Given today’s attitudes, can you even imagine a school holding a Barefoot Contest? Me neither.
But in the 1930s they held them.
The story is here, in The Most Popular Contest in Town.
The contest was held in Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, VA in the 1930s and even spread throughout the region. The reason for the contest was the Great Depression, when many families simply could not affort shoes. Thus, the school’s principal, Lucy Mason Holt, came up with the idea so as not to embarrass those kids.
This is similar to something that John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) did. See John Wesley’s Barefoot Story. That was also in the 30s: the 1730s.
We know that the contest lasted until at least 1950, because the story tells us that in that year six boys made it until December 5, even through snow.
Here’s a picture from the story.
[Caption from the story.]
Notice that the boys in the picture are not trying to extract mythical glass or examining a horrific injury. They are simply admiring what bare feet constantly used naturally do: develop nice leathery soles.
Could such a contest possibly be held today? Of course not. People have forgotten that way that real feet work. And as for the Norfolk School District?
We only have to look at their Standards of Student Conduct Handbook, where it says:
The Norfolk Public School dress regulation states that students shall not wear the following items:
(11) Footwear that is inappropriate for school (including, but not limited to, shower shoes, beach shoes, thongs, bedroom slippers, and unfastened shoes, or shoes missing appropriate closures).
No, it specifically does not mention “bare feet”. But you can be sure they are included in the “not limited to” clause.
Unfortunately, this is the sort of contest that is long gone, and given today’s attitudes, I guess I never see anything like it returning.