Mame Kaser, Seamstress to the First Lady

Mary Isadore (Mame) Butts Kaser ( 1867-1926), my paternal grandmother.

Mame Kaser, the Quiet Grandmother

Knox County barn

Near where Mame Kaser grew up. Knox County barn. Photo by Jimmy Emerson

As I look into Mame Kaser’s life, I find contradictions galore. I wish I knew all the answers to the questions that pop up.

I am indeed sorry that I have no particular cooking stories or recipes to share from this grandmother. Since she died several years before I was born, I never knew her.

When I hear the name, “Mame”, I think of some big brassy broad like Angela Lansbury in the musical called Mame. Or I hear I hear Rita Hayworth singing, “Put the blame on Mame, boys.”

parents of Mame Kaser

Henry Allen and Ann Marie Butts

But the Mame I’m writing about today was anything but big and brassy.

Mame was the third in a family of 6. She had two older and one younger brother and two younger sisters, all except Giles, the eldest, born after their father Henry Allen Butts returned from service in the Civil War. She grew up on a farm near Milwood (which is near Danville) in Knox County, Ohio.

This picture shows her parents much later in their lives.

Mame Kaser: Religious

An interesting, if not always accurate portrayal of the Butts family by Rev. Homer Blubaugh of St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster, Ohio explains how devoutly Catholic Mame’s mother was.

“Ann, a devout Catholic, was so faithful about attending Mass that she would walk the ten-mile round trip from the farm to Millwood, then up Carey Lane to St. Luke Church, located until 1895 in Saint Luke Cemetery.  Even more remarkable was the fact that Ann carried her youngest child the entire distance.  The other children also walked….Later on Sunday afternoon Ann walked back home with her children.  This occurred in the late 1860’s and at least through the 70’s and 80’s.”

Rev. Blubaugh collected facts from census and birth and death reports, but also included stories from friends and family in his narrative. I pass on this story from the Reverend to point out that Mary/Mame never had an easy life.  Blubaugh reports that Ann killed and cooked a chicken for breakfast according to one of the daughters, and she had a large garden in which she raised beautiful flowers.  So Mame learned all the skills that a farm woman needed, got a solid founding in religion, and had a bit of beauty in her life as well.

Mame Kaser: Gone Astray

It must have been a shock to learn that quiet little Mame was pregnant out of wedlock. It certainly came as a shock when I heard it.  For years I had looked at the family pictures  and pondered why the mousy little Catholic girl had married big gruff Cliff Kaser and joined him in the Seven Day Adventist Church.  When I heard the story, her life seemed quite different than I had imagined, and sadder.  My father had passed away before I knew Mame’s story, so I never learned if he knew about the incident and just did not talk about it, or he never knew.

We have heard this story from more than one of the Butts clan–an avid bunch of genealogists and family story gatherers, so I did not doubt it was true. (See a more complete story of Catherine here.) However, just to satisfy my need for documentation, I stopped at the St. Luke Catholic Church in Danville, Ohio one drizzly day. My mission was to find the gravestones of my great-grandfather and some of the other Butts family members, but while I was in the church office, I mentioned Mary Isadore and her illegitimate child. I had heard the child had been baptized, and wondered if that was true.

Sure enough, the ladies in the office, aided by the priest, pulled out a journal record of baptisms and there was Catherine Sapp, daughter of George Sapp and Mary Butts on 9/18/1891. Mame was twenty-four years old when she and George stood in front of the altar with their infant daughter. But they did not marry. Why they did not will remain a mystery.

Mame Kaser’s Married Life

Clifford Kaser and wife

Mamie and Cliff Kaser About 1893. Wedding picture, perhaps.

However, two years later, Mame married Cliff Kaser–not in the Catholic church, but by “Squire Workman” in nearby Mt. Vernon–possibly in a Seven Day Adventist congregation. When she left her family home, Mame left her two-year-old daughter behind to be cared for by Mame’s parents. It is only speculation, but I am guessing that Cliff Kaser did not want to raise another man’s child. Mame’s family no doubt was relieved to find a husband to look after their “ruined” daughter. He wasn’t Catholic, but he seemed hard working and a good provider. Whatever heartbreak was involved, she left Catherine behind.

Her family did not turn their back on Mame, as my father clearly remembered sitting on the lap of HIS grandfather, the Civil War Veteran when Paul a little boy.

The only other thing I know about Catherine is that she ran away from the Butts family when she was 16, which would have been before my father was born. No one ever heard from her again, according to family members. [NOTE: This story proved not to be completely accurate–see Catherine’s story.] This makes it quite possible that my father never heard about her. I also have no idea if her mother stayed in touch with her, or was known to her child. So many mysteries.

Mame and Cliff Kaser Family 1908

Kaser Family, Irene, Mary I. (Mamie), Keith, Clifford Kaser About 1908

A year after Cliff and Mame’s marriage, their first son, Keith, was born in 1884. The state of Ohio birth records indicate that in 1888, Mame gave birth to a female infant, but the baby apparently died at birth, as no name is given and I have seen no mention of another child.  Then in 1904, a daughter, Irene came along. During the first decade of their marriage, they apparently stayed close to the Kaser family in Clark, Ohio, where Cliff had a barber shop and played the trombone.

Clifford Kaser Family

Kaser Family: Paul, Irene, Milton, Keith, Clifford, Mary I (Mamie) About 1926

By 1909, they had moved to Killbuck, Ohio and Paul (my father) was born. They spent two years in Takoma Maryland in the early twenties, and returned to Millersburg where Milton was born in 1912.

I am very curious about how closely Mame embraced Seven Day Adventism.  My father talked about how she read the Bible every day, introducing him to its beautiful language and planting seeds of his interest in Christianity, history and literature. Did she adopt their healthy eating practices? Did she go as far as becoming a vegetarian? From my father, uncle and aunt’s appreciate of gardening, I’m guessing she had a garden wherever they lived.

Mame Kaser: Seamstress to the First Lady

One thing that I know for sure is that she was an excellent seamstress–good enough to sew for the President’s wife! The Reverend Brubaker tells a story about Mame’s sister-in-law (the wife of her elder brother). Delia, the sister-in-law, was making a shirt for Mame’s brother when Delia suddenly died of the flu. Mame finished the shirt in time for brother Mons to wear it to his wife’s funeral.

Mame Kaser sewed for Florence Harding

First Lady Florence Harding, Mrs. Warren Harding

But that was not her only “command performance in sewing.  When the family lived in Takoma Park Maryland, my father remembered, First Lady Florence Harding, wife of President Warren Harding 1921-23) of Ohio, would drive out to Takoma Park to pick up items that Mame and Irene had sewn for her. How in the world did the First Lady come across the meek little lady from Miltown, Ohio? Mame must have had quite a reputation for her handiwork.

As I related in my introduction of Cliff Kaser, Mame took ill and died the fall after my father graduated from high school, in October, 1926. She was almost 57 years old.

3 thoughts on “Mame Kaser, Seamstress to the First Lady

  1. Kerry Dexter


    Twitter:
    so many stories that were no doubt vivid at the time left untold now. it also strikes me that in many ways — and in some family memories — the Civil War wasn’t all that long ago.

    and I wonder what happened to Catherine.
    Kerry Dexter would like you to read..music and focusMy Profile

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  2. MM VONVILLE

    There is a little now to add to your above history; and, I did not know about the Harding connection, quite nice, thanks for adding it! Yes, Mame did know Catherine and she did walk back to the area where Mame’s parents lived and it may have been a monthly visit except in the winter! A fellow family genealogist did tell me that the last of Catherine which was heard was that she did go to ( Mt. Vernon, I think) and was working in either the hotel or the grocery although, hotel seems to be strongest in the memory as an old neighbor had seen her there after she left her grandparent’s home. I have searched and put posts/queries upon many different places in an effort to find Catherine after this time and her descendants, if any. Nothing is currently known however, if anything is found I will try to share it with you. FamilySearch.org has her BUTTS / BUTZ families, as to ancestors, back into the 1600s and is free to view. A combination of wonderfilled research by OH (Marie and I) and (Chambersburg, Ft. Loudon and St. Thomas and outlying areas in PA) BUTTS relatives and researchers (from Thomas, James Beaver and another of Henry Allen aka John Henry Augustus BUTTS’ brothers) was input there by myself so that others may have it one day whether we the researchers were still alive or not. I sincerely hope that Catherine’s and other lost BUTTS families, if they had descendants, do find their American birth family and European ancestors there upon FamilySearch.org. I have tried to copy the thousands of BUTTS / BUTZ relatives to my Ancestry.com page but, they didn’t copy correctly and only did a few generations and none of the side lines (which are many.) Therefore, my name upon Ancestry is GOTOFAMILYSEARCHORG so that people can find all of their families. Catherine’s ancestoral SMITH line and his wife Mary Mariah’s line only go to Isaac M.’s 1799 birth and their 1822 marriage in ” MD ” (which are listed in the Rottermann possessed family Bible) hopefully, more in the future will be revealed upon the ” MD ” mystery and the family lines. Considering that those who lived to adulthood of all of their 12 children (born Knox County) understood German the lines are most likely Germanic. Take care, Mary Martha MM VONVILLE hatandsmile hotmail com

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