Our Boots and Shoes

This is the first article in May of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on May 2, 1909, and is an article on how to treat boots, shoes, and callououses.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Our Boots and Shoes

THE caption suggests to readers of popular literature that of the interesting history of army life, written by the widow of Gen. Custer—“Boots and Saddles.” The three words translate the trumpet call for mounted drill preparatory to the day’s march, maneuvers or fighting.

The association of ideas is not inapt. In putting on our boots and shoes were gird up our loins, figuratively, for the business of the day. No working man comes down to breakfast in his slippers or in his stocking feet, no matter how warm the weather.

Do our careful mothers ever ponder seriously the question as to the share easy and well-fitted foot covering has upon the temper the children bring to the breakfast table and take to school? It is a hard task to study when the shoe really and literally pinches the tender foot. It is as hard to keep in a good humor during the painful hours that must pass before the hot and fevered toes are released from bondage. The indifference of the average boy to the appearance of his lower extremities, his positive dislike to brushing his shoes and his avowed hatred of a new pair, in the face of the fact that the old boots are shabby beyond even his power of denial, seldom have the weight their importance demands in the parental counsels.

Measured Versus Ready-Made.

In my early youth nobody wore ready-made shoes. We children were taken to the shoemaker as regularly as to the dentist, and much oftener, and fresh measurements were made for each pair of new shoes. In consequence, we never had corns. Grown-uppers, who were seduced by vanity to wear shoes too small for comfort, and to sport pointed toes when square had gone out of fashion, had a monopoly of corns and bunions. I recall with agonized distinctness the growth of the first of the very limited crop of them that I have had the misery of harvesting. The direct cause of the evil was a pair of satin slippers bought in haste to wear to a party, and repented of in wretched leisure. They were the first ready-made shoes I ever owned. Nowadays, nobody but the rich and the fastidious have shoes made to order, ad chiropodists are abroad in the land as a direct and inevitable result. There are no two feet in the world which are exactly alike, as there is not in the forest a leaf that has a perfect fac-simile in another. Yet millions of boots and shoes are turned off from lasts which bear one and the same number.

The cost of shoes made to order puts the comfort, which custom has made a luxury, of covering the feet with gear designed expressly for each particular pair beyond the reach of people of modest means. I do not dispute the assertion. The next best thing is to be exceedingly careful in the selection of what we buy in the stead of these vanished treasures. It is not enough that the mother sends her child’s “size” down to the shop when the boy or girl “cannot possibly wear those old frights a day longer;” not enough that one of the frights accompanies the order, to insure a fit. She should go with the lad or lassie, and see for herself that the shoes do not bind here and bulge there. If Jennie be inclined to plumpness, it is almost certain that the buttons of the boots should be moved nearer to the edge of the flap on the rounded claves. If Jack be a spindling younker, the fastenings of the stout boots should be tightened about ankles and shins, or the shoes will “wobble” into flabbiness, and a shoe that is too loose induces the growth of callosities as surely as one that is tight. There are degrees of fitness even in ready-made boots and shoes. The watchful purchaser is quick to note whether or not those displayed for selection accord with the shape of her child’s foot.

She should not be ignorant, furthermore, that leather has its grades of excellence, irrespective, sometimes, of outward seeming. Morocco should be firm under the fingers, yet pliable; kid, elastic and not flimsy. Practice soon makes her familiar with these points, and her touch more trustworthy than if she had never studied qualities.

And having bought the boots, let her take them home to ripen. One wise woman whom I have the hood fortune to know does not wait until the family stock of shoes gets shabby. When he boots she insists that Jack shall brush nightly, because he is always in a hurry in the morning, begin to wear slightly on the sole and get grayish on the toes she trots him down that very afternoon o be fitted to the successors of the veterans. These secured, she lays them upon the shelf of a cool closet that has no steam pipe near, and leaves them there for a fortnight. When she can compass it, she lets them ripen for a month. Then they are worn for an hour or so a day, increasing the term of service daily until, as the grateful wearer owns with a grin, “They are almost as comfortable as the old.”

Kid gloves stiffen and harden in lying by unused, even when enveloped in oiled silk. Shoes, if the material of which they are made be good, are improved by the waiting.

A Rest Cure.

A “capable” New England housewife in Mrs. Whitney’s “Odd or Even?” declares that “gowns need rest as much as the people.” In proof of which she displays one of her own, that looks so nice as to be mistaken for new, which has had no other treatment than a month’s rest in a dark closet. I have fancied that our boots and shoes are the most sensitive portion of our outer integuments. The period of usefulness of my own footwear is a proverb in the household. I attribute the good looks and longevity of the boots, low shoes and slippers to my practice of removing the first named from my feet as soon as I come home, after walking or driving, and donning either the second or the third. My feet demand the change, and so do the wearied boots. I carry the idea further into practice by never lying down for rest without taking off my shoes and enduing my grateful feet in bedside slippers, and this although I know my siesta or lounge will not exceed 10 minutes in duration. Feet and shoes are the better for the rest and change.


Judicious care and cobbling will prolong the useful period I have referred to beyond the expectation of one who has been in the habit of letting shoes wear out hopelessly before getting new and then throwing the ancient servitors into the scavenger’s cart. Have boots and shoes half-soled, and recapped at the toes, and set them aside to let the new leather mellow, against the time for going into the country for the summer, or to be worn under rubbers in muddy and snowy weathers. Those same rubbers are a decided injury to shoes. They injure the shape, and, by retaining the heat and perspiration of the feet, rot the leather. Therefore, keep a second best pair for days when rubbers are indispensable.

Patent leather boots are undeniably pretty, and when boots are merely tipped with the glossy material, not unwholesome wear. When the foot covering is composed entirely of it (excepting, of course, the soles) it is most undesirable, particularly for active children. The insensible perspiration upon which the healthy condition of the skin is absolutely dependent is converted into moisture which cannot escape into the air, and must be absorbed by the skin and flesh. The feet are soaked into tenderness that renders the body susceptible to sudden changes of temperature, heightening the risks of taking cold when the air-tight covering is removed. The wearer of patent leathers almost invariably suffers from cold feet.

A word as to the treatment of corns, bunions and callosities on the soles of the feet may not be amiss here. If the feet be properly clothed; if the use of rubbers be confined to seasons when it is really necessary to wear them, and they are taken off as soon as one enters the house; if patent leathers are eschewed and the boots be exchanged for softer low shoes that do not bind the ankles while one sits or stand indoors, the obnoxious crop of excrescences ought not to become an affliction to any one of us. Nevertheless, “it must be that offenses come” to the lower extremities, as everywhere else. If corns and their cousins are with us, they must be cured and banished.

Dozens of remedies, simple some of them, and more of them elaborate, have been offered to us from time to time. The burden of testimony for and against these moves me to suggest, as a safe and marvellously efficient application to the harder callosities on toes and soles, what is confessed by us all to be the most useful of vegetable oils—that extracted from the castor bean. I have known stubborn corns on the ball of the foot and upon the toes to yield in a few weeks to this simple regimen:

Soak and soap the “callosities” night and morning; wipe, and while they are still moist rub for two minutes with the oil. The best quality is clear, colorless and has little odor. Keep up the method for two or three weeks. After a few days you will find the hard places softer. Begin then to scrape off the tough skin very gently before applying the oil. The soreness will be gone by now, and little by little the callous excrescence will come away. There will be no plain and no danger, such as attends upon the use of acids to produce the same end.

Marion Harland

Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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