Pilt Carin Ersdotter: History's Hottest Milkmaid

By Karen Harris

Milkmaid with cow, Jan van Ossenbeeck, 1647–1674. (Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Scarlett Johansson may have topped People magazine's list of the 100 Most Beautiful People of 2021, but Black Widow surely has nothing on 19th-century milkmaid Pilt Carin Ersdotter. According to legend, Ersdotter was so beautiful that she stopped traffic, became the 1800s equivalent of a supermodel, and even once got arrested for being too pretty.

Pilt Carin Ersdotter

Pilt Carin Ersdotter was born in 1814 in the Swedish town of Diura in Dalarna, and like many girls in her community, she worked as a milkmaid. She was petite, with a small frame and slender figure, and had dark hair, well-placed cheekbones, an aristocratic nose, rosy lips, and a startlingly smooth and clear complexion. Nearly everyone in Europe at the time contracted smallpox, which left unsightly scars on those lucky enough to survive, but many milkmaids—including Ersdotter—contracted cowpox, which was less severe and left with an immunity to the nastier poxes and thus an unusually unblemished visage.

Young ladies from Dalarna often took seasonal jobs in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, and in 1833, 19-year-old Ersdotter joined them, selling milk as a street vendor and earning herself the nickname Vackra Dalkullan ("beautiful Dalarna girl") in the process. Every day that she came into the city, more and more people crowded around her station as word got around about the beautiful milkmaid, and eventually, the traffic-blocking hordes became such a nuisance that she was arrested for causing mayhemFortunately for Ersdotter, the judge decried the idea of punishing her rather than the gawking onlookers as ludicrous, noting that he would much rather fine someone for being ugly than too attractive. 

"Pilt-Carin" by Peter Linde at Järla Sjö, Nacka. (Holger.Ellgaard/Wikimedia Commons)

The Beautiful And The Famed

The spectacle of the crowds that gathered to view Ersdotter and her sensational arrest made her an overnight celebrity in Sweden. According to legend, word of her beauty reached as far as the nation's crown prince, who traveled in disguise to her station in Stockholm and allegedly propositioned her. Unaware of his identity, Ersdotter is said to have brutally rebuffed him. He wasn't the only member of high society to take an interest in Ersdotter: She became the must-have accessory of the season, offered money to sit quietly and look pretty at the social functions of Stockholm's wealthy elite.

As an impoverished laborer, Ersdotter could hardly refuse this financial boon, but when the season was over and she returned home, she was greeted with unexpected scrutiny. The people of Dalarna regarded her as a sex worker, which they considered greatly shameful, disbelieving that she could have earned so much money just sitting around at parties. Ersdotter was forced to secure certificates of her good virtue from several of her noble clients to clear her good name, after which she returned permanently to rural life, got married, and disappeared from history a much wealthier but just as beautiful woman.

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.