The Seamless Web: Progressive Women and the Animal Welfare Movement
Some social reformers see social ills as part of a seamless web, inescapable until society destroys the central point, the problem that is common to all ills. During the Progressive Era, many women's advocates perceived cruelty to animals as the central point, believing that as long as society permitted cruelty to animals, cruelty to women would continue. Women groups, particularly the Women's Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WPSPCA), tried using legislation, persuasion, and personal example to end animal cruelty and teach men a duty towards the weaker creatures under their control.
The WPSPCA employed a variety of strategies to end cruelty to animals. They tried humane education, attempting to teach men and boys sympathy for all living things with the capacity to suffer. They also advised mothers to encourage their sons to study animals rather than torment them, so that in learning to care for animals, boys would learn to care for others. The WPSPCA successfully promoted state and federal legislation to protect animals. They succeeded in passing a federal law to protect cattle and other animals during transport. The WPSPCA also did its part to enforce these laws, including bringing a claim under national anti-cruelty laws against the organizer of a pigeon shoot.
When the WPSPCA opened the first humane animal shelter in the U.S., they came into conflict with the University of Pennsylvania. Surgeons at the University wanted to continue experimenting on vagrant dogs, which the WPSPCA wouldn't allow, and some of the surgeons tried, unsuccessfully, to revoke the WPSPCA's authority over the shelter. At the time, many women were opposed to vivisection. It was common for doctors to experiment on living animals, but many believed that doctors experimented on animals only because they could not get enough human subjects, while some thought that these experiments affected the moral character of doctors. Anti-vivisection propaganda claimed that doctors began by vivisecting animals and escalated to killing their wives and using their bodies for research. Members of the WPSPCA organized the American Antivivisection Society (AAS), to lobby for legislation to regulate or abolish vivisection.
One of the WPSPCA's most influential activities was publishing The Journal of Zoophily, in collaboration with the AAS, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and various women's suffrage organizations. The Journal, promoting humane legislation, education, and antivivisectionism, notified readers of legislation up for approval and new literature on humane education, and advised them on how to enforce animal welfare laws. Widespread circulation lead to increased donations, enabling the WPSPCA to investigate animal abuse, open animal clinics, and continue lobbying for humane legislation.
World War I effectively ended the influence of the early humane movement. Although the WPSPCA and others continued their efforts in combating animal cruelty, disillusioned soldiers considered animal suffering a trivial issue after what they had seen. With the loss of public support, the humane movement faded, until it reappeared as part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
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