Have you ever donned a pair of pretty Mary Jane shoes and wondered if there was a real, historical Mary Jane that they were named after?
Okay, probably not. But I have. And I found the answer!
There wasn't. Well, not exactly, anyway. The most widely held theory is that the footwear was named for a character in a comic strip that was popular in the early 1900s, "Buster Brown".
In the cartoon, Buster Brown is a young city-dwelling boy that comes from a wealthy family. He is very pretty for a boy, but also very bad - always breaking windows, pulling pranks, running goats through his mother's tea parties. At the end of each comic, he is discovered for his trick and punished - usually with a good ol' fashioned spanking - but it's unclear whether he ever truly repents. Many strips close with Buster spouting off a self-justifying moral which has little or nothing to do with his transgression.
Take this strip, for example, published May 31, 1903, in which Buster gives his (talking) dog, Tige, a soda from the drugstore soda fountain. The drink splashes, not only on his own clothes, but also on the elegant skirt of a nearby lady. Buster's mother, horrified, takes him home and spanks him, and in the final panel, the boy reveals what he has learned from this, "Resolved! That druggists are legalized robbers; they sell you soda and candy to make you ill, then sell you medicine to make you worse."
My, how cartoons have changed since then!
But anyway, about the Mary Jane issue, apparently there was also a little girl in the Buster Brown comic. She was either the boy's sister or his sweetheart, depending on which source you consult. And, you guessed it, her name was "Mary Jane".
So now, next time you slip on those cute, single-strapped shoes of yours, you won't have to wonder about their namesake.