Let me finish of with what happened with our barefoot schoolboy in 1903. We found out about his father’s request in A Barefoot Schoolboy. We saw the letter his father sent to the Board of Education, and some of the motivation in More on the Barefoot Schoolboy.
How did the Board rule?
Here’s the story:
BOY IS PERMITTED TO ATTEND SCHOOL BAREFOOT.
Board of Education of Jersey City Holds Special Session on the Subject.
NEW YORK, Sept. 15.—Harry Smith, son of Victor Smith, a man of letters, living in Jersey City, goes barefoot both summer and winter, and the Jersey City authorities have decided, after much discussion, that he may attend school without wearing shoes and stockings. It took a special session of the board and the ruling of an expert, however, before the decision was reached.
So, it looks like the President really didn’t like the idea, but other members of the Board didn’t mind it so much.
This particular story also had a quote from Harry:
“I simply ain’t going to wear shoes and stockings.” said Harry. “My feet are hard and cold weather don’t hurt ‘em. It’s fun to go out in the winter time with bare feet, and the other kids get sore because they can’t.”
I would definitely say he is in need of some schooling, barefoot or not.
The New York Times also ran a story, a rather oddly flowerly story, about it. Here’s part of that.
BAREFOOTED SCHOOLBOY STARTS AN INFECTIOUS FAD
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.
This story really rather bothers me. Note how the whole tenor of the headlines is how problems were caused for school officials. (Also note that they have the name wrong. They say the boy is named Victor. No, the boy is Harry; the father is Victor. Really makes you wonder how much more of the story you can trust.)
So the story then talks about (as we read before) how Harry’s example led other boys in the neighborhood to play barefooted in the summer.
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.”
So, was that area really called “Barefoot Hill”, or did the writer just make that up for effect? (It would be nice if it were true, but also kind of sad that it would be a distinguishing characteristic of an area.)
The story then primes us with the concern of officials that other boys will try to join in in the barefootedness at school.
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.
And here is how the story reports the result:
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!
So, despite the sensationalizing headline, nothing. No other boys joined Harry in going barefooted at school. (You can read the full New York Times story at Followup to “A Barefoot Schoolboy”, from when I wrote about this before.)
By the way, I found another story remarking about this incident. The story was from a Piqua, Ohio weekly newspaper, and I really rather like the attitude in it. By the way, this story contains the official Board of Education statement, which I have highlighted.
THE BARE-FOOTED BOY
While the question may not be an absorbing one in Piqua, the rights of a boy to go bare-footed have been a subject of a spirited controversy on the part of the Jersey City school authorities and be it said to the honor of American liberty, the “bare-footed boy with checks of tan,” has won out. The boy started in at the opening of school with bare feet. He had been going all summer in this way, and he seriously objected to the hardship of sock and boot before frost came. The teacher could not brook this breach of the proprieties and requested the boy to clothe his feet so the boy’s father appealed to the School Board. In his communication to that body the father called attention to the boy’s custom of going with unshod feet and also to the lad’s feet themselves, saying, “His feet are the most perfect you ever saw—fit for any artist’s model.” The indulgent father added that otherwise the boy would be as neatly and completely dressed as any one in school. Although the board devoted a special session to the discussion of the momentous question. It was unable to reach an agreement. Accordingly the matter was referred to an expert. The decision is laconic and to the point. It reads:
Young Smith will be admitted to school whether he wears shoes and stockings or goes bare-footed. The law does not provide that his feet must be covered.
If this is good law in New Jersey there is no reason why it should not be good law in Ohio. Let young Americans go to school barefooted, if he wants to. The time will come, all too soon, when he will be obliged, by reason of social restrictions, to don socks and shoes with their attendant corns and bunions. Isn’t this a free country, anyhow?
Well, I guess this isn’t so much of a free country anymore, now is it?
By the way, I found no other follow-up stories over the years. So we don’t know if Harry did put on shoes for the winter, or if he continued to go barefoot for subsequent years. Nothing.
But at least he got at least that one year.