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For the Prevention of Cruelty

The History and Legacy of Animal Rights Activism in the United States

Diane L. Beers

Publication Year: 2006

Animal rights. Those two words conjure diverse but powerful images and reactions. Some nod in agreement, while others roll their eyes in contempt. Most people fall somewhat uncomfortably in the middle, between endorsement and rejection, as they struggle with the profound moral, philosophical, and legal questions provoked by the debate. Today, thousands of organizations lobby, agitate, and educate the public on issues concerning the rights and treatment of nonhumans. For the Prevention of Cruelty is the first history of organized advocacy on behalf of animals in the United States to appear in nearly a half century. Diane Beers demonstrates how the cause has shaped and reshaped itself as it has evolved within the broader social context of the shift from an industrial to a postindustrial society. Until now, the legacy of the movement in the United States has not been examined. Few Americans today perceive either the companionship or the consumption of animals in the same manner as did earlier generations. Moreover, powerful and lingering bonds connect the seemingly disparate American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the nineteenth century and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals of today. For the Prevention of Cruelty tells an intriguing and important story that reveals society’s often changing relationship with animals through the lens of those who struggled to shepherd the public toward a greater compassion.

Published by: Ohio University Press

front matter

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pp. vii


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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xiii


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pp. xv-xvi

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chapter 1: Resurrecting the Voice: Animal Advocacy in History

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pp. 1-17

During an unusual warm spell early last year, I shed some of the many layers of clothes required to survive a New England winter and ventured out for a stroll in a nearby town. I eventually migrated to the local bookshop in search of something to read during the inevitable return and last stand of the winter season. As row after row of magazines tempted me with discourses on everything from rock “grrrls” to literary criticism...

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chapter 2: A Movement Takes Shape: The Origins of Animal Advocacy

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pp. 19-38

Were there Puritans for animal rights? I suspect that few historians, myself included, would go so far as to make that claim, but nonetheless, our journey into the historical context of this unique movement must necessarily begin in early New England. Adopted by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1641, “The Body of Liberties” outlined one...

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chapter 3: Leaders and Followers: The New Humanitarians

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pp. 39-58

By the second half of the nineteenth century, the larger societal forces necessary for the rise of both an animal advocacy movement and a more receptive audience had taken root. Within a few short years of the founding of the first animal protection group in 1866 (New York’s ASPCA), animal activists had chartered societies in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Providence (Rhode Island), San Francisco, and St. Louis, as well as twenty other...

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chapter 4: “The Voice of the Voiceless”: Early Campaigns, 1866–1915

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pp. 59-90

Urban workhorses, Chicago slaughter yards, Pribilof seal hunts, back-alley cockfights, upper-class pigeon shoots—modern “progress,” epitomized by industrialization, mass consumption, and increasing leisure time, stimulated a seemingly ravenous appetite for both wild and domestic animals. The first generation of defenders of the so-called brute creation firmly believed...

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chapter 5: Reaching Out to the Mainstream: Animal Advocacy Evolves, 1915–45

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pp. 91-117

By the early twentieth century, animal advocacy had undeniably experienced both success and growth. Some movement scholars, however, suggest that following an initial burst of activity and a few victories, the cause noticeably declined after 1915. Variously characterizing it as “ossified” or in “suspended animation...

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chapter 6: “Our Most Strenuous Protest”: Antivivisection before 1945

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pp. 119-146

Animal advocacy embarked on numerous campaigns, but perhaps more than any other, the fight over animal experimentation best illustrates both the strengths of the movement and the formidable challenges, internal and external, that often threatened it. A subject replete with charged images of lobotomized dogs...

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chapter 7: The Road to Liberation: The Rise of the Postwar Movement and the Era of Legislation, 1945–75

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pp. 147-196

By 1945, organized animal advocacy had existed in the United States for nearly eighty years. The crusade experienced both disheartening defeats and notable victories, while constantly evolving within broader social, cultural, economic, and political contexts. In every state, anticruelty ordinances now afforded animals...

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pp. 197-202

When Peter Singer published Animal Liberation in 1975, the sociocultural and even political foundations for his ideas were already in place. Although the historical record may have ignored those voices of the voiceless that echoed over the preceding century, the activism and legacies of the earlier advocates made the developments of 1975 and the years thereafter...


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pp. 203-265


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pp. 267-294


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pp. 295-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780804040235
Print-ISBN-13: 9780804010870

Publication Year: 2006