We often think about the late 1800s as more of a golden time for barefooting. That’s not quite true—there were times and situations in which shoes were required, and woe to you if you violated that.
This is an 1890 news story, from a column entitled “Religious Intelligence”.
A reporter witnessed an extraordinary scene in the vicinity of Biddleville, N. C. In front of a small cabin a pulpit had been erected. In this stood a negro “preaching” at the top of his voice. There was no one except the reporter and the preacher near, and the former stood and listened, but was not noticed by the speaker. On inquiry it was found that the preacher was Robert Bell. Two years ago he was fired from the pastorate of the Presbyterian church at Biddleville because he would go into his church barefooted. He was warned against this offense, and, heeding it not, one Sunday, as he attempted to ascend his pulpit shoeless, half a dozen good, pious deacons seized him and fired him from the church! On that day Bell declared he would preach three times every day in his own yard, and he does it, although no one goes to hear him.
I think it pretty obvious that the parishioners were much more concerned with what they thought “propriety” than religious observance (since we all know that bare feet have gone with religion for time immemorial, and just look at this recent example from just a few days ago).
I was originally going to comment that this showed that, while kids could get away with going barefoot, adults really couldn’t. But then I remembered that kids, too, were expected to wear shoes at church, sometimes carrying them to the church, putting them on at the door, and then removing them after services.
So it was really more of a “church” thing, and expectations of the community. I imagine, though, that kids could get away with it easier than adults.