Tag Archives: Florence Harding

Mame Kaser, Seamstress to the First Lady

Mary Isadore (Mame) Butts Kaser ( December 22, 1867- October 31, 1926)

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 the life of my paternal grandmother, Mame Kaser, 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. (However, see my discussions of Buckwheat pancakes, since my interest in buckwheat came from my father’s singing the praises of his mother’s buckwheat. And see additional note below mentioning canned cherries.) 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, October 26, 1893, 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] , would drive out to Takoma Park to pick up items that Mame and Irene had sewn for her. I wondered how in the world  the First Lady came across the meek little lady from Miltown, Ohio. Mame must have had quite a reputation for her handiwork. [Addition, January 2022]  And then, I found this story told to me by my father, and forgotten in my memorabilia box.

An interview note from a conversation with Paul Kaser some time in the 1990s, tells this story that explains how the Hardings heard of Mrs. Kaser.

When Warren Harding was an Ohio Senator (1914-1920), Mrs. Carolyn Votow, who was a sister of Harding, attended the Seven-Day Adventist Church. This was during the time that the Kasers lived in Maryland.  Mrs. Votow learned that Mrs. Kaser (Mame) had canned sour cherries from Ohio and she wanted to buy some for a banquet the Senator was giving and of course Mame provided them.  Later, my father remembered, the Harding limousine pulled up to the Kaser house in Takoma Park, Maryland with a box of roses for Mame.

The house they lived in, he said, was on “Flower Street and the main Road, Blair, in Takoma Park close to 14th Street  streetcar line.”  It was a large lot with two bungalows on it.

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.