Primary Sources

Old Dame Trott

Within the vast collection of books for young readers left to the College by Ellery Yale Wood (1952) are thousands of books about cats. These include what we suspect to be the world’s largest collection
of works containing the amusing story of Dame Trot.

The poem “Old Dame Trot, and Her Comical Cat” was first published by T. Evans in 1803. Many subsequent editions, sequels, and variations followed in the next two centuries. Bryn Mawr currently has 56 single publications as well as numerous books of nursery rhymes including the poem. As a Friends of the Libraries intern for Rare Books this past summer, I have been working on a website that will celebrate our collection and provide both a digital repository of the work and information to facilitate scholarly access.

The first edition of the poem featured short verses with woodcut illustrations. The earliest version we have of this book was produced by William Darton in 1805 or 1806 and is very similar to the original. The verses follow a pattern: Dame Trot leaves the house to do something and finds the cat behaving strangely (and humorously) when she comes back. Near the beginning, for example, she returns from the butcher and finds the cat dead. She sets out to buy a coffin, but “when she came back, puss sat up and mewed.”

Primary Sources Darton

The cat performs a range of surprising activities: baking, spinning, playing the fiddle, even smoking with the pet dog. The story ends with the cat dressed up in fancy human clothes. Her amazed owner compliments the cat who despite her varied accomplishments, can only meow in response.

Subsequent Dame Trot publications include many sequels and variations on the rhyme. Most are also written as poems, though there are a few prose versions. There are even a handful of Dame Trot items that are not in the form of books, like a jigsaw puzzle and paper dolls. We have been gradually adding to Ellery Yale Wood’s collection to fill in missing items and to expand the range of formats and dates beyond those she collected.

We are creating a website with a chronological list of our items, including links to items that we have digitized and uploaded to the Internet Archive. In addition, we have compiled a larger bibliography of all known Dame Trot books. The website will also chart the relationships between texts, outline key narratives, and provide a timeline of notable publications in Dame Trot’s history. Look for the site this spring!