Special Collection Treasures
Foot binding is a custom that began over a thousand years ago among the court dancers of China. The practice of binding feet became a status symbol and the elite families soon followed in the custom. Eventually, the practice of foot binding spread to all social classes.
The process of binding the feet began before a young girl's foot had fully developed, usually around the age of 6. Binding the foot caused the arch of the foot to break and allowed the heel and toes to be brought closer together. The ideal adult woman's foot would be no more than 3 to 4 inches in length. A woman with this size foot was renowned for having "Golden Lotus" feet.
Over the centuries, many attempts were made to end the practice of foot binding but it was not until 1912 when it was actually made illegal. A few years after the practice was outlawed, officers began inspecting homes and placing heavy fines on families with young girls with bound feet.
A dime has been used in the images below and above to give additional perspective to the size of the shoes.
- Dingle, Edwin John. Borderlands of Eternity: Embracing "Across China on Foot." Institute of Mental Physics, Los Angeles 1939.
- Lim, Louisa. Painful Memories for China's Footbinding Survivors, Morning Edition, March 19, 2007, NPR.
- SCAV 1153 and SCB 5119 Hearn Collection, Samford University Library.