New Orleans Nostalgia: Does a Body Good
The 1921 Milk for Health Campaign
The Butter Cow was sculpted by J.E. Wallace of Lincoln, Nebraska, a sculptor who exhibited nationwide, and “who expresses his art almost entirely in terms of butter.” Four hundred pounds of butter were used for the sculpture, and the display was kept refrigerated by 1,500 pounds of ice per day. It was extremely popular, attracting huge crowds daily, requiring an iron bar to be placed across the window to keep people from crushing it, as well as police presence for crowd control. Image provided courtesy of The New Orleans Public Library.
In September 1921, after reports that New Orleans consumed less milk per capita than other United States cities, the United States Department of Agriculture, Louisiana State University and the New Orleans Association of Commerce joined forces. The result was the Milk for Health Campaign, created to promote the “consumption of more and better milk.”
Led by Miss Jessie M. Hoover, the USDA’s “milk utilization specialist,” the campaign, which ran April 17 to 22 in 1922, reached out to residents through a multifaceted system of programming that included posters, news stories, pageants and cooking demonstrations.
A major part of the campaign was school visits, which were estimated to have reached 60,000 students. Experts went into classes and gave a demonstration and 10-minute talk about the health benefits of milk. These talks were presented through single-syllable words in a fairy tale format and at times included a song called “Doctor Milk.”
In what was the most visible part of the campaign, local stores put up window displays. These unusual displays were big draws, especially the popular Butter Cow on display at Maison Blanche. The Times-Picayune, describing another window, wrote “Another exhibit will be an all-day-long orgy of milk drinking by a mechanical doll.”
The New Orleans campaign was considered such a success that it was used as a blueprint for similar campaigns in neighboring parishes and states. None of those, however, had quite the same flair. It should come as no surprise that a parade during the Carnival season of 1923 was the official end of the campaign and included vehicles decorated in milk-based themes that incorporated butter, ice cream, cheese, Creole Cream Cheese and the five milk fairies: Fanny Fat, Viola Vitamine, Sally Sugar, Patrick Protein and Minnie Mineral Matter.