The Old Maid's Song

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The Old Maid's Song is an American folk song. It recounts the story of a woman whose younger sisters have married, while she has remained a spinster into middle age. During the chorus of the song, the narrator defines a loose criterion for a husband.

The song is derived from the broadside ballad "The Wooing Maid," a song which dates to the seventeenth century.[1]


The chorus lyrics vary between different versions of the song. In a version collected in Dover, Vermont in 1919, the chorus is sung:

A linman, a tinman, a tinker, a tailor,
A fiddler, a peddler, a plough-man, a sailor;
Come gentle, come simple, come foolish, come witty,
Don't let me die an old maid, but take me out of pity![2]

In another variation heard in Pulaski County, Kentucky and published in 1917 differs slightly:

Come a landsman, a pinsman, a tinker or a tailor,
A fiddler or a dancer, a ploughboy or a sailor,
A gentleman or a poor man, a fool or a witty,
Don't you let me die an old maid, but take me out of pity.[3]

In "The Wooing Maid," the ballad from which the song is derived, the first two lines of the chorus belong instead to the first verse:

Come tinker, come broomman:
She will refuse no man.
Come gentle, come simple, come foolish, come witty,
Oh! if you lack a maid, take me for pitty.[4]

The song is known by many titles, including "Sister Susan",[5] and "The Spinster's Lament",[6] "Old Maid's Complaint", "Old Maid's Lament," and "Old Maid's Petition".[7]

Pete Seeger recorded a rendition of the song for the Smithsonian Folkways label.


  1. ^ Kittredge, G. L. (Jul–Sep 1917). "Ballads and Songs". The Journal of American Folklore. 30 (117): 355–6. JSTOR 534379. 
  2. ^ Atwood, James; Atwood, Mary; Sturgis, Edith; Hughs, Robert (2010). Songs and Verse from the Hills of Vermont. East Dover, Vermont: The Dover Historical Society. pp. 18–21. 
  3. ^ Kittredge 1917.
  4. ^ Chappell, William (1880). The Roxburghe Ballads, Volume 3. Ballad Society. pp. 52–3. 
  5. ^ Flanders, Helen Hartness; Brown, George (1968). Vermont Folk-Songs and Ballads. Hatboro, Pennsylvania: Folklore Associates, Inc. p. 102. 
  6. ^ Atwood 2010.
  7. ^ Quinn, Jennifer Post (1983). An Index to the Field Recordings in the Flanders Ballad Collection at Middlebury College. Middlebury, Vermont: Middlebury College. p. 117.