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Protection of animals in nineteenth-century Britain
Author: Diana Donald

This book explores for the first time women’s leading roles in animal protection in nineteenth-century Britain. Victorian women founded pioneering bodies such as the Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the first anti-vivisection society. They intervened directly to stop abuses, promoted animal welfare, and schooled the young in humane values via the Band of Mercy movement. They also published literature that, through strongly argued polemic or through imaginative storytelling, notably in Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, showed man’s unjustifiable cruelty to animals. In all these enterprises, they encountered opponents who sought to discredit and thwart their efforts by invoking age-old notions of female ‘sentimentality’ or ‘hysteria’, which supposedly needed to be checked by ‘masculine’ pragmatism, rationality and broadmindedness, especially where men’s field sports were concerned. To counter any public perception of extremism, conservative bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for long excluded women from executive roles, despite their crucial importance as donors and grassroots activists. However, women’s growing opportunities for public work in philanthropic projects and the development of militant feminism, running in parallel with campaigns for the vote, gave them greater boldness in expressing their distinctive view of animal–human relations, in defiance of patriarchy. In analysing all these historic factors, the book unites feminist perspectives, especially constructions of gender, with the fast-developing field of animal–human history.

Protection of animals in nineteenth-century Britain
Author: Diana Donald

This book explores for the first time women’s leading roles in animal protection in nineteenth-century Britain. Victorian women founded pioneering bodies such as the Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the first anti-vivisection society. They intervened directly to stop abuses, promoted animal welfare, and schooled the young in humane values via the Band of Mercy movement. They also published literature that, through strongly argued polemic or through imaginative storytelling, notably in Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, showed man’s unjustifiable cruelty to animals. In all these enterprises, they encountered opponents who sought to discredit and thwart their efforts by invoking age-old notions of female ‘sentimentality’ or ‘hysteria’, which supposedly needed to be checked by ‘masculine’ pragmatism, rationality and broadmindedness, especially where men’s field sports were concerned. To counter any public perception of extremism, conservative bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for long excluded women from executive roles, despite their crucial importance as donors and grassroots activists. However, women’s growing opportunities for public work in philanthropic projects and the development of militant feminism, running in parallel with campaigns for the vote, gave them greater boldness in expressing their distinctive view of animal–human relations, in defiance of patriarchy. In analysing all these historic factors, the book unites feminist perspectives, especially constructions of gender, with the fast-developing field of animal–human history.

A gendered divide in Victorian society
Diana Donald

This chapter brings into focus an underlying theme of the book – the structured antithesis between male and female attitudes to animals, which was induced by social conditioning; especially by the values attaching to aggressive masculinity in the context of empire and, in contrast, the sequestered domesticity and gentleness expected of middle-class women. Sarah Stickney Ellis’s conduct books for women interpreted ‘separate spheres’ as including special female responsibilities for the protection of domestic animals, while Eliza Brightwen’s Wild Nature Won by Kindness and other titles elided domestic and religious ideals with the notion of taming and gentling wild creatures. The nationwide Band of Mercy movement for children promulgated this feminised ideal of tenderness towards animals, often in conflict with the pugnacious ethos in which boys were reared. However, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877) transcended such gendered and class divides, as a work expressive of the Quaker ideal of sympathetic insight into the minds of animals as fellow-creatures of God.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
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A feminist cause?
Diana Donald

In the 1870s, information about the growing practice of vivisection, especially in physiological research, prompted a public outcry, and led to crisis and division in the animal protection movement. Women in particular, led by Frances Power Cobbe, opposed vivisection, leading to a battle with scientific and medical opinion that took on a strongly gendered element. Cobbe as virtual leader of the Victoria Street Society, resorted to many oppositional strategies, including a notorious poster campaign, which was replicated in images published in the Illustrated Police News, and also prosecution of a scientist who infringed the terms of the 1876 Act regulating vivisection. Failing in these gambits, Cobbe went on to attack the practice at the philosophical level, raising ethical issues that were also pondered by the writer Vernon Lee (Violet Paget). Vivisection came to symbolise the materialism, misogyny and oppressive patriarchy of the age, and in this light it was anathematised by two early women doctors – Elizabeth Blackwell and Anna Kingsford – the latter a visionary who opposed vivisection as a spiritual blight on society.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
New insights at the fin de siècle
Diana Donald

Sentiment and ‘the spirit of life’: new insights at the fin de siècle The 1890s were marked by a general mood of pessimism and frustration in the animal protection movement, but also by an upsurge of utopianism symbolised by Henry Salt’s Humanitarian League. The new generation of activists took their lead from vegetarian and theosophical thinking, but equally from progressive politics and feminism, for example, Katharine Glasier and Nessie Stewart-Brown. Louise Lind-af-Hageby and Mona Caird in particular situated their opposition to vivisection and other cruelties in the context of resistance to patriarchy, while the novelist Ouida saw the persecution of animals and destruction of the environment as baneful aspects of the authoritarian, industrialised and militaristic nation state. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, founded by a group women in 1889–1890, crystallised this new concern for threatened wild creatures, but even here concepts of gender were contested through the Society’s campaign against the use of birds’ feathers in ladies’ millinery. As leadership of the RSPB was gradually taken over by men, tension between male ‘rationality’ and female ‘sentiment’ once again became an issue, and the book concludes with reflections on the value judgements involved in this ancient but still operative antithesis.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
Diana Donald

Women involved in animal protection were often victims of ancient misogynistic prejudices – notably a belief that women were themselves animalistic, or prone to irrational and excessive ‘sensibility’. Tenderness towards animals might be an attractive feminine trait, suited to acculturation of the young, but it was viewed as a foil rather than as a corrective to normative masculine behaviour. Important thinkers and writers of the late Georgian period such as Catharine Macaulay, Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Letitia Barbauld and Joanna Baillie attempted to counter these prejudices, reflecting deeply on human–animal relationships, while Margaret Cullen embodied such reflections in the form of a novel, Mornton (1814). At a more didactic level, women were acknowledged as the prime authors of books for children about the need for kindness to animals, many of which became nursery classics reprinted throughout the Victorian period. However, one woman in particular, the anti-slavery campaigner Elizabeth Heyrick, resorted to bold practical action to prevent cruelty to animals. The obstruction and indifference she encountered typified the problems that women experienced when entering the public sphere.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
Its culture and its conflicts
Diana Donald

The RSPCA, founded in 1824, is often treated by historians as an arm of the establishment, primarily intent on reforming the disruptive behaviour of the lower orders. This chapter gives a more nuanced view of the Society’s policies. Despite its admitted social discrimination, and its failure to grapple with such moneyed-class cruelties as field sports and live cattle transit, the Society was essentially a thoughtful, idealistic and multi-vocal body, the fulcrum of the nineteenth-century animal-protection movement. It was supportive of the many new initiatives and specialised animal charities that sprang from RSPCA work – many of them led by women. However, a perceived need to keep in step with public opinion on anti-cruelty measures, and to avoid charges of ‘sentimental’ extremism, made the RSPCA itself wary of promoting women to any positions of influence, despite their record of passionate and energetic support for the cause. While women represented a significant majority of donors and grassroots workers for the Society, they were debarred from membership of its executive until 1906.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
New roles for women
Diana Donald

At a time when women were beginning to find opportunities for voluntary public work under the aegis of philanthropic bodies, it became possible for them to take on leading roles in the new field of animal welfare. As well as being the foremost sponsors of charities like the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, women themselves founded the majority of animal refuges. They included the Battersea Dogs’ Home initiated by Mary Tealby, which overcame misogynistic prejudice to become a prominent state-subsidised institution – arguably by compromising its original home-making ideals. Sir Arthur Helps in Some Talk about Animals (1873) discerned the differences between male and female attitudes to animal suffering – women being much more impulsively compassionate. The book’s dedicatee, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was the most influential of all female animal advocates in the Victorian era, as leader of the newly created RSPCA ladies’ committee, as a very generous donor to animal causes, and as a frequent letter-writer to the press. The statue of a dog, ‘Greyfriars Bobby’, which she commissioned, was a celebration of canine fidelity; it invested animals with the moral faculties that justified human solicitude for them.

in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
Abstract only
Diana Donald

The introduction sketches out the existing historiography of the nineteenth-century animal protection movement, which evinces many conflicting approaches and shortcomings. In particular, historians have generally failed to appraise women’s key contributions to the movement, and, more generally, to analyse gendered differences in attitudes to animals. Traditions of thought on man’s responsibility to the ‘lower’ species were religiously inspired, but also strongly influenced by social and political factors, and by assumptions about the priority of human interests. They came under scrutiny for the first time when legislation was proposed in the early 1800s to make cruelty to animals, especially bull-baiting, a criminal offence. The resulting debates in the British parliament, dominated by William Windham’s speeches, threw up philosophical difficulties which would haunt animal protectionists for the rest of the century. They also revealed disproportionate female support for protection, and the ridicule that this already attracted.

in Women against cruelty
Diana Donald

Women involved in animal protection were often victims of ancient misogynistic prejudices – notably a belief that women were themselves animalistic, or prone to irrational and excessive ‘sensibility’. Tenderness towards animals might be an attractive feminine trait, suited to acculturation of the young, but it was viewed as a foil rather than as a corrective to normative masculine behaviour. Important thinkers and writers of the late Georgian period such as Catharine Macaulay, Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Letitia Barbauld and Joanna Baillie attempted to counter these prejudices, reflecting deeply on human–animal relationships, while Margaret Cullen embodied such reflections in the form of a novel, Mornton (1814). At a more didactic level, women were acknowledged as the prime authors of books for children about the need for kindness to animals, many of which became nursery classics reprinted throughout the Victorian period. However, one woman in particular, the anti-slavery campaigner Elizabeth Heyrick, resorted to bold practical action to prevent cruelty to animals. The obstruction and indifference she encountered typified the problems that women experienced when entering the public sphere.

in Women against cruelty