As barefootedness disappeared back in the early 1900s you would see all sorts of essays bemoaning the trend. Going barefoot really was considered one of life’s great pleasures.
Here is a remembrance from the fall of 1936.
It was written by Gordon Wilson of the Western Kentucky Teachers College Bowling Green, Ky., in a column called “Tidbits of Kentucky Folklore”.
Passing Institutions: Going Barefooted
When it is spring again, the season does not seem to be all here, for I still have on my shoes. When I drove away down South last summer, I saw dozens of grown people sitting in the open passages of their homes—”dogtrots,” we used to call them—enjoying the freedom of bare feet. How homesick I got for the wild free days when sheep-shearing time brouhgt the season for discarding shoes! Meantime, my own feet, cramped and hot, longed for other times, when stubble-fields and rock slopes, to quote Whittier rather freely, did not daunt me.
Bear in mind I am not merely wishing for youth. When I was a boy, hundreds of grown people went barefooted. And even those who felt called on to wear shoes went without socks or stockings. Certain tasks called for bare feet, just as today we all believe in bathing suits or golf toggery or track clothes. Some of these tasks were as follows: Working in the tobacco field, from the time when the plants were set—usually just after a rain, when the mud made shoes uncomfortable—to the actual harvesting of the crop; plowing corn, after the clods had become small or soft; or working in the garden. On Saturday afternoon, when the farm boys got an ex-officio half-holiday, it was great sport to go to the village store barefooted and exchange gossip and tobacco.
Long days of blistering sunshine and rough ground did their work well, and by frost time in the fall our feet would be tough enough to stamp a chestnut burr without any visible painful effect. In fact, this was a standard test of a boy’s nerves, just as lifting a cat by the ear tested its grit. But after a winter of home-knit yarn stockings, I tell you, the stubbles and gravel felt big and pointed.
Nothing now can take the place of the agony we felt when real winter came on, and we had to don our shoes. I never saw a shoe big enough to fit a foot that had gone shoeless all summer. Only bitter winter weather could induce us to wear shoes all day. I have known boys to go barefooted until heavy frosts came on; on cold mornings they would run to school to keep their feet warm. The agony of getting one’s feet acclimated after the summer was matched by the joy of the next spring when the shoes were doffed for another season.
Now feet of all kinds, in our climate, are encased in shoes the year round. Some medical authorities even go so far as to claim that it is more healthful to wear shoes. But wouldn’t it be fine if some reformer would bring back barefoot days? I hereby promise to embrace the style first of my contemporaries when anyone dares start it.
Well, I don’t know why he had to wait for someone else to dare start it. If everybody waits for somebody else to start something, it’ll never happen.