Miss Mary Mack & Miss Lucy

From the Chicago History Museum via The Library of Congress memory collection. Click for source.

From the Chicago History Museum via The Library of Congress memory collection. Click for source.

Does anyone remember hand rhymes & games from elementary school? You know, the kind you played in the schoolyard. Or maybe you sang them as jump-rope rhymes. My mother, sisters and I were recently discussing “Miss Mary Mack” and “Miss Lucy” and other rhymes. We couldn’t remember the words, so naturally we turned to Google. And wow, are there many crazy versions of these rhymes. We were all intrigued.

We could get as far as “Miss Lucy had a steamboat / the steamboat had a bell / Miss Lucy went to heaven / and the steamboat went to – / hello operator, give me number nine … ” and a few more verses. Remembering the appropriate hand motions was even more difficult. However, I have fond memories of standing in the kindergarten playground and playing these clapping games with my friends.

Recently I came across the British Library’s exhibit of “Playtimes: A Century of Children’s Games and Rhymes” (found via Playscapes) which has a section about clapping games. While traditions might vary from Britain to the United States, this exhibit reads (click to access videos of the games):

Clapping games continue to resonate across modern-day playgrounds. Although they have an earlier history, these games found real popularity in the 1960s, travelling to England from America and filling playgrounds across the country. They can be employed in a number of situations: to pass time while waiting in line, to play with a large circle of friends, or to keep your hands warm on a cold day. Enticingly, they offer the chance to demonstrate to your peers your ability to memorise and enact dazzlingly complicated rhythms and rhymes.  The songs vary in complexity, from basic songs such as ‘A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea’ to hybrid pastiches drawing upon established clapping songs, pop songs, TV shows and actions. The result is a fantastically varied genre of play in a constant state of transition.

Introduction by Michael Rosen.

What other games do you remember? Do you have good sources for reading about playground games? Much research has been completed on playground history and design, but the games that took place within these spaces is a topic just as important.

2 thoughts on “Miss Mary Mack & Miss Lucy

  1. Mary says:

    Remember cooties? “Im rubber; you’re glue?” “Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around. . .”
    Years ago husband Herb and I wrote a book titled “One Potato, Two Potato,” which is a study of the games, sayings, rhymes, and customs children teach other without the benefit or even the knowledge of adults. We collected hundreds of examples and showed how this folklore, while it seems trivial and silly, actually serves an important function in the lives of children. The book makes the case for unsupervised play, where this folklore can flourish. Today children’s lives are so organized and structured, I wonder if they still are practicing these traditions, many of which date back to colonial times and beyond. I wish you would ask your children and let us know here!
    The book is still in print and available; people evidently like to remember how it was when they were kids!

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