Orphan cause was foundation of the animal advocacy movement
SEATTLE, Washington––To see overt cruelty to animals––and humans––today, one need only go to Facebook or search on the Worldwide Web.
No sort of cruelty or misery is far from view, despite the efforts of industries and governments to hide it. But for the most part, one must go looking to find it.
When cruelty stank out loud
Overt cruelty to animals––and humans––could be seen, heard, and smelled almost everywhere circa 250 years ago, humane movement historian Bernard Unti pointed out in his April 6, 2017 keynote address to Association of Professional Humane Educators conference at the Woodland Park Zoo.
Such cruelty was not yet energetically defended because, for the most part, it was seldom questioned.
Animals were openly slaughtered and driven to slaughter, public executions by a variety of intentionally cruel means were a common entertainment, along with dissection exhibitions, and horses, donkeys, and oxen were routinely flogged and auctioned on street corners, sometimes alongside human slaves.
Aesop & Balaam’s ass
But there was a growing tradition of using animals as exemplars in moral fables, Unti mentioned, which may be traced as far back as the stories told by the Greek slave Aesop, who lived from 620 to 564 BCE, and the Biblical tale of Balaam’s ass, who spoke to his master to protest against cruel treatment.
This tradition gained momentum with the advent of printed literature, expanding the opportunity for satirists to mock corrupt authorities by depicting them as animals, and to encourage the positive attributes they wished to see in people by attributing those attributes to other animals seen in a more positive light.
Unti began his history of humane education with the story of the Bell of Justice.
The Bell of Justice
In possibly the earliest written form of the story, the Bell of Justice was hung by the Indian moghul Mirza Nur-ud-din Beig Mohammad Khan Salim (1569-1627), who upon assuming the throne in 1605 hung a bell which anyone could ring to convene a judicial hearing of a grievance.
One day a starving horse rang the bell, as narrated in the best known form in the 1863 poem “The Bell of Atri,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Unti traced the philosophical foundations for the notion that an animal might be due a form of legal justice to some of the same individuals whose thoughts underlie the principles of democracy and egalitarianism that are embodied in the Constitution of the United States: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704), who in 1693 wrote a pamphlet specifically advising parents to teach against cruelty.
Progression of Cruelty
Unti also discussed the influence of the anti-slavery crusader Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), best remembered for asking in a 1789 footnote, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
Unti further recognized the contributions of the British parliamentarian William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a lifelong leader of the movement to eradicate the slave trade and among the cofounders of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A series of four prints issued in 1750-1751 by the pioneering cartoonist William Hogarth (1697-1764), entitled “The Progress of Cruelty,” helped to draw attention to the association of cruelty to animals with domestic violence.
Reform movements were all one cause
However, Unti pointed out, increasing awareness of cruelty and even organized efforts to abolish it had not yet become a movement, and would not, until after another several generations of the cumulative effects of public humane education.
Unti illustrated how the rise of the humane movement, both in the U.S. and abroad, was inextricably intertwined with the rise of opposition to slavery and cruel punishments, and advocacy for women’s rights and temperance.
Indeed, the cause of animals did not even begin to become differentiated from the other causes with which it was associated until after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., and even then did not become fully differentiated until well into the 20th century.
Abolition came first
Before the abolition of slavery, when Americans of African descent were commonly regarded and treated as animals, even in the “free” states, the slave trade and use of slaves combined into one topic the worst of all of the abuses that post-Civil War mass movements grew to separately address.
Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Emancipation in 1863, social reformers were virtually unanimously agreed that the abolition of slavery had to become the starting point for everything else that needed to be done.
Afterward, some reformers who had gained early experience in the abolition movement emphasized rights for women, some emphasized temperance, growing numbers sought universal access to free public education, and the recognized founders of the U.S. humane movement––ASPCA founder Henry Bergh, Massachusetts SPCA founder George Angell, and Carolyn Earle White, founder of many animal and child protection societies in Philadelphia––developed organizations dedicated to abolishing cruelty to animals.
“The Reform of Men”
Of note, though, none of them left advocating for humane welfare behind. All of them pursued animal welfare toward the greater goal of, as White in particular put it, “The Reform of Men.”
As Unti explained, post-Emancipation social movements rose and grew in large part to counter the friction and frequent violence that accompanied the westward movement of millions of rootless young men.
Whether campaigning against lynching and alcohol abuse, providing access to schools and libraries, or working to make beating horses and kicking dogs socially unacceptable, the underlying common denominator was restraining and reforming male behavior.
The assassinated president Abraham Lincoln, the authors Mark Twain and Jack London, and eventually President Theodore Roosevelt, among others, were upheld as exemplars of the combination of rough-and-tough frontiersmen with kind treatment of women, children, and animals, and appreciation of books and learning.
The heyday of humane education in the U.S., ironically, coincided with the collapse of what had become a national movement in itself into the hands-on-oriented and largely institutionalized animal welfare cause of the 20th century.
Bands of Mercy
The rapid growth phase of the humane education movement came after Massachusetts SPCA founder George Angell launched the Bands of Mercy youth clubs in 1882, inspired by the somewhat older Bands of Hope societies that encouraged youth to abstain from drinking alcohol.
Formally incorporated as a Massachusetts SPCA subsidiary in 1889, the Band of Mercy expanded almost as rapidly as the growth of train travel and the U.S. Postal Service could transport printed literature.
“More than 265,000 Bands were organized before they fell before the advanced methods of education,” claimed William Alan Swallow in his 1963 humane movement history The Quality of Mercy, adding that “They have their successors in the[Massachusetts SPCA’s] Junior Humane groups.”
What really happened
But that is not really what happened. After Angell died in 1909, his successor Frances Rowley organized the Jack London Clubs, for teens, which claimed 750,000 members, at peak, and were mobilized in support of campaign goals, including pushing dogfighting off the sports pages of respectable newspapers and seeking legislation that made humane education a part of school curriculums, albeit as what are now called “unfunded mandates,” largely ignored.
Rowley then convened a Bands of Mercy convention in Kansas City in 1913 that drew 10,000 parents and teachers, along with 15,000 children (almost certainly including Walt Disney and his sister Ruth) who marched from nearby schools to the cavernous wooden convention hall, originally built to house the 1900 Democratic Presidential Convention.
Unfortunately, the Bands of Mercy convention incurred enormous debt, as did the simultaneous construction of Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, opened in 1915, dominating the Massachusetts SPCA program ever since.
Financially hobbled for more than a decade even before the Great Depression, the Massachusetts SPCA allowed the Bands of Mercy and the Jack London Clubs to fade out of sight.
Parallel to the rise and fall of the Bands of Mercy, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded by Frances Willard (1839-1898) in 1891 founded a Department of Mercy, initially headed by (Mrs.) Marshall Saunders, whose 1894 dog story Beautiful Joe more-or-less mirrored the first humane education classic, Black Beauty (1877), by Anna Sewell, called by Angell the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Horse.”
Within just a few years the Department of Mercy passed to the direction of Mary F. Lovell (1843-1932), who made the chief activity of the organization encouraging the construction of public drinking fountains with attached horse-watering troughs.
Surviving legacies of the WCTU Department of Mercy include the 52 “Benson Bubblers” in downtown Portland, Oregon, funded in 1912 by philantrophist Simon Benson (1852-1942), and the Latham Square Fountain in Oakland, California, installed in 1913 in memory of James H. Latham and Henrietta Marshall Latham, whose endowments created the Latham Foundation for the Promotion of Humane Education, a funder of the 2017 Association of Professional Humane Educators conference.
The choices of the Massachusetts SPCA and the WCTU Department of Mercy to opt for material projects over humane education exemplified the entire direction of mainstream animal advocacy until the rise of the animal rights movement in the mid-1970s.
First Church of Animal Rights
Diana Belais, 1870-1944, a humane crusader from at least 1889 until her death, had tried to kick-start the animal rights movement in 1921 by forming the short-lived First Church of Animal Rights. But the cause and the country were not yet ready for an idea-based movement whose thoughts and concerns reached beyond “The Reform of Men” to seek a complete reformation of the human/animal relationship.
Somewhat paralleling the transition of the humane education movement into hands-on animal welfare institutions, the animal rights movement of the 1970s-1980s soon split into three distinct sub-movements.
The oldest and best-established humane institutions, including the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American SPCA, long since channeled animal rights movement momentum into political activism seeking specific legislative and litigative goals.
Hands-on animal welfare advocacy has become revitalized, challenged, and to a considerable extent self-undercut beneath the banner of the “No Kill Movement.”
Initially the “No Kill Movement” reformed an animal sheltering establishment which in the mid-20th century had come to focus on finding ways and means of more efficiently killing ever-increasing numbers of surplus puppies and kittens.
“No Kill Movement” activism in recent years, however, has strayed from the initial focus on improving quality of life for both animals and humans, into often working just to preserve animal life at any cost to public safety and in individual suffering.
(See We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!, by Jeff Young.)
Vegan & veggie food industry
Vegan/vegetarian advocacy, before the rise of the animal rights movement a minor branch of the humane cause, has already transitioned into a multi-billion-dollar-per year constellation of vegan and vegetarian food industries.
Along the way, meanwhile, content catering to interest in animals and concern for animal welfare has become a mainstay of electronic media. Thousands of individual web sites and Facebook pages now easily publish more animal advocacy messages and background information than the entire humane movement had mustered when the Bands of Mercy mega-conference was held in 1913.
Does niche for humane education still exist?
This far from where humane education started, is there still a niche at all for traditional humane education?
Even if there is, does a niche still exist for humane educators, whether volunteers like zoo docents or “professionals,” as suggested by the name of the Association of Professional Humane Educators?
Unti at the 2017 Association of Professional Humane Educators argued not only that the niche still exists, but that it has for quite some time gone unfilled.
“Community level organizations know the value”
Asked Unti, responding to the abdication of responsibility for doing humane education, even by his own employer, “Do we need national organizations? Community level organizations know the value of humane education,” Unti said, suggesting that animal shelters, as they receive ever fewer homeless dogs and cats as result of the success of spay/neuter programs, “may evolve into educational centers.”
Concluded Unti, “There is much talk currently about a national compassion crisis, in which the haves have lost concern for the have-nots, including the animals who may be jeopardized by budget cuts eliminating the government programs that protect them. I submit that we are really in the midst of a national humane education crisis,” in which general “prosocial” considerations have been lost in an era of “teaching to the test,” seeking specific outcomes ahead of developing introspection and critical thinking.