Editor's note: The following text is from articles printed in the New York City area newspapers in 1895 and 1920.. Thank you to Contributing Scholar Carl Mayer for finding, cataloging and transcribing this article. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
How These Commendable Aids to Matrimony Should Be Conducted.
“Spooning” parties are popular in some quarters. They take their name from a good old English word which was intended to ridicule the alleged fantastic actions of a young man or a young woman who is in love. For some reason, which no one ever could explain, everybody pokes fun at the lover. In fact, that unhappy character is never heroic in real life, no matter what great gobs of heroism are piled about him on the stage, and in all the romantic story books. The girl in love and the boy in love are said to be “spoony.”
When a “spooning" party is given, the committee in charge of the event receives a spoon from each person who attends, or else presents each guest with a spoon. These spoons are fancifully dressed in male and female attire, and are mated either by the similarity of costume or by a distinguishing ribbon. The girls and boys whose spoons are mates are expected to take care of each other during the continuance of the social gathering.
Of course the distribution of the spoons is made with the greatest possible carefulness, the aim being to so place them as to properly fit the case of the young people to whom they are presented. The parties are usually given by the young people of some neighborhood where the personal preference of each spoony is well known, and they are the source of no end of fun. It is possible also that they serve as aids to matrimony as well, and are therefore commendable, since an avowal is made more easy to a diffident swain after he feels that his passion is not a secret, but that his weakness for a ‘‘spoony'’ maiden is known to his friends and enemies on the committee which dispenses the spoons. It may be mentioned that after the spoons have been distributed among the guests, each couple retires for consultation regarding the reasons which caused the award of mated spoons in their case. This consultation is known by the name of "spooning.’’--St. Louis Republic .via The Yonkers Herald, June 24, 1895
High Cost of Living leads to loss of the Courting Parlor
“Don't love in Gotham--
You've got no place to go;
You can't hide in the subway
Or on the roofs, you know!
The cop that's on the corner
Has got his eye on you--
Don't love in Gotham--
You'll be ‘pinched’ if you do!"
SO sang Tom Masson—or, in words to that effect—some ten years ago, but the tragi-comic warning is just ten times as true this summer. For one of the problems of 1920 in merry old Manhattan is the H. C. of L., which in this connection should be translated the High Cost of Loving!
Cupid knows it always has been a dilemma for New Yorkers. In all the side streets, east or west, there isn’t a piazza with rambler roses curtaining it and a hammock swung across one comer, there isn't a circular seat built around a drooping elm or broad spreading maple, there isn't a lovers' lane or a Ben Bolt “nook by a cool running brook.” No got. No can do.
But now courting must be conducted between the devil of the profiteering landlord and the deep sea of propriety. For the simple truth is that almost no New Yorker can afford have a parlor for his daughter's beaux, that daughter herself can't find a house with a parlor in it, if she ls boarding. The rent laws passed at Albany do not prevent anybody from ejecting Cupid. And he is quite literally put out on the sidewalk—or into the park.
The easiest way for the “new poor” —the thousands with stationary salaries—to pay their rent is simply to let an outsider pay rent for that extra room, once the courting parlor. The tenements long ago learned to use the “roomer" to cope with the landlord. The flats and apartments are profiting by the lesson. As for the boarding-house landladies, who can blame those harassed women for filing every room under their roofs to help pay the butcher and the baker?
President Hibben of Princeton was complaining recently about the frankness and lack of reserve between the young men and women of to-day, but even these candid souls have not reached the point where they'll do their courting in the bosom of their families. If the parlor and solitude a deux is not for them, then neither is the family living room!
Hence it is that there never were so many spooners in Central Park as there are to-day—I mean to-night. Every bench is a kissing bench. And the rush is such that two loving couples often are forced to seek accommodations on the same bench! Not even the rain drives them off. When it pours too hard they simply seek refuge in the tunnels. The Park cops are being worn out by their job as civic chaperones [sic]; the Park squirrels, from being interested, and then shocked, are now merely bored.
And the deep sea of propriety is much vexed. “How can nice girls make love so publicly!” indignantly exclaim the old maids of either sex. "Nothing like that goes with us," declares the Hudson River Day Line, or, to quote exactly its recent announcement, “All spooning is tabooed from the decks of the boats. We request that the conduct of the young people shall be above criticism. The young women can help largely to control the situation.”
Maybe they can—if they take Mr. Masson's advice and "don't love in Gotham.” But if a nice young clerk is so ill advised as to fall in love with a nice young stenographer, will you tell me just how they can do their courting?
He can't “say it with flowers.” Theatre tickets, candy—nice candy. There articles are in the luxury class, nowadays, even for ardent lovers. She has no parlor in which she can receive him. They can't afford to go to a decent restaurant and buy enough lemonades, after dinner, to give them the privilege of spending the evening there.
There remain the park, the seat on top of the bus, the Coney Island boat —public enough, heaven knows, but at least populated by strangers and not by a too observant family. There is also the sapient scheme of the rookie who took his girl to the Pennsylvania Station, rushed to the gate with her when a train was announced, bade her a fond, an osculatory farewell—then sneaked back to the waiting room and encored the performance when the gates were opened for the next departing train and the next and the next!
Who knows but the much criticized cheek-to-check dancing is not merely a pathetic attempt to make love in the face of a cold and hostile world? “Romance is dead, but all unseen romance jazzed up at nine-fifteen, to paraphrase Mr. Kipling.
But don't let anybody think he has solved the housing problem until he brings back the beau parlor or gives us a just-as-good substitute. From the New York Evening World, July 14, 1920
DAY LINE TABOOS SPOONING - Hudson Boats to Have Community Song Services.
Beginning yesterday, “spooning" was tabooed on the boats of the Hudson River Day Line. Thousands of circulars will be distributed today setting forth the new "directions" of Ebon E. Olcott, the President.
"We have said many times that some share of the comfort and enjoyment of the Sunday boat rides rests with each and every one on board.” says the circular. "Will you help us make the memory of these trips wholesome and full of enjoyment? We request that the conduct of the young people shall be above criticism. ... ."
There will be a "community service" on the boats each Sunday and a religious service at Pavilion No. 2, at Bear Mountain. From The New York Times, June 13, 1920.
Find a summary of this topic here.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.