Yesterday I presented the New York Times story about Harold Smith, whose father Victor petitioned the Jersey City Board of Education to allow Harold, age 10, to go barefoot to school there.
Here’s another story, also from before the Board met to decide his fate, with a bit more information.
This story appeared in the New York World on September 12, 1903.
WILL SCHOOLS BAR A BAREFOOT BOY?
Harold Smith’s Father Doesn’t Want to Sock and Boot Him Until Frost Comes.
Having faith in the doctrine of Father Kneipp, that going barefooted is conductive to good health, Victor Smith, who lives in Jersey City, has written to the Board of Education to ask that his son Harold be allowed to tend school barefooted next Monday. A special meeting to decide the matter will be held to-night, and it is expected that a liberal interpretation of the “properly clad” rule will be made in favor of the Smith boy. Mr. Smith’s letter read:
“Is there a valid objection against my boy of ten years attending school in his bare feet until cold weather necessitates the encumbrance of shoes and stockings? He has gone barefooted all his life, winter and summer, and is hearty, healthy and happy. He has been barefooted all summer, and his feet are the most perfect feet you ever saw—fit for an artist’s model. It will be a hardship to sock and boot him before frost, at least. Otherwise the boy. will be as neatly and comfortably dressed as any in the school.”
Father Kneipp promoted the “Kneipp Cure”, part of which involved early-morning barefoot walks on dewy grass. He was one of the founders of naturopathy. In other words, he was essentially a quack. Walking barefoot is good for you, but not for the reasons he thought. In some ways, he was rather like John Harvey Kellogg, whose corn flakes were partly invented to reduce sexual feelings. Father Kneipp had his own food: Kneippbrød, a whole wheat bread that is still incredibly popular in Norway.
Continuing with the story . . .
Board Thought It a Joke.
The board was inclined to treat the letter as a joke until President Ward was asked to express an opinion.
“The Smith boy will have to add shoe and sock to his wardrobe or be excluded.” said Mr. Ward, after deep thought. “The rules require that pupils shall be properly clad, and we shall live up to that rule as long as I am at the head of the Board of Education. A boy, in my opinion, who goes barefooted is not properly clad, but we shall put the question to a vote to decide it. The application to permit a barefooted boy to go to school with children who wear shoes and stockings is unique, not to say absurd.”
Note that going barefoot is not against the rules, just against President Ward’s prejudices. The rules simply said that the children had to be “properly clad” without saying what properly
And do you think he’ll resign as the head of the Board if they all Harold in barefooted? Don’t bet on it.
Continuing . . .
Mr. Smith said yesterday that his idea in sending the letter to the board was to start a crusade against boys wearing shoes and stockings in warm weather.
“If they would go barefooted they would be more healthy, and when they became men would not be troubled with corns and bunions. Their parents would save many a dollar in shoe and doctors’ bills. Father Kneipp, when he got to be an old man, found that going barefooted is a healthy thing for persons to do.”
With a sense of satisfaction Mr. Smith pointed to the pedal extremities of his son and said:
Stubbles Do Not Hurt Him.
“Look at that boy’s feet. Why, any artist would be glad to use them for a model, yet he has been going barefooted all summer, and he can run over rocks and briers without hurt. He runs down to the Hackensack River, a mile from here, four or five times a day, and does not complain of the stubbles in his path.”
By the way, if you want to see how newspapers distort and sensationalize things, by October, here’s the little blurb that kept showing up as filler in newspapers. It’s clearly based on the above paragraph . . . but horribly distorted.
Harry Smith, 10 years old, of Jersey City, N. J., goes barefoot winter and summer because his feet are so perfect that his parents refuse to mar them with shoes.
Let’s return to the original story . . .
Several of the neighbors around Mr. Smith’s home at No. 611 West End avenue think it strange that he should permit his boy to go without shoes or stockings, but the father says half the boys in the city who have their feet clad go in shoes that are never polished and stockings that are full of holes. He claims there is no choice between a boy who goes barefooted and one who has rusty shoes on his feet. Mr. Smith moved to Jersey City from the South last spring, and says he is in ignorance of the school rules regarding the kind of dress a boy shall wear while attending the sessions. He declares, however, that unless the Board of Education give his son permission to attend school barefooted he will place him in care of a private tutor.
As the New York Times article alluded to, Victor Smith worked for a New York newspaper, the New York Press. He was part of a literary family himself, being the son of Bill Arp, which was the pen name of Charles Henry Smith, a well-known southern humorist, author, and politician (also a Major in the Confederate Army). Victor probably grew up in either Rome or Cartersville, Georgia (about halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga), and so, I imagine, did Harold.
No wonder why Harold was used to going barefoot all the time, including to school, and Victor had no idea that shoes might be required to send his son to school.
Here’s the end of the story:
Harold is ten years old, and daily leads a proud procession of barefooted boys in the vicinity of his home who have discarded footwear since he moved into the neighborhood, which is one of the best in Jersey City.
Go get ’em Harold!
No wonder why the educators were concerned about Harold starting a trend in the school. (And why not?!)
Next week I’ll continue the story.