Margaret Lorine Jones Spoonts Lewis, influential civic leader of South Texas, was born on November 16, 1881, at Medio Ranch in Bee County, Texas, to Lou Ella (Marsden) Jones and William Whitby Jones. The oldest sibling of two sisters and a brother, she spent her childhood between Beeville, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. She attended San Antonio Female College and Mary Baldwin Seminary in Staunton, Virginia.
After Jones graduated in 1900, she returned to her parents’ home in Corpus Christi. In 1905 she became the first president of La Retama Club, a new club for young unmarried women, which was sponsored by the Monday Study Club. La Retama Club was instrumental in establishing a public library for the city. She also served on a separate committee to purchase lots to enlarge Artesian Park, Corpus Christi’s first city park which was established in 1854.
In 1907 Jones left La Retama Club to marry Marshall A. Spoonts, a Fort Worth attorney. They married in a Methodist ceremony at her parents’ home in Corpus Christi on July 9, 1907. During her years in Fort Worth she volunteered at the Free Baby Hospital and the Fort Worth Art Association, and during World War I she worked for patriotic organizations. Her husband died suddenly in 1923, and Spoonts returned to her South Texas roots and her hometown.
Spoonts became interested in the development of commercial interests and civic enhancements to increase tourism in the Corpus Christi area. She lived with her parents at their home on Upper Broadway and took over some of the management of the local Nueces Hotel, which was owned by her father, who also had extensive ranching and banking interests. She also had a ranch near Hebbronville, Texas. Comfortable with public speaking, Spoonts spoke at the South Texas Cattle Raisers Association to urge them to bring their convention to Corpus Christi. She also toured the state and spoke to groups of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs and women delegates at the West Texas Methodist Conference.
In January 1927, after serving a year-long term as vice president, Spoonts was elected president of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce by a unanimous vote. For fifty-four years, until 1981, she was the only woman to hold that position in Corpus Christi. Her election as president made national news. She caused some consternation at the National Chamber’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., as the only elected woman in the United States to head a chamber of commerce during that time. She served two terms and was urged to run for mayor because of her outspoken and vigorous support for beautification of the Corpus Christi Bayfront and building a seawall to protect the city from hurricanes.Although a rare honor for a woman to be considered in 1928, she reluctantly declined to run (see WOMAN SUFFRAGE).
While chamber president, she and the city’s mayor, Perry G. Lovenskiold, created the Bayfront Committee to plan and oversee improvements to the public areas along the Corpus Christi Bay waterfront. As the committee chair, Spoonts is credited with being the original promoter of creating a unique bayfront. Her group, which included famous sculptor Gutzon Borglum, traveled the length of the southern coast of the United States to compare and study bayfront designs. She championed his idea of a Christ statue in the bay. To create a tropical atmosphere in the city that would appeal to “northerners,” she established parks and planted long avenues of palm trees and other tropical and native plants. Agaritia hedges were one of her favorite additions along the waterfront.
In 1929 President Calvin Coolidge appointed Spoonts to the first Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission, a committee that included Joseph S. Cullinan. She was the only woman and second Texan on the twelve-member panel. She believed in the monument passionately and lobbied her huge network of friends across the country to help bring in federal funding for the massive sculpture by Gutzon Borglum. Soirées and visits on Capitol Hill, along with avid articles and numerous letters, were useful to build support. Her essay, “The Eyes of Washington,” appeared in a Mount Rushmore National Memorial pamphlet published by the commission in 1931. During her time on the commission, from February 25, 1929, until July 1, 1939, she attended many meetings and dedications at the mountain in South Dakota and served as the second vice president for a time.
When South Texas State Teachers College became Texas College of Arts and Industries (now Texas A&M University–Kingsville) in Kingsville in 1929, Spoonts served as a charter member of the college’s board of directors and remained on the board for thirty years, during which she served several terms as vice president. In 1956 the Lewis Hall dormitory was named after her, after she remarried in 1940, in recognition of her dedicated service and philanthropy to the college. Spoonts also served on the board of directors of the Corpus Christi State National Bank and as the secretary-treasurer on the board of directors of her family’s Mesteña Oil and Gas Company from its formation in 1935 to 1963 (see OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY). She was instrumental in building the St James Episcopal Church in Hebbronville, Texas, and the Jones Educational Building at the St John’s Methodist Church in Corpus Christi.
In 1937 Spoonts gathered twelve young civic-minded women together in her parlor to form a charter group of the Junior Assistance Club, which became the Junior League of Corpus Christi in 1944. She provided a free meeting space at the Nueces Hotel for years and later gave another building to the club. That property was eventually sold, and the proceeds were used to buy a permanent meeting place.
On February 3, 1940, Spoonts married Frank Morton Lewis and moved to San Antonio. They were members of Christ Episcopal Church. After her husband’s death in 1953, Lorine Jones Spoonts Lewis remained in San Antonio and continued her busy civic activities until her death on January 5, 1963. She is buried in the Jones family crypt at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Corpus Christi. She was well-traveled, well-read, and intensely knowledgeable about park beautification, politics, education, health issues and nurturing civic volunteers. She used her charm and graciousness to enlighten guests on public issues of South Texas. In 2016 the Mount Rushmore Bookstore published In Their Own Words: The Carving of Mount Rushmore, which includes articles by Lorine Jones Spoonts Lewis, Gutzon Borglum, and others involved with Mount Rushmore National Monument Commission.