Fun Facts from Louisville, KY: The “Happy Birthday” Song

This photo is of the sheet music taken from an article in The Wall Street Journal published on Friday, June 12, 1981.

With the New Year approaching, many are looking forward to a fresh start; a rebirth if you will. As a music lover, a familiar tune comes to mind; “Happy Birthday To You.” While this song seems to have materialized out of thin air only to be ingrained in our heads from the time we begin to develop memories, its authors are actually native ‘Louisvillian’ sisters Patty Smith Hill and Mildred Hill. The song was even copyrighted in 1935 and the Hill sisters initiated multiple lawsuits involving its use. These days, according to Seigel and Cochran (2008), if you want to use the song in a television show, a movie, or a commercial it will cost you anywhere from $5,000-$30,000…yikes! Thankfully most of us just sing it for private occasions in which case it is free.

This photo pictures Mary D. Anderson Hill, her son, Archie Hill, and her sister-in-law, Patty Smith Hill from left to right.

Now more popularly known as simply “Happy Birthday,” the song was originally adapted from the Hill sisters’ version of a song called “Good Morning To All.” It has been rumored that the sisters’ students eventually began to change the words to “happy birthday to you.” It was first published in a book entitled Children’s Praise and Worship in 1918.

Patty Hill, in particular, later went on to accomplish a great deal. Born on March 27, 1868, she first taught kindergarten in Louisville for 19 years before moving to New York. Eventually she became known as a pioneer in new methods regarding early childhood education and held a full professorship in Columbia University’s School of Education. The Filson Library contains various newspaper articles and other sources of information about Patty Hill in an Historical File entitled “Hill, Patty and Mildred.” There is also an article in the Filson Club History Quarterly written on Hill in Volume 31, Number 3. Additionally, the Filson Special Collections department houses the papers of Patty Smith Hill.

Filson Historical

2 comments on “Fun Facts from Louisville, KY: The “Happy Birthday” Song

  1. M Wright

    That is not Mildred HIll in the photograph. It is Mary Anderson Hill, mother of Archibald Anderson Hill, sister-in-law to Patty.

    1. Jennie Cole

      Thanks for your input on this image. It is one that we have had a hard time pinpointing (which should be indicated in the caption!). If the child is Arch Hill, nephew to Patty Smith and Mildred Hill, the picture would have to date to around 1912-1915, but Patty does not appear to be in her mid-to-late 40s in the shot. We did not have any clear images of Mildred, or of any other female family members, to make a comparison. If you have other images of the family we would appreciate being able to see them and compare! Thanks again, Jennie


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