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There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

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Title: There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Babes in Toyland (1934 film), Nursery rhyme, List of nursery rhymes, Chromolithography, William Wallace Denslow
Collection: English Folklore, Nursery Rhymes
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

"There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"
Roud #19132
Illustration by William Wallace Denslow, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose
Written England
Published 1794
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" is a popular English language

  • Jack, Albert (2008), Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes (eBook), Penguin,  
  • Merridew, Ralph (1987),  
  • Opie, I.; Opie, P. (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press,  


  1. ^ a b c d Opie & Opie (1997), pp. 522–4
  2. ^ J. Ritson, Gammer Gurton's garland, or, The nursery Parnassus: a choice collection of pretty songs and verses for the amusement of all little good children who can neither read nor run (1794, rpt., Glasgow, 1866), p. 27.
  3. ^ Opie & Opie (1997), pp. 522–24
  4. ^ a b c Jack (2008), There Was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe
  5. ^ Merridew (1987), p. 134


  1. ^ The idea that George II was dominated by his queen is expressed in this contemporary verse:[4]

    You may strut, dapper George,
    But it will be in vain;
    We all know it is Queen Caroline
    Not you that reign.


Folding card, 1883


Albert Jack has proposed a political origin for the rhyme. George II was nicknamed the "old woman", because it was widely believed that Queen Caroline was the real power behind the throne.[1] According to this explanation, the children are the South Sea Bubble of 1721, and his attempts to restore his own and the country's finances.[4]

  • Queen George II (1683–1760), who had eight children.
  • Elizabeth Vergoose of Boston, who had six children of her own and ten stepchildren.

Debates over the meaning of the rhyme have largely revolved around matching the old woman with historical figures, as Peter Opie observed "for little reason other than the size of their families". Candidates include:[1]

The term "a-loffeing", they believe, was Shakespearean, suggesting that the rhyme is considerably older than the first printed versions. They then speculated that if this were true, it might have a folklore meaning and pointed to the connection between shoes and fertility, perhaps exemplified by casting a shoe after a bride as she leaves for her honeymoon,[3] or tying shoes to the departing couple's car.[4] Archaeologist Ralph Merifield has pointed out that in Lancashire it was the custom for females who wished to conceive to try on the shoes of a woman who had just given birth.[5]

Then out went th' old woman to bespeak 'em a coffin,
And when she came back, she found 'em all a-loffeing.[1]

Iona and Peter Opie pointed to the version published in Infant Institutes in 1797, which finished with the lines:

Origins and meaning

There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children,
And loved them all, too.
She said, "Thank you Lord Jesus,
For sending them bread."
Then kissed them all gladly
and sent them to bed.

Many other variations were printed in the 18th and 19th centuries.[1] Marjorie Ainsworth Decker published a Christian version of the rhyme in her The Christian Mother Goose Book published in 1978:

She whipp'd all their bums, and sent them to bed.[2]

The earliest printed version in Joseph Ritson's Gammer Gurton's Garland in 1794 has the coarser last line:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

The most common version of the rhyme is:[1]

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