Gettin’ Buttery Wid It

It all started with a word. I don’t know where I saw the word, but the word was ‘butterwife’.

The word fascinated me. What was a butterwife? I knew it was not an alewife which is a fish, nor a fishwife who is a person who alternately shrieks in scathing tones and/or is a woman who sells fish whom supposedly is married not to a fishhusband (which would seem to make the most sense) but to a fisherman.

I started down a slippery slope of butteryness. Let me take you along with me as I traverse the path as it wound gently and oleaginously forward.

Butter wife, a woman who makes or sells butter; -- called
        also butter woman. [Obs. or Archaic]
        [1913 Webster]


Notes from one butter-wife:

“We bought a 11-acre farm; my husband was a good dairyman and a first class butter maker, but we could scarcely pay taxes and interest and live, until I took up crochet work. I managed thus to pay $200 on the mortgage every year, but the strain was too great, and overwork ruined my health—but the mortgage was paid. Meantime I have had only one new hat in eight years and one secondhand dress, earned by lace work. We are of the better class and have to keep up appearances, but the struggle is heartbreaking and health destroying. We have worked night and day. Our two sons have had to give up a higher education to work, and both have decided mechanical and constructive ability.”

“Suggest some feasible plan for caring for the farm help without making them a part of the family. Many of them are dirty, vulgar, profane, and drunken, yet they eat at table with us; our children listen to and become familiar with their drunken babblings. Our privacy is destroyed, our tastes and sense of decency are outraged. We are forced to wait upon and clean up after men who would not be allowed to enter the houses of men of any other vocation. Do not misunderstand; the farmers’ wives care little for social status. It is not because they are hired men that we wish them banished, but because oftentimes they are personally unworthy.”

I have to admit . . . when I read foodies gush about how wonderful it is to make their own butter I think of these other women from another time.

The tools above are used in buttermaking.

Of course there is always a flip-side. In butter the flip-side (on a couple of different levels) takes form in the shape of this margarine dragon!


Being buttery, butter is a natural political companion. From President Taft’s White House Cow (which is much like President Obama’s White House Garden!) to Teddy Roosevelt, who in his autobiography (in the chapter ‘Practical Politics’) mentions butter and apparently thumps his fist on the table while doing so

bread for myself and my family. I had enough to get bread. What I had to do, if I wanted butter and jam, was to provide the butter and jam, but to count their cost…

At the end of following along all this and getting quite buttery about it all, I came across something which made me re-think things. Would I really want to be a butterwife when instead I might be able to be a milkseller? If I were a milkseller I could have an adorable donkey and we all could stand in the middle of a charming little green hayfield in Cologne. How romantic! The possibilities in life are always worth thinking about, don’t you agree?

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4 thoughts on “Gettin’ Buttery Wid It

  1. in one of my favorite books, an older man eyes his rich friend’s daughter dancing in shoeless stockinged feet with holes in the toes, and compared her to the freshest butter that had just been churned – oh how good it tastes…

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