we ain’t heavy

We ain’t heavy we’re brothers

In 1884, James Wells, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, in his book The Parables of Jesus tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn’t tired. With surprise she replied, “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.”[3]

In a 1918 publication by Ralph Waldo Trine titled The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit, he relates the following anecdote: “Do you know that incident in connection with the little Scottish girl? She was trudging along, carrying as best she could a boy younger, but it seemed almost as big as she herself, when one remarked to her how heavy he must be for her to carry, when instantly came the reply: ‘He’s na heavy. He’s mi brither.'”[4]

The first editor of Kiwanis magazine, Roe Fulkerson, published a column in September 1924 carrying the title “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, the first use of the phrase exactly as it is rendered in the song title.

In the 1940s, the words, adapted as “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother”, were taken as a slogan for Boys Town children’s home by founder Father Edward Flanagan.[5]

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