Vol. IX, No. 4, 1996


Magic Shoes--

Legends of Dr. Virginia Craig

by Ginger Casebeer



Since the allure of Dorothy's red shoes and Cinderella's glass slippers, no other feet have kept me quite as enchanted as those of the legendary Dr. Virginia Craig. Well-loved, highly respected and sometimes feared, Dr. Virginia Craig has become a figure in the folklore of Springfield, Missouri. Like many other semi-factual heroes and heroines, Craig exists both in fact and imagination. Dr. Craig served as head of the Springfield Normal School's English Department from its opening in 1906 until 1952, when the institution officially became Southwest Missouri State College. Though retired, she was still active around the institution when it became a university and when a classroom building was named in her honor. She is still a vivid figure in the memories of her former students, many of them now administrators and educators, and countless friends. Whenever I ask those who knew Miss Craig, I am inundated with anecdotes of her unusual nature and strength of character. Students recall her piercing gaze, her driving skills--or lack of them, her unwavering integrity. Students joke about her teaching methods, saying that Mondays were tot making assignments, Tuesdays were for lecturing on women's rights and behavior, Wednesdays were for lecturing on prohibition or peace, and Thursdays and Fridays were for giving tests. Although she accomplished much and made great strides in bettering the Springfield community, what initially caught me up in the legend of Dr. Craig was a story about, of all things, her shoes.

As Dr. Craig came to life in my mind as I interviewed one of her former students, I saw a petite, bird-like woman whose gaze never rested for longer than a moment as she alternately fingered her pince-nez and dabbed at her mouth with her handkerchief. Her high-pitched voice cracked through literature recitations as she rocked back on her heels and up on her toes. Students became mesmerized with the swaying motion, expecting her to topple backward at any moment.

The rocking was a result of Dr. Craig's campaign against high heels. She firmly believed that wearing high heels was unhealthy, so she never wore heels over one-inch high Whenever she bought a pair of shoes that had a higher heel, she would take them to the cobbler and have him cut the heels off to an inch. The unbalanced heel and toe would force her to walk with her toes in the air or her heels off the ground. As she stood in class, she alternated her stance from heel to toe, rocking an accompaniment to the rhythm of her recitation. She would lecture about the evils of high heels, but the coeds would laugh The younger generation believed that "a girl with low and sensible heels .. is likely to pay for her own room and meals." Perhaps those coeds now wish that they had paid for their own room and meals--and saved all that money they spent on chiropractors!

There are other stories which do not support the legend of the rocking shoes. One student claims that Craig wore flat black dress shoes with a bow on top, which she shuffled around the classroom in because she bought them one and a half sizes too large. The student used to laugh at those too-large shoes, until she looked down a few months ago and discovered that she was wearing the same style and fit on her own feet. Dawn Lynxwiler Bennett claims that Craig wore black leather house slippers while teaching, bought at Lynxwiler Shoe Co. Bennett says her father tried to get Craig to wear a proper fit, but Craig preferred comfort over fit despite his urgings.

The too-large shoes allowed room for the stocking wrinkles that gathered around Craig's ankles. Never one to listen to the dictates of fashion, Craig would not wear silk stockings. She fervently lectured on the evils of Japanese imperialism and boycotted Japanese products. She proudly wore rayon stockings, which enabled her to hold her head high--as her stockings sagged around her ankles.

Miss Virginia at the Pathenon

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Nor were Dr. Craig's shoes perfectly shined. In fact, they were strangely worn, particularly on the toes. The scuff marks were unusual, because they were not acquired through normal wear and tear. The markings were a result of Craig's bicycling practices. Dr. Craig was a familiar sight on her bicycle, and many recall her riding with perfect posture through the streets of Springfield, wearing her wide-brimmed hat in the summer and her tam and scarf in the winter. Those who do not remember the unusually scuffed toes probably met her late in her bicycling life. For a time, Craig knew of no other way to slow her bicycle than by dragging the toe of her shoe. This was remedied by a student who took the time to teach her how to brake her bi-cycle--by actually using the brakes. After a lesson of only a few minutes, she was very proud of her new knowledge and often thanked her "teacher" for his generosity.
However her feet were shod, Dr. Craig's feet took her the distance. Locally famous for her long walks, she is fabled to have walked to Rogersville and Hollister, often accompanied by Dr. Mary Woods. They would stop at farmhouses along the way when they could not reach their objective in one day. One such stop is recalled when a pitying farmer looking at Craig's clothing and mode of travel, commenting that he had heard teachers were pretty poorly paid. Their walks usually commenced early the next morning and ended at a hotel for dinner. And although they walked to their destinations, they usually rode the train home.

Craig's shoes took her to magical places far from Springfield, too. Craig toured many European cities, including London, Rome and Moscow, saying that she didn't know why traveling to Europe made better teachers, but it did. Her trip to Russia was particularly remarkable in a time when few made the difficult journey. But Craig walked through Tolstoy country and came home with further support for her pacifist proclamations. She said that Russian women were big and worked at jobs that no American woman would take, like shoveling manure from the streets. She thought such physical training built strong women who would be able to fight on the front lines in combat along with Russian men. She believed this additional "manpower" would ensure Russia's victory over the United States.

Dr. Craig's feet are not only fascinating because of what they were shod with or where they walked, but for their inspiration the others to follow. Thousands of students who sought to follow those too-large footsteps have been led by Craig to teach the future in our classrooms, defend individuals in our courts, and spread the news in the field of communication. Many attribute to Dr. Craig their desire to enter the professions to the legendary Dr. Craig. Others say their lives were never the same after encountering her. So despite the scuffs, the rocking, the walking and the wrinkling, Dr. Craig's legendary shoes are hard to fill, or to forget.

Miss Virginia with her debaters.

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