© Illustration by Lois Lenski











Happy May Day!

…Everyone was busy getting ready for the School Entertainment. Julia went about murmuring sweetly: “For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May!”

…After school ended, Julia kept on reciting: “For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May!” She recited it at the school picnic; she recited it for the High Fly Whist Club to which her father and mother belonged; she recited it for the Masons and the Eastern Stars; she recited it for all the neighbors. Julia was a great reciter.

Betsy asked her mother to tell her about May queens.

“How do people happen to have May queens?” she asked. “What do they do when they have them?” “It’s an English custom,” answered Mrs. Ray. “On May Day people used to go to the wood and bring back flowers. They called it ‘going a Maying.’ Then they put up a Maypole with garlands running from the top and danced around it. They chose a pretty girl and crowned her with a wreath of flowers.” 

– Excerpts and Lenski illustrations from Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.

Elmo's speakerThe recitation Julia gave at the School Entertainment and kept reciting over and over afterward is called The May Queen. The May Queen, which can be found in Elmo’s Model Speaker for Platform, School and Home. This book, compiled by Thomas W. Handford was published January 1, 1881 and is described as “providing programs for twelve evening entertainments, selections suitable for juvenile gatherings, brief responses to encores, speeches for weddings, presentations, farewells and welcomes, an invaluable book for clubs, lyceums and young people’s associations”.

This is the first of eleven verses of the poem, The May Queen:

“You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;

Tomorrow’ll be the happiest time of all the glad new-year­­—

Of all the glad new-year, mother, the maddest, merriest day;

For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May!”