'Old Mother Hubbard' is Weirder Than You Thought


If Old Mother Hubbard had Instagram, her dog would be a social media star. 

Sarah Catherine Martin created the character of Old Mother Hubbard in 1805, modeling the old lady after the housekeeper of her sister, Mrs. Pollexfen Bastard. The rhyme depicts a highly accommodating woman who seeks to buy her dog everything he needs, only to find him to be completely self-sustainable.

Throughout The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard, and Her Dog in which is Shewn the Wonderful Powers That Good Old Lady Possessed in the Education of Her Favourite Animal, the dog shows off his human-like talents, such as dancing, reading, dressing himself, and pipe smoking. In 1819, a second edition of the book (above) was published with intricate pictures for each verse.

The Comic Adventures of Old Dame Trot and Her Cat was published a year later by the same publisher, and told a similar story about an old woman—Dame Trot—and her dog and cat’s misdeeds and surprising talents. 

In the centuries since Martin published her comic, Mother Hubbard has become a classic nursery rhyme—although most just know the first stanza. But considering the next stanzas involve the dog smoking a pipe, the woman going to a tavern to buy wine, and the dog dying at the very end, it makes sense that most parents prefer the abridged version.