Last week, I had a call from a woman who wanted to donate something to the museum. She explained the item to me over the phone, and since we didn’t have anything like it in the collection, we made an appointment for her to bring them in. This is what she brought:
She told me that they were used to correct clubbed feet in infants. This pair of corrective shoes is from the 1950s.
Clubbed feet in infants is a common birth defect which, in most cases, can be corrected without surgery. Doctor’s aren’t sure what causes the defect, but babies are born with one or both feet rotated downward and inward. As infants, only muscles and tendons are affected. However, if the condition is left untreated, the child’s bones will become deformed as an adaption to the abnormal position of the foot. They will walk on their ankles or side of their foot, making it difficult to walk or stand for long periods of time.
The treatment for clubbed feet in the 1950s depended on the severity of the deformity. For mild cases, gentle stretching by the mother or nurse would help stretch the shortened tendons, especially the heel cord. This would be continued multiple times a day for a period of months until the foot could be held in a normal position.
For more severe cases (including this donor), a series of casts were applied to the infant’s legs beginning in the first two weeks of life. These casts were changed about every two weeks, gradually stretching the muscles and tendons into a normal position. Some pediatricians advised over-correcting the position to allow for some relapse after the casts were removed (see image above).
The final step was maintenance of the position. For infants too young to walk or stand, stiff shoes were mounted to a bar. The infant would wear this apparatus as much as possible. The shoes would hold the feet in the correct position. For children who could stand or walk, special shoes were made with the toes turned out slightly and raised outer edges. Some doctors simply instructed patients to wear their shoes on the wrong feet. The straight outer side of the shoe would act as a sufficient brace to maintain the correct position.
Most cases that are treated early in life can be completely corrected. This donor was encouraged to enroll in dance lessons at an early age to strengthen the muscles in her feet and ankles. She has danced most of her life and continues to this day.