Archive for the ‘History’ Category

If Your Name is “Barefoot”

February 13, 2011

If your name is “Barefoot,” according to the Name Meaning and History page on

1. English: nickname for someone who was in the habit of going about his business unshod, from Old English bæra ‘bare’, ‘naked’ + fot ‘foot’. It may have referred to a peasant unable to afford even the simplest type of footwear, or to someone who went barefoot as a religious penance.

2. In some instances, probably a translation of German Barfuss, the northern form Barfoth, or the Danish cognate Barfo(e)d.

There is also another possibility. In “The East Anglian,” by Charles Harold and Evelyn White (1904), in a section on wills, the will of one Francis Barfoote was probated in 1598. In a footnote, the author adds the following:

This plebian name of Barefoot is identical with that of the aristocratic Warwickshire family of Hereford or Beresford, who held a manor in the neighbouring parish of Clopton in the fourteenth century. I have noted the following different spellings, which mark its degradation:—Bereford, Berford, Barford, Barforth, Barfoot, Barefoot.

“Beresford” means “beaver-ford”. So, just because your last name is “Barefoot” does not mean that you had an ancestor who was named that for going barefoot.

However, I can guarantee that if you go back far enough, you will find an ancestor (actually, many ancestors) who went barefoot all the time.


Uncontacted Amazonians

February 2, 2011

There have been a couple of stories in the news about some recent pictures of uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Here’s the story on Yahoo, and here’s the original press release.

There is a lot I could say about the issue, but since this is a barefooting blog, I will restrict myself to just commenting on their feet.

Here is the primary photo, taken from the air:

Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

One thing I noticed, more visible in this cropped version,

Better view of their feet

Better view of their feet

is the shape of their feet. Even from the air we can easily see the natural separation of the big toe, and even pretty good separation between all the toes.

This is what natural human feet look like. This is what feet that do their natural job look like. Compare that to what feet look like after a lifetime of being stuffed into high heels, for fashion’s sake (the condition you see below is called hallux valgus):

Hallux Valgus

Hallux Valgus

Enough said.

Bare Feet and Child Custody

December 30, 2010

This is an old story, but unfortunately I can see it somehow being replayed these days, with a different outcome.

From the The Washington Herald, August 8, 1915, on page 3:


      Judge Quotes Whittier to Father Who
      Opposes Practice Permitted by Wife.

   Blessings on thee, little man.
   Barefoot boy, with checks of tan.

Los Angeles. Aug 7.–If Judge J. P. Wood, in divorce court, were allowed to give his judgment in poetry, Whittier’s “The Barefoot Boy” would have been his expression of a judgment he rendered in the case of Frank Lomonaco. who asked the court to change the custody of his children from his wife, Lena Lomonaco, to himself, be cause she allowed the two children to run barefoot in the Santa Monica Mountains. The couple were divorced two years aso. and Mrs. Lomonaco awarded the custody of the children. But to see Eileen Jane Lomonaco, seven, and Francis Aurella Lomonaco, five, running around barefoot, did not meet with the father’s approval.

Judge Wood denied the father his request.

“I was once a barefoot boy,” he said, “and the happiest days of my life were the days I spent as a barefoot boy.

“The boy or girl who has not had the privilege of running barefoot has been denied a heritage of youth for which nothing that comes later can compensate. The mother in this case is, according to the evidence, to be praised rather than condemned for allowing the children to run in bare feet.”

And then Judge Wood had recollections of Whittier’s poem:

   ‘Ah, that thou couldst know the joy
   Ere it passes, barefoot boy!'”


December 23, 2010

From the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, May 10, 1916 (Deborah Rush appears to have been the “Dear Abby” of the day):

Dear Deborah Rush—I am a young woman of 24. I live with my mother and my sister, aged 29. My sister is very good looking and stylish and is looked on as a leader of her set. She is a graceful dancer. She has taken up the fad of barefoot dancing and dances in this way a great deal. More than this, she goes barefoot about our home and has no hesitation in appearing before strangers in this way. I cannot help thinking this improper, but my pleading with her is in vain, as she insists there is nothing immodest about bare feet. Do you thing this is bad form on her part?

                                                L. S.

There is certainly no reason why a young woman should not take up the barefoot dancing. If one is graceful and supple there is a decided charm about the aesthetic dance. Of course, it is in execrable form to go about the house in bare feet, especially to appear in this manner before strangers. There is, as the young lady states, nothing immodest about bare feet, but it is not ladylike to appear in them except when engaged in that kind of dancing.

Oh, the horrors!

Did Cavemen Get Athlete’s Foot?

November 21, 2010

That’s the title of one of the sections of the FYI feature in the December 2010 issue of Popular Science (p. 102).

Yours truly is quoted in it:

But just walking around in fungus doesn’t cause athlete’s foot. Cavemen would have had to have worn shoes. “It turns out that athlete’s foot is a disease of shod populations,” says Bob Neinast, the lead blogger for the Society for Barefoot Living. “Anyone can pick up the fungus, but the thing to keep in mind is that it grows really well in a warm, dark, moist environment. That’s the inside of a shoe.” People who go barefoot, Neinast says, rarely get athlete’s foot, most likely because exposure to fresh air keeps their feet too dry for the fungus to take hold and multiply.

The article then goes on to ask if cavemen actually went barefoot. People (or at least some people) have probably been wearing footwear for at least 40,000 years. According to scientific papers by Erik Trinkhaus, you can tell if people are wearing shoes because the toes, which are used quite a bit by barefoot people, have smaller bones in the shod. Those papers are Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use and Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear: Tianyuan and Sunghir. But also don’t forget that, for most people back then and for a long time, shoes were expensive. They would probably only be worn when really needed.

Anyways, the Popular Science article then goes on to talk to Cody Lundin, of Dual Survivor fame. He suggests that, if they did get athlete’s foot, they might have had a remedy:

If you take the green parts of a juniper plant and boil them, the mix makes a wonderful fungicide that will work on athlete’s foot. Indigenous people might have used it. Works great on jock itch, too.

Of course, being a barefooter, I have no need of it.

You can read the full article in Popular Science.


November 16, 2010

There is a myth that even table legs had to be hidden in Victorian times. According to this Wikipedia entry, there was no evidence of that. The article even says:

Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views, such as those of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who wrote Eminent Victorians.

Yet, that attitude was, at least to some extent, adopted in America, even to the point that bare feet were considered shockingly vulgar, at least to city folk. This was during the time that, all over rural America, kids would regularly go barefoot to school.

I found evidence of this in the April 1936 issue of “Boy’s Life,” in an article by Dan Beard entitled “Leadership — A Rib-Tickling Story of Dan Beard’s Boyhood.” Interestingly, I’ve stayed in the “Dan Beard” cabin while camping with the Boy Scouts at Camp Oyo in Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. For about 10 years I always led my boys’ troop, barefoot of course, on the hike they did for their crossover scouts. Anyways, here’s a snippet of that article:

In the almost forgotten days, the happy days of the so called Victorian period, that is when Queen Victoria of England was the Emily Post, so to speak, of the world, I used to write and illustrate for that wonderful young folks’ paper, “The St. Nicholas’ Magazine,” edited by Mary Mapes Dodge, a magazine which could only be equaled by “Boys’ Life” of to-day.

People than and now made fun of both of these distinguished leaders but the good Queen Victoria kept society people respectable and Mary Mapes Dodge made the artists and writers for her publications toe the mark; so that not only nothing coarse or vulgar appeared in her magazine but nothing which was the least bit indelicate passed the watchful eyes of the Queen Victoria of American juvenile literature, Mary Mapes Dodge!

. . .

We were so extremely genteel in those days that Mrs. Doge, God bless her memory, made me cut the udders off of a picture of a cow that I had drawn for her, because forsooth it was most indecent for a cow to have such things, and for an artist to show them in a picture. I also was told to cut the feet off of a diagram of a woman kite for that too, was shamelessly immodest.

Oh, Me! Oh, My! We artists had a hard line to hoe in those days, but when I was commissioned by the same magazine to illustrate that delightful story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Abroad I was happy, because I thought that here at least was a story that was so clean there could be nothing wrong with the illustrations, but I was woefully mistaken. My first picture of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Nigger Jim came hurtling back to me with the terse command to put shoes on all three, that bare feet were shockingly vulgar!

So, he was forced to redraw the pictures for her. Here is the
picture that appeared not only in the magazine, but also in
many of the editions of the book.

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Jim: all shod

"Approved" illustration from "Tom Sawyer Abroad"


“Barefoot Sandals” of 100 Years Ago

November 9, 2010

We’ve looked a couple of times at barefoot sandals, which we barefooters will occasionally use to make it look like we are wearing shoes when we are not. We also saw that they were used in the late 1970s, for the same purpose.

However, the term “barefoot sandals” had an entirely different meaning in the early 1900s. Here’s an advertisement for barefoot sandals from back then:

Barefoot Sandals?

Barefoot Sandals?

Those aren’t barefoot. Those are shoes! They’re not even sandals; they are shoes with a few holes in them. Wow.

Here’s another ad with a similar picture:

More barefoot sandals?

More barefoot sandals?

Of course, back then, folks generally didn’t wear barefoot sandals to fool people into thinking they were shod, since you could go barefoot pretty much if you wanted to (or back then because you had to).

The ads also helps emphasize the difference between urban and rural areas in the United States at the time. In cities, you really were expected to wear shoes all the time, unless maybe you were a kid. In rural areas, though, going unshod was much more a part of daily life.

Location, Location, Location

October 29, 2010

I’ve written a few times about the 1903 story of Victor Smith, the New Jersey boy who wanted to be able to go to school barefoot. In this entry, we got the story of his father specially asking the Newark School Board for permission. And, in this followup story, we saw that that permission was granted.

But what a difference location can make. We know that throughout the south during that period, there were barefoot schoolchildren all over the place. The big issues for those schools was just getting a schoolhouse built and supplied, not whether their students wore shoes or not.

Location also makes a difference in how the Victor Smith situation was perceived. In a place like New Jersey, a barefooted schoolchild was a big deal. But even in another big city like Chicago, not so much.

All this is just a long lead-in to another story I found about Victor Smith. This story was in the November 7, 1903 Chicago Eagle, page 4. They (somewhat cleverly) titled their news snippets from all over as “Eaglets”, and here is what they say:

A New Jersey board of education has recently decided that a boy may go to school without any shoes on if he desires. The school trustees in many a small district would be more astounded at having any one doubt the right of a boy to go barefoot than was the board in the New Jersey city at the request that this youngster might not be compelled to wear shoes.

Followup to “A Barefoot Schoolboy”

October 12, 2010

A few days ago we read the 1903 story of the Jersey City schoolboy who asked permission to attend school there barefoot. There was a followup story that appeared in the Sept. 20, 1903 New York Times. Here it is


Boy Friends Do Not Go to Class Rooms That Way Yet; But They All Drop Their Shoes at Play-time Now — Problems of Attire for School Officials.

CITY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SNYDER was not so rudely shocked as many may have supposed, when, at a recent meeting of the Jersey City Board of Education, he heard read Mr. Smith’s letter asking permission to send his ten-year-old boy, Victor, to school without either shoes or stockings. Mr. Snyder had gone to school barefooted and barelegged himself. But that was in a country district. The sight of the farmer’s boy trudging to the little white building on the knoll with his books under his arm and his sun-burned extremities unclad is not an unusual one. Even when parents with aristocratic notions in their rural surroundings refuse to countenance such a departure from the conventionalities, the more mischievous scions of their flocks were wont to keep their feet covered only until the parental eye was removed from them, and then they hid their gaiters under the bushes for a day of rollicking, barefoot freedom.

Even into the great city schools under Mr. Snyder’s supervision a barefooted urchin sometimes crawls. But conditions are different in the city. There it is not “the thing,” of course. But it happens once in a while. Superintendent Snyder has known of such cases. But the absence of shoes in city schools is always set down to poverty. Little Barefoot becomes an object of commiseration and sympathy the moment he puts in an appearance, and there is a mystic Masonry in the schools that finds coverings for the exposed feet and gets them to the child with a delicacy of method that robs the mercy of the sting and humiliation of a charity. It does not stop at shoes, either — this little touch of humanity. It goes to everything a child needs, but has not, to keep in countenance with classmates. No organization exists to extend these graceful helps to the needy, but it works just as effectually and much more unobtrusively.

Neither Mr. Smith nor his boy comes, however, within this category. Mr. Smith is a comfortably situated gentleman. It is easy to see, from his bearing toward his child, that he is also a considerate father. He has the means and the disposition to provide his son with all he thinks the boy should have. Up to three months ago, the family had lived in New York. For a few months before the close of the schools for vacation the boy had attended one in Manhattan.

“He wore shoes.” Mr. Smith explained, “because I suppose they would have turned him away if he hadn’t.”

At the beginning of the Summer the family moved to a neat detached cottage on West Side Avenue, Jersey City. It is an unusually comfortable little home in the Bergen section, well appointed, “neat as a pin,” with a wholesome family atmosphere all over it. The Smiths had scarcely settled before the father told the boy that he might toss his shoes into the attic and romp barefooted to his heart’s content. That was a liberty the boy was not likely to neglect long. Off went the shoes! It is so long since he last saw them that he forgets what they look like — whether they are low-quarters or high-quarters, or even quarters of any stature.

A barefooted boy, who was not also a ragamuffin — a barefooted boy with clean, bright face, and the picture of neatness from the crown of his head to the hems of his knee breeches — was a novelty in the locality. It was not long before all the nice little boys around him wanted to go barefooted, too. There were particularly impressed by the ease with which little Victor could guide the buckboard on which they all coasted the hillside with his bare feet. He could grasp the guiding axle with his toes as firmly as they could with their fingers. They could not do that with their shoes on — and so off went their shoes, too, till now there are so many bare feet around that the locality has come to be know as “Barefoot Hill.”

The boy became so rugged and healthy and hardy without his shoes that his father became quite captivated by the idea of keeping him shoeless. He recalled the incident of a beautiful Countess — a relative of Dom Pedro — whom he had once met, unslippered, at a like entertainment he attended. She had beautiful feet, of course, and of course, too, she had to set them off, as her sisters did their beautiful hands, with rings and jewels. So he became quite a convert to the barefoot idea, and regretted the approach of the school season, when he must put shoes on Victor’s feet to keep him in line with those he would meet in the classrooms — or keep him home.

Perhaps he might arrange it with the school authorities, he thought. He first bought a pair of shoes for the lad — many sizes too big — and held them for an emergency, and then sent his letter to the Board of Education to ask if it might be as he desired. The board members stood aghast at the unusual suggestion. It was one thing to close the eyes to the case of a little fellow whom poverty drove to school without shoes. It was quite another thing to commission one who could afford them to make so public an appearance without them. Perhaps the boy would be shamed by shoes all around him into wearing them himself. But then perhaps the idea would so “take” among the others that they would all want to discard their leathers, and Jersey City might become a city of barefooted schools. So it was quite a serious proposition, as the Jersey City educators saw it. But there was no rule against it, and they decided at the end to take the risk.

So Victor went to the school on Duncan Avenue, and has been there a week. The boys make less sport of him than even he expected. Indeed, they rather envy him. They only wish that they could take off their shoes, too! But the week has gone, and they all have their shoes on yet. Thus, the dire forebodings with which the board extended its consent to the innovation seem doomed to come to nothing!

The incident has, however, aroused a general discussion as to the regulations — written regulations — concerning the garb of school pupils. The School Superintendents have to deal with the problem in every conceivable phase, almost every hour of the day. The rules in the rule books are very general and unspecific. They merely exact neatness and cleanliness. An instance is recalled where a boy was once sent home from a Newark school for a change of clothing. He was not an agreeable companion to those around him, and it was discovered that his clothing had been sewn on him by his mother. He slept in them and worked in them and studied in them. At the beginning of the Summer the boys were disposed to throw off their jackets. Grimed undershirts were neither sweet nor pretty, and a stop had to be put to that. Superintendent Snyder intimates that he had been called upon recently to rule on even so delicate a question as whether the hair of a certain little Miss was not done up in such a way as to exclude her from the recitation room. But he declined to go into particulars.

A year or two ago a fierce public agitation was aroused in Jersey City by the act of a teacher who sent a little girl home for better clothing. It was resented everywhere as an insult to the class who could not do better. In Newark, Mr. Gilbert, when he was Superintendent there, attempted to lay down regulations as to commencement garbs. So that the rich might not outshine the poor he wanted plain gowns only. The interference raised such a has since thought it prudent to repeat it.

I like the part about how his friends then started playing barefoot. It is infectious.

A Barefoot Schoolboy

October 8, 2010

These days practically all schools require shoes. That’s just the way it is, and I suspect it is that way just because . . . that’s just the way it has been.

A lot of that is just cultural. Here’s a story from the September 12, 1903 New York Times about a father petitioning the school to let his son attend his Jersey City school barefoot. Just the thought was enough to make the news . . . in New York City. Meanwhile, in rural districts all over America, large numbers of children were attending school barefoot without their school districts batting an eye.

Anyways, here’s the story:


Father of Boy Who Was Never Shod Asks That Son Attend School Barefooted.

September 12, 1903

Victor Smith of 641 West Side Avenue, Jersey City, has made application by letter to the Board of Education for permission for his son to attend school in his bare feet. Mr. Smith said the boy had gone barefooted Winter and Summer all his life. He asked that the boy be allowed at least to go shoeless to school until cold weather sets in. The matter was referred with power to Dr. Murray E. Ramsey, who is a member of the board.

Dr. Ramsey said yesterday that he would see the boy and his father before giving a decision. Personally he thought it might be a good thing for boys to go barefoot, provided they kept their feet clean at all times, but he feared that if one boy were given the privilege asked for other boys might want the same favor.

Mr. Smith, who is connected with a New York morning newspaper, when seen at his home, said that his boy had gone without socks and shoes all his life.

“He can walk on tacks,” said Mr. Smith, “and even broken glass does not cut his feet. He coasts down hill and uses his bare feet as other boys use their shoes. He can sleep out doors in any kind of weather, and has never had a cold or a day’s illness.”

Oh, and look at the possible horrible implications if they let the boy go barefoot to school: other boys may want to do so too. Horrors!

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