There is a new piece of public art in Port Dalhousie, a sculpture commemorating the horses who provided essential labour for the Welland Canal over the course of its complex history. When the first canals were built (there have been a total of four, including the current one), animal labour was an essential part of the construction. Even after the canal was built, tow horses helped to move boats through the canal.
It is rare to see public monuments commemorating animals, particularly animal workers. I’m absolutely thrilled that this amazing piece by Floyd Elzinga and Veronica and Edwin Dam de Nogales is now part of our local landscape here in Niagara.
I was asked to provide a list of my top 5 picks in the field of animal history (or human-animal histories as I normally refer to it). It was a really tough list to make! On any given day I could come up with a completely different list of books that have inspired me in this field. And I hate that I had to limit it to only five books, although as you will see, I managed to sneak in a few more. This is a growing, shifting, and changing field, and I am so excited for all the work that is being done in human-animal history right now. If you are curious about human-animal histories this list will get you started, but there are so many other good books and articles to read too. I’d love to hear what your favourites are!
One of the classes I teach at Brock is a senior-level special topics class on the representation of non-human animals. One of the many topics we explore in that class is the question of whether or not non-human animals can make art. It is always a lively discussion and one I enjoy very much. I was, therefore, delighted to explore this topic for The Conversation.
What do you think? Does an artist have to be human?
The other day we decided to beat the winter blahs by taking a “staycation” at the Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. An afternoon by the pool followed by an evening of dining and cocktails seemed like a good little pick-me-up at this point in the winter.
“Have a closer look,” a woman in the pool called out to me. “What do you think the little child has in her hands?” I knew without looking that young Victoria (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s oldest child) was holding a dead bird in her hands, but I didn’t want to seem like that kind of art historian. To be polite I walked closer to look at that section of the painting and that is when I was startled to discover a rather glaring omission from this reproduction.
In Landseer’s original painting there is a row of dead game birds laid out next to young Victoria and a few more on the floor in front of Prince Albert’s feet. Prince Albert’s clothing (including those oh-so-tight trousers showing off every detail of his kneecap!) tells us that he has just returned from hunting, so the inclusion of this detail makes sense. Further, the juxtaposition of the very dead birds with the animated and life-like dogs is just the kind of thing that Landseer, one of the most celebrated animal painters in the history of art, is known for.
At the Prince of Wales hotel, however, all of the dead birds except for the one that young Victoria holds are missing. I can only assume that this was done to make this modern day replica somehow more palatable to hotel patrons. I’ve looked up other replicas of this Landseer painting available for sale, and in all the ones I can find the dead birds remain part of the composition as the artist intended.
I’m still mulling over why this would be done. This is not an establishment nor a town that is known to be particularly sensitive towards animal issues. Indeed, the use of carriage horses as part of the tourism industry in this town often draws protests from local activists. Further, I would say that Niagara-on-the-Lake ranks pretty low in terms of vegan-friendly dining in the region — indeed, a glance at the menu of the Prince of Wales hotel, the very building where this altered replica of this image hangs, indicates an establishment that prides itself on the various high-end meat dishes it serves (including, rather ironically, a smoked duck breast dish).
I wish I knew more about the decisions that led to this edited version of Landseer’s image hanging in this hotel. It is a fascinating example of visual culture in that it seems to point to present-day anxieties around the representation of animals. As I frequently say to my students, “what is absent from an image is sometimes as significant as what has been included.”
In July 1909 police in London informed the organizers of an anti-vivisection protest that they could not use two of the banners made for this event. In both cases the images on the banners showed a dog being subjected to experimentation. The organizers made sure to point out that these images had been taken directly from publications which promoted animal experimentation. In other words, the organizers of the protest felt that it was important to underscore the fact that these images were not fabricated representations but, rather, were adapted directly from vivisection material. There was “no exaggeration” in these images stressed Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby, the organizer of the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress, a multi-day event which included this high-profile public demonstration through the streets of London on Saturday, July 10, 1909.
The police were concerned that the images on these banners could potentially stir up trouble by provoking a “turbulent element” and potentially “lead to riotous proceedings.” Of particular concern was a silk banner that included an image taken from a scientific journal showing a dog who had been subject to experimentation. This image was accompanied by the words “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”
A lively debate about these banners took place in the “Letters to the Editor” columns of the London papers. Dr. Stephen Paget of the Research Defence Society, a pro-vivisection organization, described the use of these images in this way as a “striking exhibition of insult and hatred” on the part of the activists, and argued that anti-vivisection societies must be losing their support amongst the general public if they were attempting to use shock tactics to draw attention to their cause. Lind af Hageby refuted this, noting that these images were not the “invention of anti-vivisectionists.”
In the end, the police’s decision to prohibit these banners was upheld. However, as a protest to this ruling, one of the forbidden banners was draped with another piece of cloth to hide the offending image, and the resulting blank banner was carried defiantly at the end of the procession.
I find this to be such a fascinating example of the role of visual culture in the animal advocacy movement from this time period! Images can, of course, draw attention to important issues, but imagine the power that this blank banner had in this context. The absence of imagery here was likely as powerful as any pictorial banner in the procession – perhaps even more so. As one eye-witness pointed out, if an image is deemed to “be of such revolting character that it cannot be carried through the streets,” then isn’t this a powerful argument against the action being depicted? As I often remind my students, when it comes to visual culture it is important to remember that what is excluded is often as significant as what is included. In this case, the blank banner was a bold statement against both vivisection and censorship, and certainly a clever use of visual culture by Lind af Hageby and her colleagues.
*I discuss this event as well as the use of visual culture in other animal advocacy campaigns from this time period in my new book, Art for Animals.
Being an advocate for animals can be a challenging task. It is very difficult to so be acutely aware of the many ways in which animals are exploited and harmed in our contemporary world because we are surrounded by reminders of just how ubiquitous this cruelty is. Take, for example, a holiday meal with friends and family where a meat dish is the centrepiece–where others may see a tasty treat, an animal welfare/rights/liberation activist may see a visceral reminder of suffering and death. To be constantly faced with these material reminders of the ways in which animals are (mis)treated in our society can certainly take an emotional toll. Recently there have been a number of articles offering tips on how to avoid compassion fatigue, activist burnout and how to combat the depression that often goes hand-in-hand with caring deeply for those who are suffering.
As I read these articles I can not help but think of Marie-Françoise (“Fanny”) Bernard (née Martin) who was married to Claude Bernard, a 19th century French physiologist best known for his experiments on animals. Claude Bernard was often the focus of public anti-vivisection campaigns conducted by people like Frances Power Cobbe, but this tension also played out within his domestic life. Fanny Martin detested her husband’s experiments on animals, many of which he conducted at home. To add insult to injury, the dowry paid by her father at the time of the marriage in 1845 helped to fund many of Bernard’s experiments on animals.
Perhaps as a way to attempt to make amends for her husband’s treatment of animals in his laboratory, Fanny Martin and her two daughters established a “rescue home” for stray dogs and cats. They also attended anti-vivisection protests and volunteered with the Société protectrice des animaux. Finally, in 1870 the couple legally separated, no easy task for Catholics in 19th century France!
Fanny Martin’s empathy for animals must have made her life with Bernard nearly unbearable. I marvel at the courage it must have taken for a woman in the 19th century to stand up to her husband and to take their children to protests that directly opposed their father’s work. Her volunteer work and the efforts she put in to setting up an institution to care for neglected, stray, sick, and lost dogs and cats (many of whom would otherwise end up in vivisection laboratories) is an almost forgotten footnote in the history of animal advocacy. Indeed, very little has been written about Martin and what does exist is mostly gleaned from biographies of her famous husband, biographies that, as one writer noted, “dismiss her as an uneducated woman who made Bernard’s home life hell and deprived him of the company of his daughters.”*
I propose we change this dialogue and remember Fanny Martin for her courage, bravery, and her uncompromising empathy for animals. May she serve as an inspiration for those continuing to stand up against cruelty to animals.
* Deborah Rudacille, The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000): 19.
As the weather starts to turn colder, many of us are thinking about getting a new winter coat. I love that there are so manycruelty-freefashions to pick from! Imagine my delight, then, when during the course of my research I learned about a woman who was making cruelty-free alternatives to fur coats, silk scarves, and “kid” gloves over 100 years ago! Her name was Maude (“Emarel”) Freshel, and she was the co-founder of an organization known as the Millennium Guild. The Guild advocated for a lifestyle that included a vegetarian diet and hosted lavish meat-free Thanksgiving dinners in Boston in the early years of the 20th century. The sale of the cruelty-free outerwear that Freshel sewed helped to fund the activities of the Guild. A number of these fashions were featured in the Boston Sunday Post on November 17, 1912.
Freshel told reporter that members of the Millennium guild “have found splendid substitutes for furs, feather hat trimmings and kid gloves, and know we are better off without eating meat. We practice the convictions of our minds and hearts.”
Freshel was also the author of The Golden Rule Cookbook, a vegetarian cookbook promoting the abstention from meat eating for ethical reasons. Freshel defined a vegetarian (remember, the term “vegan” didn’t exist until 1944) as someone who “for one reason or another condemns the eating of flesh.” She saw this as occupying “a very different place in the world of ethics from one who is simply refraining from meat eating in an effort to cure bodily ills.” Freshel’s dog, a terrier named Sister, was also a vegetarian and reportedly enjoyed such foods as lentils, peas, apples, oatmeal, and buttered toast.
In 1773 Anna Laetitia Barbauld published a poem called “The Mouse’s Petition.” The poem was written from the point of view of a mouse who had been captured in the home of Barbauld’s friend, the renowned natural philosopher Joseph Priestley. The mouse was placed in a cage in Priestley’s laboratory as he intended to use the animal in one of his experiments the next day. Barbauld’s poem was a plea for mercy, and she slipped in to Priestley’s lab to affix it to the cage so that he would see it prior to beginning his experiment on the mouse.
The poem begins with the following lines:
O hear a pensive prisoner’s prayer, For liberty that sighs; And never let thine heart be shut Against the wretch’s cries! For here forlorn and sad I sit, Within the wiry grate; And tremble at the’ approaching morn, Which brings impending fate.
Priestley reportedly released the mouse after reading Barbauld’s poem.
Many of Barbauld’s contemporaries championed “The Mouse’s Petition” as an important contribution to the conversations about cruelty to animals that were taking place in the 18th century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, noted that “thanks to Mrs. Barbauld,… it has become universally fashionable to teach lessons of compassion towards animals.”* Barbauld later stated that this poem was actually meant to be a “petition of mercy against justice.”* In either case “The Mouse’s Petition” is an important early example of a creative work that prompted readers to empathize with nonhuman animals and to consider the often unjust ways they are treated.
*See Mary Ellen Bellanca, “Science, Animal Sympathy and Anna Barbauld’s ‘The Mouse’s Petition.’” Eighteenth-Century Studies 37 no. 1 (Fall 2003): 47-67; Julia Saunders, “‘The Mouse’s Petition’: Anna Laetitia Barbauld and the Scientific Revolution.” The Review of English Studies 53 no. 212 (November 2002): 500-516.
Around 1870 Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, witnessed an act of compassion that deeply touched her. She had been on a train journey, and near Fitchburg her train pulled up alongside another train at a station stop. As she waited for her train to continue, Alcott passed the time by looking out her window at the sights — a beautiful waterfall caught her attention, but she also noticed that in the train next to hers were several cattle and sheep crammed in to rail cars.
It was a hot, sunny day and Alcott recognized that the animals must have been scared, uncomfortable, and thirsty. As she noted, “how they must have suffered in sight of water, with the cool dash of the fall tantalizing them, and not a drop to wet their poor parched mouths.” She was troubled by the very visible distress of the animals in the next train and was pondering how she might best help them when she noticed two young girls come up beside the train. The girls had been out picking berries and, upon noticing the animals in distress, one of the girls dumped out her berry pail, ran to the water’s edge and filled her bucket with water. She returned to the train and offered the water to the sheep “who stretched their hot tongues gratefully to meet it.” She repeated this numerous times while her companion picked grass and clover to feed to the animals. Alcott was touched by this kindness and wrote that she wished she “could have told those tender-hearted children how beautiful their compassion made that hot, noisy place.”
This story was repeated in a number of 19th century animal advocacy and humane education publications, often with the above image accompanying it. The actions of these two young girls became a lesson in kindness and compassion.
Over 140 years later a similar story is being told. Members of Toronto Pig Save, a grassroots organization that aims to bear witness to the suffering of animals who are raised and killed for food, have made headlines for giving water to pigs arriving at slaughterhouses on transport trucks. Their actions mimic those of the young girls that Alcott wrote about in 1870. This past summer, a heated exchange between one of the activists, Anita Krajnc, and the driver of one of the trucks has led to a criminal charge of mischief for Krajnc.
It is utterly absurd that we live in a world where kindness and compassion is criminalized. What, I wonder, would Louisa May Alcott have to say about this ridiculous charge?
Today is the launch of a new project I am working on with Jo-Anne McArthur (We Animals). We have been talking, dreaming, planning, and meeting (often in delicious vegan restaurants like Crossroads, Hogtown Vegan, and Rise Above) about this project for several months.
Unbound: Women on the Front Lines of Animal Advocacy is a project intended to celebrate the many women who have worked tirelessly to make the world a better place for animals. It is a multimedia, multi-faceted, social media-driven project, and the plan is to have a richly illustrated book filled with stories and photographs of featured women in the coming years. We will be focusing on women who are currently working for animals, but a large part of the project will also be historical. I’m excited to share some of my research on women activists from previous generations.