I’m not sure quite what to make about this story. It appeared during the summer of 1915 in the Chicago Herald (though the version I have was in the Kansas City Times, crediting the Herald).
It appears that a bare foot was shocking.
Sure, boys and girls were allowed to go barefoot (but while it was expected in rural environments it was becoming rarer and rarer in cities, and was often interpreted as a sign of poverty), but for adults, it looks like it really was the Victorian Age.
According to the article, Chicago had a moral code, and it appears that even bare feet might have violated it. There is even a reference to a disapproving Mrs. Grundy.
This was also the time that Isadora Duncan was scandalizing theaters by dancing barefoot. Of course, what was scandalous was that they were women’s bare feet.
It looks like, from the story, urban areas were at least starting to move away from that sort of restrictiveness (which, I guess, led to the Roaring ’20s).
Anyways, see what you think about the story.
CHICAGO GOING BAREFOOT
ALL PHASES OF SOCIETY HAVE BEEN
ATTACKED BY THE BUG.
On the Beach and Sward Mingle Trim
White Ankles and Horny Feet
of Toil, Entirely Oblivious to
Convention or Chaperon.
Chicago is literally—not figuratively, mind you—setting its best foot forward. And it is unclothed and unashamed. Sometimes it is the dainty, pink and white tootsy of tho back to nature dancer, sometimes it is the calloused pedal extremity of the loop worker, sometimes the scratched foot of the small boy. But always it is minus restricting shoes and stockings.
For the barefoot craze has reached its zenith. The Chicago foot has been stung by the germ of liberty and it is struggling for its own particular place in the sun. Warm weather has brought the mania to its most acute stages. Highbrows exhibit their toes and ankles in folk dances among the wooded dells of the north shore. The average man and woman does the same on the bathing beach and the small boy strips feet and legs for every function.
SMALL BOYS STARTED THE FAD.
The small boy started the fad, if you might call it that. It’s one of the inherited privileges of his boyhood to revel in stockingless freedom at all times and places. He paddles his ten toes in the cold, clear water when the first of the vacation days come in June. His foot is hard from rambles over the rocks and he wades in kneedeep regardless of climate at sight of the nearest pond. The barefoot boy used to be exclusively a country product, but the city boy likes his ways and any clay hole or duck pond in the city limits is invariably surrounded by yowling, wading youngster from June to September.
Dad has just discovered the small boy’s wisdom and the other members of the family are adopting it as rapidly as their conservative natures will permit.
KNOBBED AND HORNY FEET IN.
Now the loop hound and the skyscraper slaves take to uncovered shins as one of the rarest of the rare joys of a 14-day rest in 365 uninterrupted periods of labor. Either’s best foot—at its best—is likely to be knobbed and horny. Loop pavements are not training ground for the feet of an Apollo, but the tired broker cares not for beauty when bathing under a scorching sun and lying on broiling sands from breakfast to sundown are all that he asks in the way of dog day amusements.
As for tho 1915 bathing girl—she’s paraphrased the old rhyme;
Mother, may I go in to swim?
Yes, my darling daughter,
Hang your hose on a hickory limb
And dive right in the water.
Of course, that’s contrary to Chicago’s straitjacket moral code, approved by the eagle eyed sand chaperons. Beach censors may be watchful, but even censors can’t be everywhere at once.
NYMPHS WITH WHITE ANKLES.
All along Chicago’s string of bathing beaches the nymphs show gleaming white ankles during the season of water sport. They may emerge from the lockers in lisle thread from the knees down of brilliant scarlet or livid emerald green fastened with the ribbons of the last word in sandals, but it is safe to predict that if they are swimmers of any expertness they will have sacrificed fashion for comfort before they’ve made more than one plunge off the diving board.
They may disappear under the waves—as Mme. Grundy demands—stockinged and sandaled in the most approved bathing toggery of the latest fashion magazine. But they rise—at least part of the time—as guiltless as Neptune’s daughter of ankle or foot coverings.
The back to nature chorus of barefooted dancers threatens to become as virulent as the tango fad, and the goddesses of Olympus never had anything on Chicago’s in and out of door classic dancers. Dancing on the green is also one of the most fashionable diversions in and out of the wooded dells of the north shore.
THE IMPRESSION ON AN OUTSIDER.
From the point of view of the stranger from Kokomo or Niles Center of course there are bare feet—and bare feet. It all depends on the owner.
“What’s that?” gasped one of them as he caught sight of a weird shape in front of him.
His companion saw a lank masculine form speeding up the cement sidewalk just ahead. Its head was uncovered, a long cravenette coat flapped about its angular knees, but its feet were like Adam’s in the Garden of Eden,
“Well, I’ll be darned.”
The surprise of the first member of the rural first families was genuine. His comprehensive eye had caught sight of the lanky one’s companion. She was large and blond and her ankles were not mates, but she, too, was barefoot.
The beach party is one place where one can only be as beautiful as nature made one, and no one has a grouch because she wasn’t modeled in the same mold as Venus.
Chicago has revised the old adage so that it reads today, “Put your bare foot forward.”