The right & left hands of anti-vivisectionism have rarely known what each other were doing
Included in the recent ANIMALS 24-7 article What animal advocates owe to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was a mention that during King’s lifetime, 1929-1968, “Anti-vivisection activism had become co-opted by the radical right and was seemingly intertwined with opposition to teaching about evolution, opposition to vaccination, and fluoridating water.”
Responded one skeptical reader, “Can you expand a bit on that claim? I grew-up during the 1950s on, and I don’t recall any conflation of anti-vivisection with anti-vaccination, anti-evolution, or anti-fluoridation.
“The Animal Welfare Institute, most memorably represented by Christine Stevens and F. Barbara Orlans, and Cleveland Amory representing the Humane Society of the U.S. and later the Fund for Animals, spearheaded the anti-vivisection campaign; none of them were known as conservative ideologues.”
Actually quite the opposite.
Christine Stevens’ husband of 60 years, Roger L. Stevens, was a former fundraiser for two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who was an avowed liberal. Roger L. Stevens later was finance chair of the entire Democratic Party during the tenure of U.S. president John F. Kennedy.
Cleveland Amory, younger brother of Robert Amory, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1952 to 1962, was long associated with many “liberal” causes, not just the cause of animals.
Half a century of co-option
But both Christine Stevens and Cleveland Amory were leaders in wresting what remained of the once strong anti-vivisection movement of the 19th century away from half a century of co-option by a succession of elements of the radical right.
The anti-vivisection movement in truth began much earlier than the humane movement, with antecedents in the 16th century revulsion of many contemporaries to cruel experiments performed by Rene Descartes (1596-1650).
Going even farther back, anti-vivisectionism has roots in medieval Catholic and Islamic teachings against dissection of human remains, although torturing living humans by dismembering them was acceptable.
The underlying Catholic and Islamic belief was that bodies should be preserved intact for the Resurrection at Judgement Day, irrespective of the realities of decomposition, but that the remains of rogues should be scattered and burned to thwart resurrection — as if an all-powerful, all-seeing God could not find and reassemble the pieces if inclined to do so.
Anti-vivisection societies operating much like the few surviving organizations with “anti-vivisection” as part of their names emerged in Europe around 100 years before they emerged in the U.S.
Caroline Earle White
The first anti-vivisection society of note was the American Anti-Vivisection Society, founded in 1882 by Caroline Earle White in emulation of the British National Anti-Vivisection Society, founded in 1875 and still active, and the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society, founded in 1876, still active as Animal Concern Scotland.
White was deeply involved in animal advocacy, having been involved with Elizabeth Morris and Anne Waln in founding the Animal Rescue League of Philadelphia in 1858, the Pennsylvania SPCA in 1867, and the Women’s Humane Society in 1869.
White founded the American Anti-Vivisection Society as a separate stand-alone organization for two reasons.
Opponents of “Darwinism”
One of those reasons was that White perceived, correctly, that the anti-vivisection cause could attract substantial support from conservative religious opponents of “Darwinism,” as evolution was then generally known, only 13 years after Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species.
The common conviction of most anti-vivisectionists over the years, shared with many anti-evolutionists, has been that animals are so unlike humans –– because humans are uniquely created in the image of God –– that nothing derived from studying animals can be valid in human medicine.
This notion is easily traced from the time of Charles Darwin through the so-called “scientific” anti-vivisectionism of Hans Ruesch and his contemporary indirect successors who have adapted Rueschian doctrines to suit the present times, most notably the White Coat Waste Project.
Dilution of purpose?
White’s other major reason for founding the American Anti-Vivisection Society as a stand-alone organization was that she further perceived, also correctly, that her focus as a proto-animal rights advocate and social reformer would soon come into conflict with the socio-political views of many fellow humane workers.
White realized that many of her colleagues would see anti-vivisection campaigning as a dilution of purpose from operating orphanages, animal shelters, and doing humane education centered on the message of being kind to animals in daily life, without addressing institutional use of animals.
White was very right about this. The American Humane Association, founded in 1877 and then still a representative body with voting members, voted at least twice, circa 1883 and 1900, to boot out all the antivivisection societies and vegetarian societies that had been admitted to membership.
Where White led, many followed
The American Anti-Vivisection Society, meanwhile, was soon emulated by many other anti-vivisection societies formed across the United States and Canada. Among the two longest survivors using the name “anti-vivisection society” were the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), formed in 1895, recently renamed Rise for Animals, and the U.S. National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), established in 1929.
The New England Anti-Vivisection Society and the U.S. National Anti-Vivisection Society were, however, relative Johnny-come-latelies. Almost every state and large city had an anti-vivisection society by the time NAVS started.
Many of these local anti-vivisection societies survived until well into the mid-20th century, sometimes with parallel black and white organizations in the same city, as in Oakland, California, into the mid-1960s. Eventually whatever was left of both organizations, probably fewer than a dozen active members between them, merged and disappeared.
Opposition to vaccination
Most anti-vivisection societies, even when NAVS formed, had already wandered far from emphasizing opposition to cruelty to animals. Opposition to vaccination was an initial focus of many, since animals were used in cruel experiments to develop vaccines, and anti-rabies vaccines until the mid-twentieth century were produced by cultivated live rabies virus in the brains of living sheep.
In Britain, the Lady Gertrude Stock in 1881 formed the National Canine Defence League as an anti-vivisection society, dedicated, according to the authorized history of the organization, to combatting “dog scares” that the members believed “were nothing more than mischief put out by persons interested in the establishment and maintenance of Pasteur Institutes.”
The Pasteur Institutes were vaccine research laboratories established in France, Britain, and later India, which according to the National Canine Defense League “sought a steady supply of dogs on which to experiment.”
Unlike most other early anti-vivisection societies, which tended to become vehement opponents of vaccinating either dogs and humans in any manner against anything, the National Canine Defense League within 20 years became a leading provider of anti-rabies vaccination for dogs, was instrumental in eradicating canine rabies from the United Kingdom, and evolved into the skein of animal shelters known today as Dogs Trust.
As well as opposing vaccination, depicted in campaign literature as a form of vivisection on humans, the early anti-vivisection societies also fought against cruel experiments on humans, including illiterates, prisoners, the mentally handicapped, and racial minorities.
Early anti-vivisection societies were perhaps most prominent as opponents of eugenics, the notion of “improving humanity” by prohibiting reproduction of “inferior” races and classes of humans––an idea which in the early 20th century was favored by both the political right and the left.
Opposition to eugenics, by circa 1920, was practically all that the mainstream humane movement, represented by the American Humane Association, still had in common with anti-vivisection societies.
Meanwhile the humanitarianism of the early anti-vivisection societies became diluted and co-opted to some extent by Nazi anti-vivisectionism, which circled back around to embrace eugenics behind the idea that while animals should not be subjected to cruel experiments, human prisoners, the mentally handicapped and eventually Jews and gypsies were fit subjects for vivisection.
This attitude, along with general acceptance of evolution by all but the extreme fringe of the religious right, appears to have contributed greatly to the diminution and disappearance of most U.S. anti-vivisection societies by the end of the 1940s.
Some of those that survived another decade or more perpetuated themselves by taking on causes such as opposition to fluoridation of public water supplies. This, like opposition to vaccination, was described as a form of vivisection––actually, as chemical experimentation––on humans.
The final demise of most anti-vivisection societies as they had existed during the first half of the twentieth century was brought about by three separate but parallel developments.
The first of these three parallel developments was the re-embrace of anti-vivisectionism by the upstart “animal welfare movement,” led by the Animal Welfare Institute, founded by Christine Stevens in 1952, and the Humane Society of the U.S., founded by Fred Myers in 1954, in direct opposition to the positions of the American SPCA, for which Stevens had volunteered, and American Humane Association, for which Myers had edited The National Humane Review.
The ASPCA and American Humane Association, after long opposition to the practice of “pound seizure,” had come to grudgingly accept it as an appropriate use of dogs and cats whom animal shelters would otherwise have to kill simply for being unadaptable surplus.
Humane societies seized back the issue
“Pound seizure,” in the strictest sense of the term, refers only to the mostly bygone practice, in states with laws that allowed it, of laboratories and lab suppliers being empowered to “adopt” any pound animal they wanted.
This put humane societies that held animal control contracts in the position of being forced to surrender animals for painful and lethal experiments.
In animal advocacy parlance, “pound seizure” eventually came to mean the release of any shelter animals for lab use, even if the release was (or is) entirely voluntary.
Rallying opposition to “pound seizure,” animal welfare organizations drew most donors whose focal cause was preventing cruelty to animals away from the anti-vivisection organizations that had experienced “mission creep.”
The John Birch Society
Second in bringing about the collapse of the traditional anti-vivisection societies was the 1958 formation of the John Birch Society, an anti-Communist organization which rapidly co-opted the anti-fluoridation and anti-vaccination themes as alleged examples of Communist plots infiltrating the American way of life.
While anti-vivisectionists had often opposed fluoridation and vaccination as well, most opponents of fluoridation and vaccination had little interest in animal issues.
The National Association for Biomedical Research, founded to advance pound seizure in 1944, barely needed to whisper that anti-vivisectionists might be communists, though none of prominence were even politically “left,” to lastingly split anti-vivisectionism from the religious right.
Third, former auto racer and novelist Hans Ruesch in 1974 founded the Center for Scientific Information on Vivisection (CIVIS), authoring the influential exposés The Slaughter of The Innocent in 1978 and a sequel, The Naked Empress, in 1982.
Ruesch, a Swiss former “fellow traveler” with the German Nazis, if not an actual Nazi himself, revived under the rubric of “scientific anti-vivisectionism” the concept that animals are so unlike humans that nothing derived from studying animals can be valid in human medicine.
“Follow the money”
The Ruesch books and CIVIS were instrumental in boosting support for the early animal rights movement, even though Ruesch, a hunter and meat-eater, was furiously opposed to every aspect of the animal rights movement that did not help his book sales.
Some surviving anti-vivisection societies––especially those with substantial inherited assets and some active members––were subsumed into CIVIS chapters.
Many other anti-vivisection societies, however, some with substantial assets, just disappeared, along with the money. Among Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira’s early involvements in animal advocacy was investigating, then as a journalist, what had become of the bank accounts of the New York Anti-Vivisection Society.
When the money ran out
The New England Anti-Vivisection Society just got looted, first by corrupt former Norfolk County probate judge Robert M. Ford from 1970 to 1988, who was eventually censured for misconduct and fined $75,000 for his mismanagement of NEAVS funds. Fund for Animals founder Cleveland Amory and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk then organized a hostile takeover of NEAVS.
For several years thereafter NEAVS functioned chiefly to convey money to PETA-favored projects, until conspicuous corruption under former PETA cofounder Alex Pacheco caused Amory to bring litigation that forced Pacheco out, after which Newkirk also ousted Pacheco from PETA.
A right to not be made to suffer
The predominant idea in animal advocacy today, including anti-vivisection advocacy, is that animals are so much like humans that they share with humans a right to not be made to suffer.
This approaches vivisection from a direction completely opposite to the perspective of most anti-vivisectionists before the rise of the “animal rights movement” in the 1970s.