The saying, “As smooth as a milk maid’s skin” has a very interesting history. At first blush one might imagine that it meant milk baths or sweet cream facials for milk maids who, because of their ready access to milk, had exceptionally smooth skin. It is true that certain milk maids did have smooth skin, but the truth is more sobering.
I found this snippet in Wikidpedia:
The expression “as smooth as a milk maid’s skin” means exceptionally smooth. This phrase came about as a result of exposure to cowpox, which causes no serious symptoms, but does convey a partial immunity to the disfiguring (and often fatal) disease smallpox. Thus, milkmaids lacked the “pockmarked” complexion common to smallpox survivors. This observation led to the development of the first vaccine.
The first vaccine, in fact, was performed in 1796 by Dr. Edward Jenner in Berkeley (Gloucestershire), England. He discovered that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox did not get smallpox. When his patient Sarah Nelmes presented symptoms of cowpox on her hand, Jenner “took the pus from a cowpox lesion and inoculated an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps, the son of Jenner’s gardener. After the boy got a slight case of cowpox, Jenner exposed him to smallpox. As he suspected and much to his relief, young James remained unaffected by the deadly disease. (Read more about Dr. Jenner HERE.)
The visions of milky white, soft, beautiful skin that I once imagined when I heard this saying are definitely not what those who initially coined the phrase intended! The truth is quite gruesome, what with cowpox pus scrapings and human experimentation. But I suppose it is the final result, discovery of a vaccination against a deadly disease, that matters most. Here’s the Haiku then…
She was one so fair
“As smooth as a milk maid’s skin”
~kat – 18 February 2016
This Haiku is in response to Ronovan Writes Weekly Haiku Challenge with the Prompt Words: Milk & Smooth. If you would like to read other Haiku or enter your own, click HERE.