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The History of "Ring Around the Rosie"

Ring Around the Rosie statueWe’ve all heard of the children’s game called “Ring Around the Rosie”. It is often taught to very young children who tend to delight in it. Adults often find it amusing to watch the little ones figure out how to do it. “Ring Around the Rosie” is a very old game that your ancestors may have played. Some say it relates to the plague. What’s the truth behind this children’s game?

“Ring Around the Rosie” is a very simple game to play. It requires three or more children. A larger group will work just as well. To start, everyone forms a circle and holds hands with the child on either side of them.

The group then walks or skips around the circle. It doesn’t really matter if the circle is moving clockwise or counterclockwise so long as everyone is moving in the same direction. The children then say or sing the “Ring Around the Rosie” poem. Every stops and sits down when they get to the last line. The game can be repeated as often as the children want. It is the type of game that is done for amusement, and there are no winners or losers.

The very first appearance of “Ring Around the Rosie” in print was in 1881. The nursery rhyme appeared in Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose. The poem is as follows:


A pocket full of posies;

Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!

We’re all tumbled down.

Some have suggested that “Ring Around the Rosie” refers to the bubonic plague or the black plague. This concept is the type of thing that gets shared around online a lot. This idea seems to come from a misinterpretation of the lyrics found in the version printed in 1881.

People think that the line that was written as “Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!” said “Ashes, Ashes”, and that the last line was “We all fall down” instead of “We’re all tumbled down”. It has been said that the “we all fall down” refers to people dying from the plague.

What’s the truth? says that the idea that “Ring Around the Rosie” refers to the plague is false. So, what’s the real history of this nursery rhyme?

Snopes points to a Folklorist named Philip Hiscock. He believes that “Ring Around the Rosie” was one of the ways people entertained themselves in the nineteenth century in Britain and in North America. At the time, Protestants had placed a religious ban on dancing.

To get around that ban, people began using children’s nursery rhymes instead of music. Dancing required music, so one could not be dancing if there was no music playing. Back then, many dances were done in circles with everyone doing a specific set of steps. So, “Ring Around the Rosie” was a way to dance without violating the religious ban on dancing that the Protestants put in place.

Image by Aaron on Flickr.

Related Articles:

* The History of Dominoes

* Pandemics and Your Ancestors Part 2 – 20th Century

* Old-Time Terms for Illnesses/Diseases

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