A seat without a back; a little form consisting of a board with three or four legs, intended as a seat for one person. — Webster, 1882
Now give me your milking-stool awhile, / To carry it down to yonder stile. / I’m wishing every step a mile / And myself your only sweetheart… – from “The Milkmaid” by William Allingham, 1861
A milking stool was a little low seat with back, used to sit upon when milking a cow. While a chair typically had four legs, a milking stool usually had only three legs, because it would rest securely on uneven ground. Made entirely of wood, the seat was only about nine inches in diameter or more triangular in shape (as the one shown in the picture), and the legs were short so that the milker sat low to the ground. Stool legs were often set at an angle for added stability. Sometimes milking stools were simply a disk with one leg; the milker balanced using his own legs. Sometimes such a stool was strapped around the wearer’s waist and it went with him from cow to cow!
There were many “improvements” made in milking stools over the years, including one that contained a shelf on which to set the milk pail. Others had a seat like the Ingallses’ piano stool, one that raised or lowered as the seat was twirled.
While some people preferred not to use a stool and squat on their haunches to milk, a milking stool kept the body steady and secure and allowed the arms more freedom of movement for milking or ready to prevent accidents to the pail of milk in case of any commotion of the cow. — Henry Stephens, The Farmer’s Guide to Scientific and Practical Agriculture (New York: Leonard Scott & Co., 1850), 523.
The antique milking stool shown here is on display at the South Dakota State Agricultural Heritage Museum in Brookings, South Dakota. Photographed by me.
milking-stool (FB 2, 23; BPC 37)