymous with children’s poetry ever since.