Baby shoes!

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.

A Primer on the Prevention of Deformity in Childhood by R. Raney (Elyria, OH: National Society for Crippled Children, 1941)

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.

Orthopedics: Principles and their Application by S. Turek (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967)

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.

4 thoughts on “Baby shoes!

  1. NOT all these shoes were meant to be attached to bars. I still have my shoes from 1953 which were never intended to be attached to the bars. I had to wear them after being put in full leg corrective casts and then half leg casts. This was done before I was 3-4 months old and had not yet learned to walk. My shoes say “Pre-Walker” on the soles and look like they are on the wrong foot.

    The bars were not often, if ever, used until a few years after 1953.

  2. That’s weird that I had to wear those awful shoes in the late 70s and broke about four or five bars before they quit making me wear them. I think those corrective shoes were in use much later than the 50s and hope they don’t use them anymore.

    1. When I was born in 2002 my toes on my left foot touched my shin. At first doctors put my leg in a cast then transitioned into these shoes. Apparently I hated them so much (I would kick and scream) I only had them for three months.

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