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HomeNL-2012-03 Spoonitis

Mark Pusateri

Courting couples in every age have sought time alone, away from prying (and disapproving) eyes, but the craze for spooning among young people at the turn of the last century added to the appeal of seclusion.

Another recreational fad of that time helped fill the bill.

In towns possessing a body of water conducive to the activity, canoeing was all the rage in the years before WWI. Of course, it was easy for a canoe to accidentally drift into a canebrake. Such accidental privacy was not to be shunned.

Crusades were soon launched against "canoe spooners," and canoes themselves.

The Daily Leader in Orange reported in 1912 that one preacher had pronounced that the ferryman's boat across the River Styx was, "beaten by a mile in paddling souls to perdition by the modern canoe."

According to him, Cleopatra and Antony had a tame time compared to the canoe spooners.
"The dress of the fair damsel canoe spooner, her posture and conduct would make the dusky Hawaiian hula damsel in her canoe blush for shame," he proclaimed.

More dangerous, though, than canoes were wheeled conveyances, whether horse-drawn or horseless.

In 1911, the editor of the Burleson County Register railed against, "the mother who allows a sixteen year old daughter to float around the township in a buggy...with a counterfeit sport of weak jaw and weaker morals."

"The girl who insists on spooning everybody in town ought to be taken to the woodshed and relieved of her overflow of affections...It is harder to marry off a girl who has been pawed over by every yap in the community than it is to fatten a sheep on pineapple ice," he concluded.

By 1917, residents of the Montrose section of Houston had had enough.

The Houston Press announced that homeowners had turned vigilante. Groups of them took to the unlit streets at night, sneaking up on unsuspecting spooners and demanding their names... or if they made a run for it, taking their license plate numbers. These were given to the local vice squad.

One member of the group reported, "the other night one car careened along for five blocks without switching on its lights, only to have its number caught by a vigilante waiting at the side of the Westheimer Road, where the driver felt safe in lighting up.”

But not all municipalities were anti-spooner.

In 1909, the mayor of Mineral Wells invited, "all persons young or old afflicted with 'spoonitis' to come to Mineral Wells, drink the water and play at the great national game."

"We desire to state," he went on, "that there is no law against 'spooning' in Mineral Wells. We have laws - wise and good ones - but none that forbid an 'ancient and universal amusement.' Some old maids and bachelors find playing '42' strenuous enough, though a young man might prefer to 'make goo-goo eyes' at his lassie."

Happy Valentines Day!

The above story is reproduced with permission from the "Texas Reader" newsletter - "It explores little known facets of Texas History you weren't likely taught in school".


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