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1908 Book Discusses the Ideal “Barefoot Shoe”

Posted on May 11 2012

“…no material comfort can equal the luxury of a well fitting, broad-toed, flexible, heelless shoe. Of course, the secret is that a good barefoot shoe enables us to walk naturally and to find in simple natural exercises not only health, but sanity and happiness as well. If I were a fairy and asked to bestow one gift on the man and woman of the twentieth century I would give them each a pair of model shoes.”

–Bliss Carman, 1908

Before I start this post, I’d just like to express how much I love this quote! The image of a shoe fairy just makes me happy. Ok, now on with it.

One of the things I enjoyed most about writing my own book was digging through old books on running. I spent a lot of time poking around on Google Books and borrowing old books via interlibrary loan in the hope of finding interesting tidbits about footwear and running form. I discovered that a lot of what we are debating now in these areas has been discussed in books for quite a long time.

A few days ago I got a message from a colleague in the Psychology Department at my college (he is also the cross-country coach) indicating that he had found an old book in his collection that had a chapter that talked about the “beauty of the foot.” The book is titled “The Making of Personality,” and it was published in 1908. The author, Bliss Carman, was a Canadian poet, and was Canada’s poet laureate in the early 1900’s.

Earlier tonight I read the chapter on the foot and was pretty amazed to see references to “barefoot shoes” from over 100 years ago! Read the following pages – it’s as if they could have been plucked directly from any number of blog posts written by minimalist advocates over the past few years (the Google Books embed feature is pretty sweet!):


There is a lot of additional interesting content in the chapter, and there are a few additional chapters in the book that I plan to read as well – one on graceful movement, and another on the virtues of being outdoors. Sometimes going back to these old books really puts things into perspective – there is a simplicity and clarity in the writing that often gets lost in many contemporary books. One thing that this book reminds us of with specific regard to shoes is that ill-fitting footwear is not a modern problem. Yet, over 100 years later we are still battling fashion for the health of our feet. Truly strange, isn’t it?

If you want to take a look at Bliss’s book, the full text is available on Google Books (I’ve also embedded the full text at the bottom of this post).

I’ll leave you with a few more quotes that I particularly liked – enjoy!:

“The modern shoe with its toe and high heel may be interesting as a bric-a-brac, as all human fashions are interesting however extreme or bizarre; but its comparative uselessness, its lack of anything like perfect fitness to meet the demands which be put upon it, make it essentially an inartistic invention. As long as it remains so artificial in shape and so ill adapted to its requirements, it can never be a really beautiful foot-covering. It is little less than an instrument of torture, and we wince at realizing it.”

“Whenever the foot is liberated from its fashionable bondage, it returns to the glad service for which it is formed; and all its added freedom and exercise bring back its lost suppleness, strength and grace It grows sensitive and mobile and adequately serviceable again, and so again become interesting and beautiful with the beauty of life. A withered member be it hand or foot cannot be made lovely by being encased in expensive trappings.”

“The hand or foot – or the whole body for that matter – cannot be kept beautiful by disuse. It was designed for use for motion not for immobility. It attained its present normal beauty its present formation through constant service and motion and only by being used freely and lovingly can its beauty be preserved and perfected.”

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