The Hunt

By Danielle Krebsbach, Intern

As we are nearing the end of the cataloging process it is getting easier to look at the entire collection and group the shoes into categories. This makes it easier to figure out what type of shoes we have a lot of and which shoes are more unique. I spent the earlier part of today helping Peggy decide which shoes should be put aside to be deaccessioned by a committee. As we were looking through the shoes that haven’t been cataloged we found some shoes that were labeled as “found in collections” or FIC but had a donor number with them. Donor numbers were used from 1979 to about 1990 in a system where an individual who donated to the historical society was assigned a number and those numbers and names were kept in a book.

Today each object is given a number which is determined by the year it was donated, the order of donations that year, and the individual number of the object in the donation. Objects used to be identified by the year of donation, the person who gave the donation, and the individual number of the object in the donation.

With just the donor number I was able to find the names of two donors who supposedly donated shoes. I decided to first try and find the context for these shoes before cataloging others because it is better to have as much background information as possible before making a final record and I also enjoy a good historical hunt.  I first looked up the names in our digital data base in case other items of the same donation had already been cataloged, but the query found no matches. I then looked into the blue folders which were made during the time the donor numbers were used.  These blue folders have the deeds of gift of all donations of a given year, the deed of gift has the year and any additional information on the object that the donor could give. I scanned the beginning index of each folder which have an alphabetized list of all the donors of that year, but I did not find either name nor did I find them in a similarly organized card catalog.

I was starting to worry that the documents had fallen out of the books at one time and had been lost, and I was equally worried that they were filed by someone with more information during a transition between old and new system and that the only way to find them would be to methodically look through hundreds of files from 1990-1992. Instead I took out the organizer for donations from 1910-1978. Inside it looked as if someone at one point had gone through all the random pieces of paper in the office at one point and organized them by year. I had found envelopes addressed to the historical society with handwritten listing of items and a name who had donated them.

At this point I decided to Google the name of one people I was trying to find to get an idea of when he would have made a donation. There was only one person in La Crosse with the name and he was a superintendent in the 1920’s. I then carefully took out all the documents between 1920-1929 and looked through them. I was able to find his name and description of his donation in a Tribune article clipping.

A copy of a La Crosse Tribune article from 1941. A member has underlined the donors names and items donated and given the items their individual numbers.

A copy of a La Crosse Tribune article from 1941. A member has underlined the donors names and items donated and given the items their individual numbers.


However, this description didn’t mention shoes or clothing of any kind. When I search for the other name in a similar fashion I found four handwritten logs of donations with both names in them, but again they didn’t mention shoes.

This is one page of the small handwritten accounts of donations in the 1920's. The names of the donors are underlined and each description of an object donated is noted with a blue mark.

This is one page of the small handwritten accounts of donations in the 1920's. The names of the donors are underlined and each description of an object donated is noted with a blue mark.


I asked Peggy about the seemly dead end and she told me that it’s possible that they did donate the shoes, but the people recording the donations did not think at the time that the shoes were important enough to mention. So the best we can do is make a note of the year and the person on the file, which is a little disappointing. On the up side, while looking for my mystery donations I found deeds of gifts for two other shoes which were also FICs, one which looked quite unique. We had figured it was a shoe cover used to protected a shoe from getting wet, after finding it’s document and looking up the name we found it was used specifically to protect high heeled shoes.

Object number 1991.002.049, toe covers.

Object number 1991.002.049, toe covers.

Not sure how they got them to stay up!

Not sure how they got them to stay up!

Women's Bicycle Boots

By Dakota Elliott, Intern.

Ladies, the next time you hop on a bike, be thankful you don’t have to strap on knee-high leather boots beforehand. Long before tennis shoes came about, women wore boots made specifically for biking to protect their legs while biking with skirts. Women’s bicycle boots became fashionable in the 1890s up through the early twentieth century. However, they decreased in popularity around 1910 when women began to prefer shoes with stockings for biking.

Women’s bicycle boots were typically front laced leather boots, usually black or brown, and often times had a rough sole in order to prevent the boot from slipping off the pedal. The lower part of the boots were laced through metal eyelets, like a typical shoe. However, the top part of the boots were laced through metal hooks. The top part of the boot had metal hooks to give the laces more wiggle room to allow the user more flexibility and comfort.

Photo from  Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930

Photo from Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930


The pair we have here are in great shape and are a light brown leather with the same laced pattern as mentioned above. The toe has a moccasin seam pattern and the heel sole has metal rivets for lasting durability. In our pair, each insole is labeled with, “Active Maid, Milwaukee, WIS,” which was the trademark for the Ideal Shoe Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee.

The bicycle boots above are part of our collection.

The bicycle boots above are part of our collection.



                                                                                                                  By Peggy Derrick

When Stacy and Clinton say that matchy-matchy is not an acceptable style, this is what they are referencing: 1950s-1960s matching purse and handbag sets. Both of these sets were donated to LCHS in 1985 by Estero Schrabeck.  We estimate that both are from the 1960s: I think they would look perfectly at home in an episode of "Mad Men," don't you? 


While the black/tan/white shoes and black patent leather purse look rather sophisticated (Audrey Hepburn, maybe?), the bag and shoes covered in petit-point tapestry fabric are both chic and matronly. Ever so appropriate for church, or a PTA meeting. 

Regardless of what Stacy and Clinton say on "What Not to Wear," I found plenty of matching sets for sale on the Internet. I think matching still equates to "well put together" for many women.

Personally, would just find it too much trouble to have to move my stuff from one purse to another.

The Pershing Boot

By Danielle Krebsbach, Intern

Trench boots were produced during WWI and were made for trench warfare. The rows of hobnails on the bottom of the shoe were designed to help soldiers grip the ground of the muddy trenches, though they did little to help stabilize soldiers outside of the trenches. The Pershing boot, a type of trench boot, was developed to improve on the existing trench boots which easily ripped at the back seam and were not water-proof. Water and mud sinking into the boot and keeping feet wet was one of the main contributors to trench foot during WWI. The Pershing boot was water-proof, was reinforced on the back seam, with thicker soles, and a metal rivet on either side of the boot to help further reinforce the boot. This improvement in army footwear was short lived as development of the Pershing boot started in 1918, they were used between August and November 1918, their production for army use stopped at the end of WWI.


This particular pair of Pershing boots was donated to the La Crosse Historical Society by Howard W. Theil.

This particular pair of Pershing boots was donated to the La Crosse Historical Society by Howard W. Theil.

What Shoes Can Teach Us About War

By Danielle Krebsbach, Intern

I've never really been into fashion: I'm the kind of person who will wear clothes out until they have holes in them and even then I will keep them for laundry days or around the house. As far as shoes go I have about two or three pairs of shoes I wear regularly (work shoes, everyday shoes, and dressy shoes). So when Peggy proposed the idea of sorting through and cataloging all the shoes in the Historical Society's collection and I saw the stacks upon stacks of shoes, I was a little worried I would get bored with the project. However, after doing some preliminary online research and more thorough research I got hooked! I was really interested in how styles change over time and how a person could use the characteristics of these trends to date shoes. One of the books I found the most useful, and continue to use when dating the collection, was Women's shoes 1795-1930 by Nancy Rexford. The book is packed with information and yet formatted so well so that it was easy to follow when trying to date a shoe.

Besides writing a physical description of the shoe we also tried to research specific styles of shoes and manufacturers. This was my favorite part. It's so fascinating how much information one can find from a seemingly simple pair of shoes. One example that comes to mind was when I was examining a unique-looking boot, which had multiple rows of metal nubs (later found out to be hobnails) on the sole of the shoe.

Pershing Boots

Pershing Boots

The yellow textile index card and the deed of gift both indicated that they were a pair of WWI army boots. This piece of information alone gave more information on the shoes and their date than many other shoes in the collection. I had enough information to fill out the worksheet and could have continued to another pair of shoes, but I decided to do some research on the boots-- like I said, it was my favorite part of cataloging. I quickly learned that they were a specific trench boot called Pershing boots and were only made in 1918: production stopped when the war ended. They were an improvement to the 1917 trench boot which easily caused trench foot. The information I found on these boots, which I knew little about before, gave them more context and gave me more insight into conditions and technology in WWI, which the La Crosse Historical Society can share with the community.


Sensible Shoes: The Real Importance

                                                                                                              by Jamie Wilcenski

What could be the harm right?

What could be the harm right?

Over the current winter/spring semester my fellow interns and I have been hard at work at the La Crosse County Historical Society.  We have been cataloging artifacts, deaccessioning artifacts, boxing artifacts up, and even moving some exhibits to make way for renovation work.  As of late, we have been devoting our time and energies to the vast shoe collection that the society has.  We have gone through, un-boxed shoes, found what documentation exists, using updated information cards as a tool to assess what we have, and lastly to make the ultimate decision, should it stay or should it go.  We have named our intern research project 'History from the Ankle Down'  and I thought a thought provoking blog post would fit right in.  

Being a student of Sociology putting things into categories and looking at things from different perspectives comes naturally to me.  I have been thinking on and off about the manifest and latent functions and purposes of shoes as I have gone through this process.  The process of going through the entire shoe collection multiple times to accomplish our goals has left some concepts very active in my head.  Now, even when I'm not working on shoes I cannot help but still think in terms of footwear.  When I'm out in public I invariably find myself focused on what the people around me are wearing.  Then I mutter to myself oh that's a Louis heel or oh I recall seeing something similar in the collection yesterday.  The knowledge continues to assert itself in other places.  

In similar respects shoes have a sort of a hold on us as a culture.  Why do we buy shoes? They do so much more than just protect our feet from injury or the elements.  They are stylish, sexy, attractive, they give us height, protect our back and other body areas, but they also do not so nice things too.  They can be restrictive, gender limiting, hold us back, make us feel less whole, even change how we view other people.  In the 15th century, what we would commonly call the Louis heel was a top notch fashion statement.  They were made popular, not just for women but also for men by King Louis the XIV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour.  But over time the socially acceptability of men's heels began to fade whereas the women's heel flourished.  

Popular media would have you believe that the heel faded into a strictly female gender functioning shoe.  But is that really true?  I would argue that lifts in shoes serve the same general functions in men's shoes as do a lot of women's heels, the name has changed but the manifest goal has not.  The media also has there manipulative claws all over women's shoes in other ways as well.  The idea that heels make you more appealing the the opposite sex, that to be a successful business woman you must complete your wardrobe with a pair of 6" heels these and more are ways that popular media has attempted to color our choice of footwear.  

In contrast, TED talks and academic papers have argued about self image, self concept and what little things like the selection of makeup, hair product or the type of shoe you wear really do for you in the real world.  In this global economy it is extremely difficult for anyone to get ahead.  On paper many argue that men and women are equals but I will disagree that in the job market that is the case.  Studies have shown that if two equally qualified female candidates apply for the same job it will be given to the one who wears the most makeup, the most attractive business suit/dress no matter how uncomfortable, and the tallest heels.  The other candidate could be a better asset but the sheer fact that she wears flats, less makeup and comfortable but professional cloths will be her disadvantage.  

Specific sociological research has pointed out that over time there have been manifest and latent goals associated with the marketing and prevalence of heels in modern society.  The largest manifest goal has been one of sex appeal.  Wearing heels fundamentally shifts the weight, and body positions.  This allows a more popular media sexual image than flats or oxfords or any other more appropriate shoe for working 8 to 12 hours a day.  The heel was even marketed to women for housework, so they could feel better about themselves for doing what needed to be done around the home.  When really, a few compliments and sharing the responsibilities would have accomplished the same thing for the women.  The latent function of market pushing heels on women is one of dominance.  It is almost impossible to run in 6" heels.  Depending on the person sometimes walking is a challenging negotiation.  The point of importance here is that heels had the latent effect of manipulating women into always being subservient to men.  It is much more challenging for a woman to be independent if she cannot even walk down the street quickly and easily without help from the men around her.  

Just some of the negatives associated with extensive heel use.

Just some of the negatives associated with extensive heel use.


Furthermore, prolonged use of heel day in day out permanently alters the entire body and can cause serious complications to the feet which bear the totality of our weight each and every single day.  The marketing of shoes has aided dramatically in creating a wedge between genders and between what is and is not acceptable.  This is the 21st century we should not have such divides contriving our workforce and our social interactions.  We should be putting our best feet forward an a more equal Global Economy that does not discriminate on gender, class, race, SES or the shoe you wear.  Lets all move ahead not fall from the ankle down into history.


                                                                                    A Thought Piece by: Jamie Wilcenski, Intern. 


Take Me Out to the Ballgame

By Erika Fortlage, Intern

During this project, I have spent more time evaluating men's shoes than women's. (which I felt was much more interesting!) My favorite pair in the collection is a pair of leather baseball cleats. This is probably a result of the fact that I played baseball and softball for nine years of my life. My cleats obviously are made of modern (and probably synthetic) materials and don't even come close to the awesomeness of these ones. They have ferocious metal spikes and are made of durable and wearable leather. 

The best part of these shoes is that when they were donated, the history was given with it. They were worn by a guy named Quincy Hale when he played for the La Crosse High School (we know it as Old Central High School, located at 15th & Cass - where Weigent Park now is). The information we have says that they were from 1910. We have some old yearbooks from 1908 and 1913, so we unfortunately don't have a photo to put a face to the name.

Boots with the Fur

By Dakota Elliott, Intern

I’ve been spending a lot of time working with boots here at the historical society. After having surveyed at least a dozen pairs, I’ve decided to share some of what I have learned over the past month or so. I’ve been researching and surveying boots ranging from walking boots to evening boots, to comfort boots and even rubber boots. The boots I have surveyed have been in a variety of different colors, materials, sizes, and age. For this post, however, I will be focusing on carriage boots because I found them to be some of the most interesting and I like their style. 

I think one of the reasons I like the carriage boots is because I can relate to them. Carriage boots are like an overshoe, except they are an overboot. (That term isn’t actually real, but you get what I’m saying). The purpose of a carriage boot was to cover a woman’s shoe against the snow and provide comfort for her during the winter months. And as the name implies, the boots were sometimes worn during carriage rides to protect shoes from getting in and out of the carriage. After just surviving through yet another bitterly cold and snowy Wisconsin winter, I can see why carriage boots were so popular. I wouldn’t mind having a pair to put over my Chuck Taylors after a fresh snowfall on my way to class.

Anyway, back to the boot! Carriage boots peaked in popularity between 1860 all the way up to the early 20th century. The boots usually had a velvet exterior and were lined with a cozy quilted silk material for added comfort and warmth. I have surveyed a pair with a white quilted interior and a different pair with a pale purple quilted silk, so the color and style does vary slightly. We even have a pair with a gray velvet wool interior. Typically, carriage boots had a fur trim, possible rabbit fur, and were tied together with satin ribbon. One down side to the boot, however, is the sole was not made of rubber until the 20th century, thus, not providing ample comfort in wet conditions. The carriage boots I have surveyed here all have a very thin leather sole which is odd, considering their purpose. Although, some women did use carriage boots as regular everyday boots. All in all, carriage boots were a winter wear staple in North America and were worn for many years. And with their sophisticated looking style, they make for one fancy winter boot.

The carriage boots above were worn by Mrs. Goodrich, a resident of  La Crosse, WI. Ca. 1880-1890.

The carriage boots above were worn by Mrs. Goodrich, a resident of  La Crosse, WI. Ca. 1880-1890.

Welcome to the new LCHS blog, and our first project!

By Peggy Derrick, Curator

The shoes and I ....

This semester we have a record number of interns and volunteers working in collections, so I decided to do a focused survey of our shoe collection, with the goal of getting all of them identified, catalogued, photographed and properly stored. We opened up the stacks of old shoe boxes stashed in the bottom of closets, and spread them out.

 How many shoes does the museum have, after all? More important, how many does it need? How many shoes do you have in your closet? We had…192 pairs of shoes! We will be making recommendations for items to be deaccessioned, or removed from the collection. When this project is over, the LCHS shoe collection will be much smaller, as well as organized and documented. It will be an awesome collection, with excellent examples of design and fashion from the early days of La Crosse, up to the end of the Twentieth Century.

We are calling our shoe project “History from the Ankle Down,” and over the next few weeks you can follow along as we write descriptions, and learn about shoe design and the history of footwear. 

Introducing the bloggers:

Amanda Drummond: UW-La Crosse, class of 2013, History major & minor in Public History

Danielle Kresbach: UW-La Crosse, class of 2013, Archaeology major

Dakota Elliott: UW-La Crosse, class of 2015, History major, & minor in Archaeology

Carmen Robieson: Viterbo University, class of 2014, History major

Jamie Wilcenski: UW-La Crosse, class of 2014, Sociology major & minor in Anthropology

Sarah Stepanik: UW-La Crosse, class of 2015, Archaeology major, & minors in Anthropology and Biology

Erika Fortlage: UW-La Crosse, class of 2015, Archaeology major & minor in Anthropology