Historical Women in Dairy
Updated: Mar 7
March is Women’s History month. It is a celebration of the women who have helped shape the world throughout time, whether these are the women in our own extensive family trees or those who have revolutionized society.
As a woman-owned small business, Snowville Creamery salutes the women that came before us. Incredible women have made a difference in our lives but also in the dairy industry, too. Here we honor several historical women who had an impact in the dairy industry.
Wife of founding father John Adams and mother to President John Quincy Adams, Abigail Adams was a shrewd dairy farmer. In a time when men handled most business affairs, Abigail took on managing the family finances, farm, and her children while her husband was busy forging a country. Her letters to John state, “I hope in time to have the reputation of being as good a Farmeress as my partner has of being a good Statesman.”
Even when she couldn’t personally manage her dairy farm, she did so through correspondence. She was so good at running things, her grandson Charles credited her for saving John Adams from financial ruin that so commonly befell others of their time who gave up their lives to public service.
Adda F. Howie
In the late 1800s, a wealthy socialite from Wisconsin inherited a farm. Refusing to use her wealth to her advantage and to show the way for other dairy farmers by creating a model dairy farm, Adda used only the profits from Sunny Peak Farm to expand.
Adda’s philosophy was that the care and love that she gave her cows would positively affect their productivity. This emphasized not only cleanliness of the dairy but also that a feminine touch was a positive attribute on the farm. Her cows lived in luxury with lace curtains, and she played the mandolin to them. At one point, Adda had the largest herd of Jersey Cows in Wisconsin. She was also the first woman to serve in the Wisconsin State Board of Agriculture.
One of the first commercial dairies in the United States, known as Steele Brothers, can be credited to an Ohio woman who missed her cheese. In the mid-1800s Clara moved with her husband Rensselaer and cousins Isaac, Edgar, and George in California near San Francisco. She missed cheese made by a family recipe, so she hired a native American man to drive together some cattle that grazed near her home.
Using them, she recreated not only her beloved cheese but also butter. By 1861, they had become so successful that they had moved and purchased 15,000 acres of land, setting up five dairies. According to the San Mateo County Genealogical society, they made an enormous cheese weighing nearly two tons, in which recipients of portions went to President Lincoln and General Grant, among others.
In the late 1800s, Anna Baldwin revolutionized the dairy industry. With no formal training in engineering during a time when women’s education was limited, she patented her Hygienic Glove Milker on February 18th, 1879.
An engineer at heart, she filed patents in 1869 for a machine that improved the treatment of milk for creating butter and other dairy items. In the year following, two more patents came from her to improve cooling and made milk separation better. She revised her cooling machine later, but they all lead up to her greatest work: the Hygienic Glove Milker.
Less invasive than catheter milking machines, that forced open the cow’s udder, it spared cows from resulting harm and was more sanitary. It mimicked hand milking using suction, allowing farmers to hasten milking, and maximizing milk production.
The names of the women who made strides and improvements in dairy may not be common household names, but they were all pioneers in their own way. Overcoming the obstacles of their time, they are examples of the women who came after and are still to come. As the number of women farmers increases, no doubt is in our minds that there will be many more courageous, innovative women revolutionizing dairy in the future.