The Perfect FootOn March 30, 2022 by Elyse
Folks, put on your comically oversized nightcap—or pour yourself one—because this week, I have another Cinderella-esque fairy tale to read you. Since this blog is not yet available in podcast form, you’ll have to imagine my dulcet tones and/or high-pitched squeaks as you go along.
Once upon a time, in the not-so-faraway land of Chicago, a coterie of chivalrous chiropodists—otherwise known as podiatrists—set off on an epic quest.
Legend—aka an historical newspaper—has it that their motto was “Put your worst foot forward.” It needs some work, but when the movie version comes out, Disney will clean it up.
Without interference from highway men, ghosts, bears or other fairy tale clichés, these fearless foot finders anticlimactically crowned their podiatric princess in short order: Mrs. Clara Smith Houston of Chicago, Illinois. I’m proud to see my hometown has a claim to fame besides elegant criminals and party poopers.
The foot of Mrs. Clara Smith Houston is nine inches long and ten inches around the instep. Its length is exactly one-seventh of her height in accordance with the Greek rule of sculpture. It is the most perfect foot in existence.– The Day Book, April 26, 1913
Although I lack perfectly proportioned feet—I checked—that hasn’t stopped guys on dating apps from repeatedly asking to rub them. I thought they were creepers, but it turns out they were just podiatrists.
There was celebration throughout the land:
Mrs. Clara Smith Houston, herself a chiropodist, was duly pleased, and the newspapers published pictures of the perfect foot, and a nice time was had by all.– The Day Book, April 26, 1913
However, even though the metaphorical glass slipper fit, Clara didn’t live happily ever after with Prince Charming:
Friend Wife—Congratulations on putting your best foot forward. Nothing like notoriety, no matter how cheap. Send your picture to the pink journals and call on me for cash with which to advertise yourself further. Your husband.– Nat C. Houston, quoted in the Day Book, April 26, 1913
Breaking up over text isn’t confined to the 21st century. Still, no matter how passive aggressive, at least he had the decency not to ghost her, which is more than I can say for guys these days.
However, Clara reminded the world that there are two soles—er, sides—to every story:
It is just the story of jealousy—of a husband who was jealous of even feet! Jealous of them because he thought that the little time I gave to them I ought to be giving to him!
He’s not the only one; just ask Samuel O’Dell, whose wife ignored him in favor of her 35 cats.
Imagine that! I, a bride of five months and only 22 years old, and he an old man from whom I expected the best and kindest of treatment. It was just more than I could stand, and I decided to leave him at once.
I decided that if a man was so jealous that he would not even allow me to boast of a perfect foot, and to pay some attention to its care, I had best give up him and all the luxuries with which he had provided me—town and country house, horses, automobiles, servants and whatnot. Everything except THE ONE THING—happiness.– Clara Smith Houston, quoted in the Seattle Star, April 28, 1913
After a blurb about filing for divorce in October 1913, Clara disappears from the records. Since this is a fairy tale, let’s assume she adopted as many cats at Mrs. O’Dell, retired to the “paradise of old maids” and lived happily ever after with her perfect feet.
This story has a sequel: Cinderella II. Ever heard of it? Me neither, but Wikipedia assures me it exists. A new podiatry princess knocked the chiropodist crown off Clara’s head a few years later:
The perfect foot has been found, and in Chicago, roasted for years as the home of big feet. A little girl, Mary Boker, 9 years old. . . has a foot—two feet, in fact, which artists and physiologists call perfect.– The Day Book, May 26, 1916
Chicago: the city of big shoulders AND perfect feet.
It takes hard work to make feet perfect. No surprise, Mary’s mom was a helicopter parent before helicopters were even invented.
Mary had pretty feet when she was a baby, and I felt nature’s gift must not be marred. I began massaging her feet with cold cream to make them strong and smooth, and rubbed them carefully to preserve the natural outline. . .
I am careful, too, about her stockings. Seamy stockings spoil perfect feet. I put on her shoes and stocking myself and see that the stockings are always smooth. It’s a lot of trouble taking care of two perfect little feet, but there are so many gnarled and ugly feet in the world a perfect foot is precious.– Mrs. Boker, quoted in the Day Book, May 26, 1916
Some feed the hungry, others heal the sick, and still others protect the world from ugly feet. Mrs. Boker was far from the only one. In the early 1900s, society was apparently obsessed with perfect feet:
They evidently forgot to look in Chicago. Sound the trumpet and call in the chivalrous chiropodists—I feel a trilogy coming on.
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About This Blog
Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.