One thing barefooters really notice is that the terminally shod like to raise the specter of injuries that happen while going barefoot while totally ignoring the sorts of injuries common to shoe-wearing.
And they seem to really love it when they can point to a real barefooted injury.
I have to admit it: sometimes going barefoot can lead to some sort of injury. It almost always is some sort of minor cut, no different than the kind of cut you get in the kitchen or working in the garden or working in a workshop with tools. You put on a bandage, a bit of antiseptic, and you’re good.
Things happen with shoes, too. Blisters happen a lot and they are just accepted as part of wearing shoes. Women in high heels trip and fall, sometimes breaking bones even, and yet you never see a serious call for legislation preventing women from wearing high heels.
And the barefoot-concern-trolls will warn you about other people stepping on your feet (while the trolls are pretending to do so), without ever bothering folks wearing sandals or flip-flops. They also don’t consider that it hurts to have somebody step on your foot if you are wearing shoes, too.
But here’s the morality tale: President Calvin Coolidge’s son died of septicemia after he got a blister on his toe from playing tennis barefoot on the White House tennis courts.
You can read about it here at the Center of the American Experiment:
And while gearing up to run in 1924, his sixteen year old son and namesake died as the result of a blood infection suffered while playing tennis barefoot.
Or, it is Fun Trivia:
The 16 year old son of President Calvin Coolidge died while his family was living in the White House. What was the cause of death?
Blood poisoning. Calvin Coolidge Jr developed blisters on the bottoms of his feet after playing a prolonged bout of barefoot tennis with his brother. He developed blood poisoning and was dead within a week. His father never got over it.
Answers.com, while answering the question “What is Calvin Coolidges childrens name?”, tells us:
For younger son Calvin Jr. [April 13, 1908-July 7, 1924] developed a blister on one of his toes, from playing tennis barefoot. This was in the days before antibiotics. So a week later, he was dead from the blister getting infected and blood poisoning setting in.
You can look in a newspaper. From The Independent in November 2012, in a piece entitled, “Growing up in the White House: Trials, tribulations and triumphs”:
Surveys of presidential offspring make much of the alcoholics (William Henry Harrison Jr, Andrew Johnson Jr, and several from the Adams clan); the suicides (Kermit Roosevelt, son of Teddy, shot himself on an army base in 1943), or victims of fatal accidents (Benjamin Pierce, killed in a rail crash at the age of 10, or the 16-year-old Calvin Coolidge Jr, who contracted septicaemia after playing tennis barefoot in the White House grounds in 1924).
You can also look in a magazine. This is from The Association of Mature American Citizens magazine for Spring of 2008:
Prior to the use of penicillin, people died of simple infections. The 16-year-old son of President Calvin Coolidge, Calvin Jr., died of a foot infection that he got while playing tennis in his bare feet on the White House courts.
Or you can look in books.
In The White House Kids, by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, we find:
It developed after Calvin played tennis barefoot on the White House courts.
In The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy, author Michael J. Gerhardt footnotes “[Calvin Coolidge] had taken repeated beatings in fighting with Congress and was severely depressed after his son Cal had died during the 1924 presidential election” with
Coolidge’s son died from an infection arising from a blister he developed from playing barefoot on the White House tennis court.
So, yeah. Bare feet are bad. Oh, they don’t come right out and say so, but hey, look what can happen.
Except that these things can happen. It makes no sense to take an odd off-chance occurrence and use it to make broad generalizations.
These things happen.
Except . . . in this case, it didn’t happen.
It is just a myth that just keeps getting repeated. If we look at the stories in the newspapers from the time of Coolidge’s son’s death, we get this from United Press (the forerunner of United Press International):
The blood poisoning from which Calvin died originated from a blister which he wore on the great toe of his right foot while playing tennis on the White house courts last Monday. His tennis shoes were slightly large and he wore no socks. The blister broke and the way was opened to infection.
In boyish fashion, the lad paid no great attention to it, and even after the spot became reddened and angry, attached no importance to it.
Thus neglected, the poison worked its deadly way gradually into the boy’s system.
So why do people keep repeating this? Because it fits the narrative that people shouldn’t be going barefoot and that it’s dangerous to go barefoot. So they don’t even question whether it is true or not.
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of places where you can read about what really happened. A Google search regarding Coolidge’s son’s death brings up a lot of accurate websites.
But for those who repeat the myth, they’re so sure of themselves (and that bare feet are bad) that they don’t even stop to question it. It in some way serves their agenda.
Snopes actually has an article addressing a different myth about Coolidge’s son: That he was killed by a poisonous dye in his black socks. That myth serves a different agenda for those afraid of “chemicals” and those chemicals that might be in dyes. Snopes sets the record straight, noting that Calvin Jr. wasn’t even wearing socks.
And now here’s my agenda. Shoes cause blisters. Shoes worn without socks are even more likely to cause blisters. And shoes worn with or without socks can cause blisters that kill you (but with near-zero probability).
But you never see people claiming you should never wear shoes because of that.