Weird History

How 'Cuddle Parties' Became The Tinder Of The 1920s

Let's cuddle! 

In the 1920s, cuddling was a popular social activity with "petting parties" and "snugglepupping" taking place all around the country. The 1920s were rife with social change — Jazz music, flapper fashions, new dances, Prohibition, and, yes, meeting up for a little poke and tickle at a cuddle party.

Cuddling in the 1920s was innocent fun for many, and a great way to experiment before committing to a relationship or to a marriage. But it was considered dangerous according to religious and social conservatives. They saw physical contact between young, repressed men and women as another sign of the moral decline seizing the nation. The reality of the cuddle probably falls somewhere in between those two perspectives on petting.

  • 'Cuddling' Had Many Names Across The United States
    Photo: Nickolas Muray / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    'Cuddling' Had Many Names Across The United States

    The Washington Times first mentioned "petting parties" in a 1915 story where they were described as consisting of "cosy corners and 'twosing' in general." 

    The phenomenon spread quickly throughout the United States and took on many names. Regionally, "cuddling" could be referred to as several things. Southerners called it "necking," in the Western part of the US it was called "mushing," while in the Midwest it was known as "fussing." "Spooning" was more or less universal and flappers, when they started talking about the parties, called it "snugglepupping."

  • Activities At 'Cuddling Parties' Varied

    "Cuddle" or "petting" parties were places where young men and women could explore kissing, touching, and other aspects of physical contact. However, it is important to note the parties included everything but sleeping together, and that those in attendance stuck to one partner. In many ways, the group aspect of the parties was simple a way to keep the physicality somewhat low-key as well as kept couples with one another instead of looking for another partner. 

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald Mentioned 'Petting Parties' In His First Book
    Photo: Carl Van Vechten / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    F. Scott Fitzgerald Mentioned 'Petting Parties' In His First Book

    In his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald refers to "petting parties" as a common American phenomenon. Published in 1920, This Side of Paradise tells the story of Amory Blaine, a Princeton student struggling with issues of love and greed in the WWI–era United States. The book was well received and introduced many readers to the term and concept of a "petting party."

  • Women Participating In 'Cuddle Parties' Challenged Notions Of Ladylike Behavior
    Photo: William James / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Women Participating In 'Cuddle Parties' Challenged Notions Of Ladylike Behavior

    Flappers — with their short hair, shorter dresses, makeup, and participation in drinking, smoking, and dancing — were free spirits and countered many of the traditional notions of femininity and appropriate behavior for women. Their participation in "snugglepupping" was an extension of this, but they weren't the only women taking part in public petting. In general, women at "petting parties" participated in activities that were considered by their elders as amoral and impure.