There used to be a Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. Can we bring it back?

In the early 1900s, a group of women formed the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. Can history repeat itself?

December 18, 2019

You should think twice about buying your mom that Fitbit she might not really want for Christmas. History says it’s a good idea. 

In the early 1900s, female activists banded together to form SPUG, which stands for — seriously — the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. 

How did this happen?

  • This was the era of progressivism — of Ida B. Wells and Upton Sinclair — and the practice of giving “knickknacks and bric-a-brac” was considered by SPUG members to be wasteful.
  • They also spoke against workers having to pitch in to buy gifts for bosses. 

“But, my girl friends,” SPUG co-founder Eleanor Robson Belmont said in a 1912 speech: “Is it not true that these evils do exist and that you must give many useless Christmas gifts simply because it is the custom?”      

  • Belmont was a famous actress. The other co-founder of SPUG was Anne Morgan, J.P. Morgan’s daughter. Teddy Roosevelt also joined.
  • Spugs — yes, they were called Spugs — were often derided as Scrooges.
  • Brands, obvi, still took advantage of the SPUG movement. A towel company ad suggested consumers “Be a ‘SPUG’” by buying its products.

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