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Q: origin "Miss Mary Mack" ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: origin "Miss Mary Mack"
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: nkalman-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 25 Feb 2003 09:55 PST
Expires: 27 Mar 2003 09:55 PST
Question ID: 166936
For a training session, I am trying to find out the origin of the
children's jump rope rhyme "Miss Mary Mack." Was there a real-life
Miss Mary Mack? Who was she? When did the rhyme originate?
Subject: Re: origin "Miss Mary Mack"
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 25 Feb 2003 10:43 PST
Dear nkalman-ga;

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interesting

Mary Ann Hoberman, of Greenwich, Connecticut, a prolific, critically
acclaimed, award winning author of children’s’ books, wrote the
nonsensical poem “Miss Mary Mack”. It became so popular that she
eventually elaborated in it and created an entire board book story
around the widely recognized rhyme.

The poem was first recorded and set to music by music educator and
children’s music performer, Ella Jenkins (nicknamed, “The First Lady
of Children’s Music”) in 1968.

Here are the lyrics:

“Miss Mary Mack”

Miss Mary Mack - Mack Mack 
All dressed in black - black black 
With silver buttons - buttons buttons
All down her back - back back 

She asked her Mother - Mother Mother 
For fifteen cents - cents cents 
To see the elephants - elephants elephants 
Jump the fence - fence fence 

They jumped so high - high high 
They touched the sky - sky sky 
And they never came back - back back 
Til the forth of July - ly ly 

I hope this answers all of your questions about this wonderful song.
Thank you for bringing your question to us.

Best regards;










Google ://





Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 25 Feb 2003 12:04 PST
Dear nkalman-ga

It should be noted for the sake of accuracy, that the popularity of
the poem “Miss Mary Mack” comes from the song by Ella Jenkins and the
book by Mary Ann Hoberman for whom the work is attributed in modern
times. Upon checking my information I also found a reference by Harold
Courlander in his book, “Negro Folk Music U.S.A.” (New York: Columbia
University Press,1970), p. 179.) that attributed the “line game Mary
Mack” to a similar line game played for generations by children in
Ghana. Courlander’s work clearly traces the origin of this game to
West Africa. The words however, are obviously American. It is my
hypothesis that the words may very well have been appeared as a
“ditty” during a post civil war period, incorporating the words “Mary
Mack” (as in the name of the iron clad civil warship, “Merrimac”) into
the West African line game brought to America by slaves and passed
down through generations of slave and free children alike.
Unfortunately, while this cannot be proven there are some who share my
hypothesis and even make reference to this very thing:
“…Miss Mary Mack,” a hand-clapping song sung and played by slave
“Blacks came with Southerners to Texas, mostly as slaves, occasionally
as free people. They brought with them their own cultural mixture, a
blend of the European with the African, developed within the
conditions of slaveryqv and rural life. Black children played and sang
games from the Anglo tradition, like Chickamee Craney Crow and Lil'
Liza Jane. As to be expected, many of their game songs, like those of
Anglo children from the South, exhibited regional flavor, referring to
raccoons in persimmon trees, collard greens, and even hangings.
Although most of the black games seem to be European in origin, it is
now increasingly recognized that they have been significantly modified
by the strong oral traditions and the love of rhythm originating in
Africa. The handclap games of black children, such as Mary Mack, Mack,
Mack, exhibit more syncopated rhythms than do handclap games of white
or Hispanic children, and black children show a greater willingness to
experiment with sounds for their own sake. The ring games and the line
games played by black children, such as Little Sally Walker, are
really primarily performance games, in which the child in the middle
of the ring actually puts on a dance or a mime. In this the games also
reflect the heritage of African dances.”

According to John Russell, in his review of recommended history books,
the “The New York Public Library African American Desk Reference”
addresses your very question.

“Not only are slavery's origins, key players, and ultimate demise
discussed, there are also tables showing the gender and age of
captives taken from Africa between 1600 and 1800; a record comparing
occupations in Charleston in 1848 among slaves, "free Negroes," and
whites; and a chart of the nationality of ships engaged in the
Atlantic slave trade from 1701 to 1800. Lighter topics are also
covered, including summaries of the origins of major holidays, as well
as the traditions behind family and wedding celebrations. A variety of
recipes are also included (Onions, Okra, Corn and Tomatoes; Nola's
Cheesy Macaroni and Cheese; Creole Red Beans and Rice), as are
explanations of children's games, including the jump-rope contest
Double Dutch and the clapping rhyme game Mary Mack. Notable
achievements of African Americans are also addressed…”

You can obtain a copy from
AMAZON.COM - “The New York Public Library African American Desk

At any rate, as I mentioned previously, the most modern commercial
authorship of the work is attributed to Hoberman and Jenkins. But in
fairness, if you feel that this reference and my information as to the
source of the origin (which unfortunately I do not have access to) is
not substantial information regarding the origin of the piece, please
let me know.


Reference made in Harold Courlander’s book”


“Miss Mary Mack and African American Cultural Survival”
Subject: Re: origin "Miss Mary Mack"
From: magnesium-ga on 25 Feb 2003 11:38 PST
I believe the Mary Ann Hoberman book mentioned by the researcher just
adapted this old children's verse, Ms Hoberman did NOT create the

Here is a midi audio file of the bouncy melody of Miss Mary Mack:

Brings back memories. :)

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