Perfect Sight: A Clear Vision for Female Erudition

Pince-Nez Eyeglasses; ca. 1890
Gift of Dorothy Barfoot
Kansas State University Historic Costume and Textile Museum, 1978.29.37a,b
Lenses: glass; nosepiece: gold; case: leather, velvet

Pince-Nez is a French term for this style of nineteenth-century glasses, a name that translates in English to “pinch nosed.” Dr. Albert Fremont Barfoot, whose colorful banyan is also on display in this exhibition, worked his way up from a humble farming background to a medical degree and career. This popular and inexpensive form of eyewear was worn by two-thirds of the American population needing glasses. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, was notorious for sporting them during his presidency. The glasses—four inches wide with a half-inch nosepiece—were designed for the wearer’s convenience. To this end, the right lens has a hole drilled on the outer edge to allow a chain to pass through. This chain, also called a langelier, fastened to the wearer’s shirt so that the eyeglasses could be easily removed without damage or loss. The black leather glasses case carries the name of the owner embossed in gold and opens to a purple velvet interior.

Eyeglasses were and still are a symbol of intelligence, learning, and the visual exploration of the world. The magnifying power of glasses comes from pinpointing a specific area of focus. Dorothy Barfoot, the daughter of Albert and donor of this object, saved her father’s glasses as a symbol of her own focus. As Head of the Art Department at Kansas State University between 1945 and 1966, Dorothy was an active role model in the up-and-coming movement for female higher education and the place of women in universities. Dorothy Barfoot cared for her father’s spectacles because they reminded her of her commitment to the world of learning. A strong-willed woman in a male academic world, she became an artist, a passionate art professor, and a committed department head. At her death in 1984, Dorothy Barfoot’s life spanned two World Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the development of equality for women in the United States. 

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Abby Kopp