Effects of 1963 rewrite of history are still felt
Animal Welfare Institute founder Christine Stevens (1918-2002), introduced as Mrs. Roger Stevens, and National Humane Education Society founder Anna Briggs (1910-2011), introduced as Catherine Briggs, were probably the last people alive who were noted as humane movement leaders by William Allen Swallow in Quality of Mercy, an influential 1963 history of the humane movement in the United States.
Stevens and Briggs were probably also the only people whom Swallow mentioned as humane movement leaders as of 1963 whose names are still widely recognized, unless one counts Edwin Sayres Sr., then the longtime director of the St. Hubert’s Giralda shelter in New Jersey. His son Edwin Sayres Jr., then in his early teens, later headed St. Hubert’s Giralda, the American Humane Association animal protection division, PetSmart Charities, the San Francisco SPCA, the American SPCA, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
Published by the Mary Mitchell Humane Fund, a subsidiary of the Massachusetts SPCA, Quality of Mercy is today accessible only by special order from antiquarian booksellers, and at that is hard to find.
Quality of Mercy is nonetheless for most humane historians the über source of information on the first hundred years of the U.S. humane movement.
This is unfortunately, because Swallow––in an audacious and partially successful attempt to rewrite and redirect history––appears to have purposefully omitted either mention or at least serious discussion of almost everyone whose post-World War II efforts on behalf of animals in any way presaged the animal rights movement, the no-kill movement, promoted vegetarianism or veganism, opposed all animal use in biomedical research, or in any other way challenged mainstream thinking.
One would never know from Quality of Mercy, for example, that there ever was an American Vegetarian Party, formed in 1947 by members of the American Naturopathic Association, who hoped to draw political support from antivivisectionists. In August 1947 the Vegetarian Party nominated pioneering vegetarian restauranteur John Maxwell, 84, to run for president.
Excised Diana & David Belais
Perhaps most indicatively, Swallow excised Diana and David Belais so thoroughly from humane history that their lifelong record of leadership and philanthropy remains almost unacknowledged anywhere outside the archives of ANIMALS 24-7.
Published record of Diana Belais’ antivivisection activity appears to have started in 1889, when she was 19. She founded The Open Door, an animal welfare magazine, in 1895, and continued publishing it until 1938. Her husband, jeweler David Belais, in 1893 founded the Humane Society of New York (formally incorporated in 1904).
In 1912 David Belais unsuccessfully challenged the American SPCA’s use of $1 million in receipts for the animal control contract to start an endowment, instead of using the money to save more of the 80,000 animals per year that the ASPCA was then killing with carbide gas.
First Church of Animal Rights
Circa 1908 Diana Belais founded the New York Anti-Vivisection Society. Acting on her behalf, David Belais in June 1927 won the first and perhaps only conviction of a vivisector under the 1867 New York state anti-cruelty law.
The Belais’ 1921 formation of the short-lived First Church of Animal Rights should be recognized and remembered as presaging the rise of the animal rights movement, more than half a century later.
The First Church of Animal Rights advanced a philosophical platform differing little, if at all, from that of the many animal rights organizations emerging from the late 1970s into the mid-1980s: Animal Rights International, Trans-Species Unlimited, Mobilization for Animals, In Defense of Animals, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, by far the largest and most influential of the constellation.
But while the First Church of Animal Rights quickly disintegrated, having been more than 50 years ahead of its time, Diana Belais soldiered on, even after her husband’s death in 1933.
Belais’ money saved many other organizations
Deciding that improving the public image of animals would be necessary to achieve legislative progresss, she formed the Legion of Hero Dogs in 1930, honoring heroic dogs at least until 1937.
Meanwhile, recognizing her advancing age and considering that she lacked able successors, Diana Belais resolved in 1935 to disband the New York Anti-Vivisection Society and distribute the assets of the society, valued at $80,000, to other pro-animal organizations that had been crippled by the Great Depression, through no evident fault of their own. The sum was equivalent in purchasing power to more than $1 million today.
Giving away the money required Diana Belais to win one last big lawsuit, in 1938. She died, at age 74, on February 12, 1944.
As Swallow appears to have been personally acquainted with Diana Belais, her omission from Quality of Mercy appears to have been considerably more than accidental.
Kibbe & Briggs
Quality of Mercy did make mention of the first successful no-kill shelters, the Bide-A-Wee Home, begun by Flora Kibbe (1876-1943) in New York City in 1903, and the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm, operated by James P. Briggs (1875-1945) at Potomac, Maryland, from 1920 to 1932––but did not say much about their modus operandi, except to term it “unique.”
The latter was ancestral to the National Humane Education Society run by Briggs’ widow Anna Catherine Briggs (1910-2011) and descendants since 1948.
The Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm property was foreclosed in 1932, “for want of $6,500,” Anna Briggs remembered in her 1990 autobiography For The Love of Animals. But before the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm closed in October 1933, she remembered––and the Washington Post archives confirm––she and her husband found new homes for all of the more than 250 animals who had been in their care. Kibbe took 150 of the displaced animals to the shelters she operated in New York City, Wantagh, and Westhampton for successful rehoming.
North Shore Animal League
This appears to have been the first major transport of animals from the South for adoption in the Northeast, a modus operandi popularized more than 50 years later by the North Shore Animal League.
Inspired by Kibbe’s example, Marianne H. Sanders formed the North Shore Animal League in 1944 in the Town of West Hempstead, just beyond the area that Bide-A-Wee then served.
Swallow assembled Quality of Mercy six years before entrepreneur Alex Lewyt (1908-1988) and his wife Elisabeth Lewyt (1911?-2012) were elected to the North Shore Animal League board, beginning the organization’s growth to national prominence.
Thus Swallow can be excused for overlooking North Shore, though he included capsule descriptions and photos of many organizations that even then were smaller and less influential.
No mention of Helen Jones
But Helen Jones (1925-1998) should have been mentioned, as a cofounder in 1954 of the Humane Society of the U.S., and as founder and a founding board member of the National Catholic Humane Society, begun in 1959.
Later renamed the International Society for Animal Rights, the National Catholic Humane Society was in 1963 the most militant animal advocacy group in the U.S., yet Swallow gave it not a word.
Then-North Carolina SPCA president Richard B. Ford, shown in a photograph with his guide dog, literally could not see. His ability to cope despite blindness became somewhat legendary. Swallow had perfectly good eyesight. He too was reputedly good at getting the job done, as he perceived it. He just lacked longterm vision.
Hansen & Swallow
If any one internal villain could be blamed for the institutional inertia that overcame American humane work during the mid-20th century, the late Eric H. Hansen, to whom Quality of Mercy is dedicated, would be a good candidate. Swallow, the author of Quality of Mercy, was his close associate for more than 25 years.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1903, Hansen emigrated to the U.S. in 1923. Meeting then-American SPCA president Sydney Coleman at the New York City YMCA in 1924, Hansen soon thereafter became manager of the Queens Branch shelter for the American SPCA in New York City.
Thereafter, Hansen was managing director of the Humane Society of Missouri, 1931-1937; managing director of the American Humane Association, 1937-1942; and headed the Massachusetts SPCA from 1942 until his death in 1965, two years after Quality of Mercy was published.
Hired by the American Humane Association in 1930, Swallow edited The National Humane Review from 1941 to 1943, then followed Hansen to the Massachusetts SPCA for the remainder of his career.
“Why worry about animals?”
Hansen at each stop put the organizations he directed on a relatively sound financial footing. He accomplished this in part by undertaking building programs which inspired donors and enhanced institutional prestige. He also formed alliances with other animal-related institutions, often at cost of dismantling animal advocacy programs which might have made his newfound friends uncomfortable.
Hansen was not wholly without longterm vision.
For example, the soil erosion that afflicted much of the U.S. Midwest during the 1930s, after decades of excessive plowing and deforestation, was soon followed by some of the most devastating floods in U.S. history. One of those floods roared down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in February 1937. Alerted to the disaster by shortwave radio, Hansen hesitated to organize animal relief efforts, he wrote six months later, from fear that fundraising for the animal victims would have drawn an editorial on the theme ‘Why worry about animals when human lives are at stake?’
Meanwhile, Hansen noted, the St. Louis newspapers were filled with pictures of marooned animals looking very pitiful, apparently doomed to die either by drowning or starvation.
Eventually the photographs brought a wave of letters to the newspapers asking why the humane society was not doing something.
Belatedly recognizing that the public supports humane societies when humane societies actively and ambitiously help animals in distress, Hansen and veterinarian C.F. Brenner drove to Cairo, Illinois, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sought to save downstream cities by dynamiting the Bird Point levee.
Residents of the flooded area barely had time to evacuate. About 250 people did not succeed, and drowned. As raising chickens and pigs was then routine in low-income suburbs , thousands of animals were left to fend for themselves. Typically, Hansen reported, they were trapped and drowned on the upper floors of houses and barns.
Human victims helped animals
Appealing to the human victims for help on behalf of the animals brought more volunteers than Hansen could coordinate. Among them, they rescued 1,081 mules, 941 cattle, 30 horses, 51 pigs, 16 goats, and enough dogs to have occupied 50 good dog catchers, Hansen wrote, but there were none available.
Several hundred dogs were captured with the help of Works Progress Administration laborers, who housed them all in kennels improvised from the grandstand at the East Prairie Ball Park.
Recommendations not followed up
Remarkable as the rescue effort itself was, the notes Hansen published in the October 1937 edition of The National Humane Review were in retrospect more remarkable. Hansen anticipated the need for the humane movement to produce and rehearse regional disaster relief plans, and suggested as result of his experience that disaster relief work could increase the funding and prestige of the entire humane cause.
Hansen pointed out along the way that this had also been the vision of AHA cofounder William Olin Stillman, who had started the American Red Star Animal Relief division of the American Humane Association in 1916.
But after making his recommendations of October 1937, Hansen seems to have done little to follow them up.
The price of delay
The humane community was no better prepared in June 1957 for Hurricane Audrey than it had been for the Cairo flood of 1937. Hitting the same region that Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Hurricane Audrey nearly erased the Louisiana coastal communities of Grand Chenier, Creole, and Cameron from the map. Officially, 390 human bodies were found. The actual death toll easily exceeded 400, about 40% of the Katrina toll, at a time when the region held far fewer than 40% as many people. Whole families were swept out to sea, with no one left to report the missing.
Among the never identified victims was a teenaged girl who drowned clutching a puppy she tried to rescue. The American Humane Association and the Humane Society of Southwestern Louisiana in Lake Charles were able to rescue just 58 dogs and six cats from the disaster area. Both human and animal victims were hastily buried in mass graves.
Serious humane preparation for disaster did not really get started until after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992.