A woman. Properly the staff from which the flax was drawn in spinning. The allusion is to the ancient custom of women, who spun from morning to night. (See Spinster.)
“The crown of France never fails to the distaff.” —Kersey.
To have tow on the distaff. To have work in hand. Froissart says, “ Il aura en bref temps autres estoupes en sa quenouille. ”
He haddë more tow on his distaf Than Gerveys knew.
Chaucer: Canterbury Tales. 3.772.
Give St. Distaff all the right, Then give Christmas sport good night, And next morrow every one To his own vocatiön.
What! shall a woman with a rock drive thee away? Fye on thee, traitor'
Digby: Mysteries, p.11.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894