Rhymes Filled Children’s Autograph Books

Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer May 1996

Fifty years ago a Salt Lake City schoolteacher, Marguerite Ivins Wilson, studied the rhymes Utah children wrote in their classmates’ autograph books. She concluded that the rhymes reflected “both the spirit of the age in which they have been produced and the attitudes of the children” who wrote them. The material she studied came primarily from students in the fifth through eighth grades in schools from Weber to Wayne counties. It represented both rural and urban areas and in the Salt Lake City and Eureka, Juab County, samples a mix of ethnic backgrounds, including Mexican, Italian, Greek, Japanese, African American, Irish, Scandinavian, and Cornish. Despite this variety, Wilson found that “In general, the same types of rhymes were reported by all the children, and it seems that the variations in them are due more to individual attempts at originality than to anything else.”

Girls submitted most of the rhymes, Wilson said, but that was expected. “Boys do write in the autograph books, although not as much as the girls, but for a twelve-year old boy to own a book and carry it around to be signed would mark him as a ‘sissy’ in most groups…. Most of the verses which they do write are flippant and not particularly flattering,” such as:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
You like Miss________,
So phooey to you.

Variations on the familiar Roses are red verse came from every school. Usually the first two lines were as above and the final lines anything from a compliment (You are my best friend,/And I do mean you) to the unflattering (I know a donkey,/That looks like you) to the unexpected (Rain on the roof,/Reminds me of you,/Drip, drip, drip).

An amusing category of verses provided advice on marriage, husbands, and children. A two-liner popular among all children was:

When you are married and have some twins,
Call on me for some safety pins (or, alternatively, Don’t call on me for safety pins).

Social historians might wonder at the home life that produced the following advice for a future wife:

When you get married,
And your husband gets cross,
Take up a poker,
And show him who’s boss.

Humor shines forth in another verse sample:

When you get old,
And think you’re sweet,
Take off your shoes,
And smell your feet.

Sometimes the writer describes herself:

I’m not a Southern beauty,
I’m not an Eastern rose,
I’m just a little Western girl,
With freckles on her nose.

The popularity of the autograph books in the mid-1940s when the verses were collected indicated to Wilson “the children who own and treasure them are not without sentiment, but what they write shows clearly the natural unwillingness of the modern adolescent to show it.” She hoped the collection would be preserved and studied by folklorists and that further collection might reveal regional variations and changing patterns in different generations.

Source: Marguerite Ivins Wilson, “Yours Till—A Study of Children’s Autograph Rhymes in Utah,” Utah Humanities Review 1 (1947).