The Milkmaid

The Milkmaid
An old song turned into nursery rhyme adapted and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. The story details a young men sent by his mother to search for a rich wife . On his journey the man runs into a pretty milkmaid, but as he would find out she possessed no fortune. The man remarks he cannot marry her but the Milkmaid replies with a comical reapproach saying "Nobody asked you sir!" The milkmaid and her friends chase him off the property repeating the retort "Nobody asked you sir!"

The song reportedly has 14th century roots and was a popular folk song all throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Other variants of the song title include "Dabbling in the Dew" and "Rolling in the Dew." ("Dabbling in the Dew")

Given the context of the time period of the published books, Caldecott is forcibly addressing the issue of gender equality. The Victorian era in England defined the two sexes in restricting gender roles or "separate spheres." Men would commute to their occupation where wives and daughters saw over the domestic sphere that was increasingly being taken over by hired servants. Professor Kathryn Hughes of the University of East Anglia noted that the Victorian Era and it's increasing reliance on servants is evident by the fashion of the period. Professor Hughes reasons: "From the 1830s, women started to adopt the crinoline, a huge bell-shaped skirt that made it virtually impossible to clean a grate or sweep the stairs without tumbling over." (Hughes 2007) Although the gender roles and the forcible confrontation with it in Caldecott's rendition of the old song is hidden behind a comical tale, it still shows working women with autonomy in deciding their own future contrasting the Victorian Era gender standards.

Caldecott, often called the "father of picture books" was an English illustrator famous for his illustrated children's books and their influence on subsequent picture books. Maurice Sendak, author of "Where the Wild Things Are" defended Caldecott's assumed title when she stated that "Caldecott's work heralded the beginning of the modern picture book." Caldecott's illustrations were unique and influential in leaving white space around his line drawings in order to draw attention to the details of his illustration. (Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books) The Caldecott Medal is named after him, which is annually awarded "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." The award has been given since 1938 ("Welcome").
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"Dabbling in the Dew," Folk Info, (November 2, 2007), Accessed July 26, 2023
Hughes, Kathryn. "Gender roles in the 19th century," British Library, (May 15, 2014): Accessed July 26, 2023.
"Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books: Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting," British Library, accessed July 27, 2023.,be%20incredibly%20influential%20and%20inventive.
"Rolling in the Dew, Dabbling in the Dew, The Milkmaid's Song," Mainly Norfolk,
(June 23, 2023): Accessed July 26, 2023.
“Welcome to the Caldecott Medal Home Page!” Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), November 2, 2020.
Date Created
1880s AD
Randolph Caldecott
George Routledge & Sons
31 cm
Geographical Coverage
Temporal Coverage
19th Century
Victorian Era
Collecting Areas
Caldecott Picture Books Collection
English History of Writing Collection
English illustrated works (documents)
English picture books
Picture Books
Children's Books
Bibliographic Citation
Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886. The Milkmaid. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1880s.

Item sets