These shoes were part of a group of women's and children's footwear shown by C.S. Gilman at the Great Exhibition of 1851. This pair is quite practical, but some of the examples, such as a velvet boot trimmed with swansdown, were more likely to have been specially made to show that he could produce styles in rich materials and create unusual effects.
In contrast with shoes today, these are what were called 'straights': they do not have different shapes for the left and right foot. These shoes are for young children: they have flat soles with no heels,so that a child could maintain balance more, and straps which give some support to the foot and ankle.
With the growth of the shoe industry during the 19th century, parents could buy a greater variety of children's styles like these, but this was of no help to poor children. They wore old and badly fitting shoes, sometimes padded out with paper. Many went barefoot. When education became compulsory and schools required the children to wear shoes, many faced a stark choice. If they went to school barefoot they would receive a punishment, but if they stayed away their parents would be fined.