Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wikipedia's Article About "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" Is A BIG Fail

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Editor's comments was slightly revised onDecember 28, 2018.

Note that the Wikipedia article on "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" that I read on December 28, 2018 isn't the same as the page that I'm critiquing in this pancocojams post. For example, the December 28, 2018 version doesn't include what I believe is an erroneous statement that "Miss Lucy" (similar to Miss Suzy), is the name of an American schoolyard rhyme and clapping game in which emancipated African American culture is mocked."

This is Part I of a three part series on the playground rhyme which is called "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" and other similar titles. In this post I critique the Wikipedia article about "Miss Lucy Had A Baby".

Click for Part II of this series. In Part II I present five theories about the role played by the lady with the alligator purse in "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhymes. Comments from two Mudcat Cafe discussion threads about this rhyme are reposted to present these theories.

Click for Part III of this series. That post features several variant text examples of "Miss Lucy Had A Baby". Two videos of this rhyme are also featured on this post. That post also includes comments about the possible date of "Miss Lucy Had A Baby".

This post serves as a critique of the Wikipedia article on "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" that I read on October 14, 2013. All quotes from that article were retrieved on that date. Note that I'm aware from a comment in a box which prefaces that Wikipedia article dated June 2013 that "This article possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research may be removed."

I've chosen to write this blog post rather than using the format Wikipedia presents, partly because I prefer writing on this blog and partly because I tried but can't figure out Wikipedia's format for critiquing and suggesting changes in existing articles.

Prior to beginning this critique, I'm showcasing a rather "standard" example of "Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and sociological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Note: There are LOTS of different examples of "Miss Lucy Had A Baby". In some of those examples the woman who had a baby is named "Susie" or "Molly" or another female name. In other examples of this rhyme the baby who almost drowns in the bathtub is the brother of the person who is voicing the words of the rhyme. Furthermore, there are other examples of this rhyme in which the "baby" isn't a person but a puppy. Other similarities & differences between versions of this rhyme are discussed in Part II of this series.

Here's one text example of this rhyme from "Miss Susie had a baby..." How does the song/rhyme go?".
Miss Susie had a bady She named him Tiny Tim
She put him in a bathtub To see if he could swim
He drank up all the water He ate up all the soap
He tried to eat the bathtub But it wouldn't fit down his throat
Miss Lucy called the doctor
The Doctor call the nurse
The Nurse called the lady
With the alligator purse.
In walked the doctor.
In walked the nurse
In walked the lady
With the alligator purse.
"Measles," said the doctor.
"Mumps," said the nurse.
"Nothing," said the lady
With the alligator purse.
Miss Lucy kicked the doctor.
Miss Lucy punched the nurse.
Miss Lucy paid the lady
With the alligator purse.
-Chyna114, 2008
That page features additional examples of "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" and examples of "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat". The playground rhymes "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" and "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat" both come from the same "Lula Gal" Old Time Music sources. Click for my comment about the sources for those playground rhymes.


The statements from that article are presented in italics and my comments about those quotes are presented below those particular quotes. I'm assigning numbers to those quotes for referencing purposes.

1."Miss Lucy" (similar to Miss Suzy), is the name of an American schoolyard rhyme and clapping game in which emancipated African American culture is mocked.

I assume that by "emancipated African American culture" the author of this article means the way African Americans lived post-United States slavery. The author doesn't explain how this rhyme mocks post-African American culture/s [note my plural and the author's use of singular with its assumption that there is only one African American cultural experience].

2. The mother's name is Miss Lucy. So she is not married but has a baby.

The author of this page assumes that the woman who had a baby in that rhyme had to a single mother because the title "Miss" prefaces her name. My position is that the title "Miss" was used out of respect to & for young girls and/or young women.

Note that "Miss Mary Mack" is another very widely known playground rhyme in which a title almost always prefaces the female name. The fact that in that rhyme "Miss Mary Mack" asks her mother for 15 cents [or 50 cents] substantiates my position that the title "Miss" prefaced the names of young girls.

Historically, an alternative theory could be offerred that the title "Miss" in this rhyme refers to a White girl or a White woman.

Prior to the end of slavery in the USA in the Southern regions of that country, the titles "Miss" and "Mr" were reserved for White people only. Instead, of those titles, "Aunt" and "Uncle" were used for old & [somewhat] respected Black folks. Examples of that usage are "Uncle Remus" [folktales], "Uncle Ben's" [These are still brand names for rice products] and "Aunt Jemima" [These are still brand names for pancake mix products and syrup products].

Also note that the title "Miss" was used during the 19th century if not earlier by Black folks if not by other people as a referent not just for young White women-married or unmarried-but also for young White girls. The referents "Little Miss" and "Young Missy" permeate fiction and non-fiction writings about the "Old South".

However, I believe that these Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhymes are of post-emancipation origin, perhaps as late as the 1940s or 1950s*. Because of that, my bet is on the first explanation that I gave for the title "Miss".
*I've not yet been able to find any documentation of when these "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhymes were first chanted.
I believe that this rhyme originated among African Americans, as is the case with the other songs & rhyme examples from the same "Lula Gal" sources. Because enslaved Black people rarely had access to doctors or nurses, and particularly not at their homes as is described in the story line of these "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhymes, the conclusion can logically be reached that these rhymes were of post-emancipation origin.

And if the words of these rhymes originally reflected people's anxiety about Diptheria epidemics in the United States, then the dates of those post-emancipation epidemics would help pinpoint probable early dates for these rhymes. That would put that rhyme's composition between the late 1880s and the early 1900s. the information that "In the late 1800's, diphtheria epidemics spread throughout the United States and Europe until 1920, when a vaccine was developed.

Also, the line in "Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat" that goes "Hello Operator, give me #9" suggest that this rhyme was composed between 1878 and the 1920s as the 1920s was when direct dial telephones began in the United States.

And since the steamboat era was in the later half of the 19th century, that fact also helps date the "Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat" rhymes.

3.The name [Lucy] is typical to that of a young slave woman of African origin...

Tiny Tim as 'Miss Lucy' also mocks the African American short common names, such as Jim (the slave in Tom Sawyer) and Tom (in Uncle Tom's Cabin).

These statements are so simplistic that I believe that they don't deserve any comment.

4. Miss Lucy call's the "white" team, consisting of the Doctor, Nurse, and Social worker, with the "alligator purse".[5]

First of all, Black people and other People of Color were and are doctors, nurses, and social workers. It's racist to call those professionals "the 'white' team".

In my theory about the meaning of "the lady with the alligator purse", I differentiate between the "establishment" healthcare practitioners [the doctor and the nurse] and the non-establishment health care practitioner [the lady with the alligator purse]. I'm not sure if this is what the author of that Wikipedia article meant by what I consider to be her [or his] problematic and socially incorrect [as in "politically incorrect"] description of these characters.

The citation #5 that is given in this quote is from a lecture entitled "How not to appear as a social workerat the Australian College of Social Work". While a few lines from "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" are quoted, unless I missed it, those lines were given as examples of child neglect and abuse [??] and only [to me] obliquely referred to social workers carrying alligator purses.

Visit Part II of this series for more comments about the depiction of these three characters. Also, read quote #5 below...

5. An alligator purse was typical dress code for the social worker in the 1950s[6]

The citation given as #6 in that Wikipedia article is "Take me to Connie [sic] Island", Miriam Packer, Guernica Editions, 1993, Page 35.
I believe this book whose title is actually Take Me To Coney Island is fiction. I've read the page that was indicated via Google Books. That page includes a description of "Miss Robb...all clothed in professsional garb-dark velvet suit, alligator purse and shoes, Italian scarf with impressionist images of birds in flight"....

Having been a child welfare caseworker & supervisor for 15 years and a social services director at a residential facility for homeless women & children for three years [all in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area], I know a thing or two about how social workers dress. That book's description of that attire isn't even close. Furthermore, to date, I've not found any other online descriptions of social workers in the past or the present routinely carrying alligator bags as part of their professional "uniform".

Also, read my comments immediately below about citation #7 in that Wikipedia article.

6. According to folklore, bubbles stuck in the babies throat may refer to symptoms of Black Diphtheria, and the bathtub is a version changed for children.[7]

7. [This portion of this post include slight revisions for grammatical purposes made on December 28, 2018.]
Citation #7 is given as a "discussion on the folklore of the Miss Lucy rhyme". That link leads to "Folklore: Lady's alligator purse? Her own thread".

I'm very much familiar with that discussion as I posted more comments on that discussion thread than any other participant. Furthermore, as a once very active member of that discussion forum, I'm aware of the race of the other members who posted comments on that thread. I know that all of the participants in that discussion -except for me-are White [I'm African American]*. This is pertinent because, given her/his conclusions in this article, I gather that the author of the Wikipedia page erroneously assumed that both of the commenters who mentioned social workers in regards to that "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhyme were African American. However, for the record, both of these commenters were White men:
GUEST,Neighmond [Chaz]* Date: 10 Apr 06 - 02:03 AM wrote "We always thought the lady with the aligator purse was the social worker!"
*Chaz was writing as a Guest because he hadn't logged in, but he was [and maybe still is] a member of that forum.

M Ted wrote on 21 Apr 06 - 06:06 PM "My neighborhood was not one of the better ones, and we knew the lady with the alligator purse to be a social worker,because wherever misfortune visited, she followed".

In that discussion thread I presented my theory that the lady with the alligator purse was a herbalist or some other non-traditional health care provider. In Part II of this series read more about this theory as well as my comments challenging both Chaz's and M. Ted's implications about how social workers are considered and interacted with when they arrive as investigators at homes in Black communities or any other communities.

Click for another Mudcat post that partly focuses on examples of "Miss Lucy Had A Baby". I also participated in that discussion.

8.In some versions Miss Lucy acts violently to the doctor and nurse's prognosis, but pays the alligator purse lady for nothing.
I generally agree with this description.

*Pancocojams Editor's Comment About Mudcat Cafe's Discussion Forum
I'm including the following information about Mudcat Cafe although some may consider this to be off topic . However, I believe this information is pertinent in general terms and because it appears to me that the Wikipedia author of the article about "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" assumed that Black people were the ones who mentioned that as children they thought that the lady with the alligator purse was a social worker. So for the public record and because I believe that it is important to document & share as much demographical information as possible including race for folkloric products [which also describes online blog posts and discussions], let me take this time to indicate the following:

Although Mudcat Cafe was & is a Folk & Blues forum, most of the music discussions have been and continue to be about folk music from White Europeans [This isn't redundent.] and White Americans. And while Mudcat excels in discussions about Old Time Music and early Blues, it's participants rarely discuss other forms of Blues and other folk music originating from & largely performed by People of Color. Also, while there were discussion threads on playground rhymes prior to my participation at Mudcat, the record shows that I spearheaded those discussions during the five years that I was an active member of that forum.

When I was active with that forum most Mudcat members were males & females fifty years & older who came from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in that order. Some other Mudcaters came from Germany, New Zealand, and a few other European nations.

During the years that I was active with Mudcat Cafe -from August 2004 to November 2009- there was only three other publicly acknowledged People of Color who were members of that forum - a Japanese man, a woman who was a Koori [an indigenous person] from a particular region of Australia, and a Black man from Ghana who I recruited to that forum & who unfortunately was only active there for a very short time. None of those persons commented on either one of the Mudcat discussion threads that I linked to in this post.

I'm sure that a small percentage of people who have posted and posts as non-members ["Guests"] on that forum were/are People of Color, although few Guests gave that demographical information.

Lastly, it appears to me since 2009 to date my description of the membership & Guest demographics for that forum remains the same.

NOTE FOR THE RECORD: I've posted a link to this pancocojams post and these comments about that forum in the Mudcat thread to which the Wikipedia author hyperlinked & whose link I provided in this pancocojams blog post.

With regard to the author's statement about "Black Diptheria", I agree that this rhyme's references to the baby having a "bubble in his throat" refers to Diptheria but wonder why the author referred to that disease as "Black Diptheria.

Additional comments about the early purpose of the "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" are found in Part II of this series.

Visit Part II and Part III of this pancocojams series for examples & comments about how the lady with the alligator purse is treated differently than the way the doctor and nurse are treated.

I believe that "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" can be partly traced to Old Time Music songs such as "Shout Lula". Click for an example of "Shout Lula".

My thanks to all those who are quoted in this post, including the author of that Wikipedia article.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Thank you for your thank you.

    I am the author of the article. So now I am thanked as a responding person as well. Thank you again.

    It will probably please you to see that most of my edits were completely reverted, including by my own self, after my sources were contested one on one, and the text has been replaced with a totally different research (mostly from Miss Suzy) - showing that the song was alive and well way back in the 1890's and even earlier.

    People of color:

    First, some personal words, following your look into who the posters on the forum are: I'm Jewish, and live in Israel, my father in law is Morrocan and very dark... so you could call him "a man of color" (my brother in law calls them: "Pigment Rich") and my father's family has quite a few dark hair (although both sides have red heads as well). We have lived for about 10 years in a village with Ethiopian Jews, and I have a close friend who is a Kenyan Jew and who is an exact replica of Barack Obama (He's Kenyan from his father, his mother is a white Jewish American who lived in Kenya for a while and then moved to Israel). Just giving background to myself and my surroundings.

    To be continued in next post

    Moshe Flam aka Pashute

  2. And about the "white team" - I was saying that this song was written in early parts of the 20th century or perhaps in the 50s. The "white team" was referring to the way the people who sang the song perceived it. And yes, of course that was racism, and that was what I was claiming... That the song, along with other blackface minstrelcy songs, which in a way were supposed to "fight racism", were actually racist.

    Anyway, I was proven wrong. At least its origins where probably not in mocking blacks.