20th century leaders squandered the 19th century humane movement legacy
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August, 2002:
BOSTON–Animal Welfare Insti-tute founder Christine Stevens,
introduced as “Mrs. Roger Stevens,” may be the only person still
alive who was noted as a humane movement leader by William Allen
Swallow in The Quality of Mercy, a 1963 “history of the humane
movement in the United States” published by the Mary Mitchell Humane
Fund, a subsidiary of the Massachusetts SPCA.
Stevens may also be the only person whom Swallow mentioned as
a contemporary humane movement leader whose name is still widely
This is not just because The Quality of Mercy was published
nearly 40 years ago. Rather, Swallow seems to have purposefully
omitted mention of almost everyone else whose post-World War II
efforts in any way presaged the animal rights movement, the no-kill
movement, or otherwise challenged mainstream thinking.
Elisabeth Lewyt, still living, might have been mentioned,
along with her deceased friends who in 1954 cofounded the North Shore
Animal League America. By 1963 North Shore was already a major and
growing institution–but North Shore was ignored.
Likewise the late Helen Jones and Cleveland Amory might have
been mentioned, as cofounders in 1954 of the Humane Society of the
U.S., which is briefly profiled, and later as founder and a
founding board member of the National Catholic Humane Society, begun
in 1959. Later renamed the Inter-national Society for Animal Rights,
the National Catholic Humane Society was in 1963 the most militant
animal advocacy group in the U.S.–but Swallow gave it not a word.
Then-North Carolina SPCA president Richard B. Ford, shown in
a photograph with his guide dog, literally could not see. His
ability to cope despite blindness became somewhat legendary. Swallow
had perfectly good eyesight. He too was reputedly good at getting
the job done, as he perceived it. He just lacked longterm vision.
The Tweedle twins
If any one internal villain could be blamed for the
institutional inertia that overcame American humane work during the
mid-20th century, the late Eric H. Hansen, to whom The Quality of
Mercy is dedicated, would be a good candidate. Swallow, the author
of The Quality of Mercy, was his close accomplice for more than 25
Hansen debuted in humane work with the American SPCA,
managed the Queens Branch shelter for some years prior to 1931.
Thereafter, he was managing director of the Humane Society of
Missouri, 1931-1937; managing director of the American Humane
Association, 1937-1942; and headed the Massachusetts SPCA from 1942
until some time after The Quality of Mercy was published.
Swallow edited The National Humane Review for the AHA from
1930 to 1943, then followed Hansen to the MSPCA for the remainder of
Hansen at each stop put the organizations he directed on a
relatively sound financial footing. He accomplished this in part by
undertaking building programs which inspired donors and enhanced
institutional prestige. He also formed alliances with other
animal-related institutions, often at cost of dismantling animal
advocacy programs which might have made his newfound friends
By the end of the Hansen era, most mainstream U.S. humane
societies did little more than kill dogs and cats in ever-increasing
volume. The major philosophical transition accomplished during that
time was replacing the ideal of saving animals’ lives with the notion
of administering “euthanasia,” whether or not the recipient animals
Hansen was neither an animal exploitation industry “plant”
nor uninterested in animals of all species. On the contrary, Hansen
spent his entire working life in humane work, from his arrival in
the U.S. as a 20-year-old Danish immigrant. But Hansen was the first
nationally influential leader of the humane cause in the U.S. who
reached prominence by pursuing a career path. Swallow, his
sidekick, was likewise a careerist.
Hansen and Swallow were administrators and empire-builders,
not social revolutionaries. Neither had more than transient contact
with the U.S. humane movement founders whom Swallow wrote about, and
neither was involved during the pre-World War I rapid growth phase,
when the founders passed on but the founding vision remained intense.
Hansen and Swallow were politely concerned on behalf of every sort of
animal, but passionate, it appears, about none. Their aspirations
were so much confined to the practical that it is hard to discern any
difference between their moral perspective and that of the average
mid-20th century American.
Hansen and Swallow were interested in wildlife, for example,
to the extent of rolling back the former opposition of the AHA and
MSPCA to sport hunting, to instead partner with pro-hunting groups
in pushing for the creation of wildlife “refuges” where hunting was
Hansen and Swallow were also interested in farm animals, to
the extent of forming “livestock conservation” programs within the
AHA and MSPCA, whose major functions seem to have been promoting an
“Old McDonald’s Farm” image of the meat industry. Swallow does not
indicate that he and Hansen ever actively challenged the introduction
of factory farming, which the late Ruth Harrison named and exposed
in Animal Machines (1964), just one year after Swallow published The
Quality of Mercy.
The major humane legislative accomplishment of Hansen/Swallow
era, much touted by Swallow, was passage of the 1959 Humane
Slaughter Act. Never well-enforced, the Humane Slaughter Act
essentially codified the mechanized slaughter practices of the
biggest meatpacking companies, helped to put small village
slaughterhouses out of business, and has been largely unenforced
since USDA budget cuts and procedural changes began sharply reducing
the slaughterhouse inspection force during the 1980s.
Hansen and Swallow addressed the welfare of
laboratory animals, too. In 1958, recalled Christine Stevens in
Animals And Their Legal Rights (1990) they won the first successful
U.S. cruelty prosecution of a lab animal supplier. But Swallow for
some reason so little recognized the importance of that as to make no
mention of it in his book–or perhaps he felt it might be too
The Hansen/Swallow approach to humane education is
particularly indicative, since it continues to predominate today.
As well as heading the MSPCA from 1942 until the
mid-1960s, Hansen headed the American Humane Education Society,
begun by MSPCA founder George Angell in 1882 and formally
incorporated as an MSPCA subsidiary in 1889. Under Angell, it
concentrated for about 30 years on forming schoolroom humane
education clubs called the Bands of Mercy.
“More than 265,000 Bands were organized before they
fell before the advanced methods of education,” claims The Quality
of Mercy, adding that “They have their successors in the Society’s
Junior Humane groups.”
Not exactly. After MSPCA founder George Angell died in
1909, successor Frances Rowley organized a Band of Mercy convention
in Kansas City circa 1912 that drew 25,000 children plus 15,000
parents and teachers. Rowley also started the Jack London Clubs to
seek the abolition of animal use in entertainment, inspired by the
London book Michael, Brother of Jerry. The Jack London Clubs
claimed 750,000 members, at peak.
However, Rowley incurred enormous debt in building
Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, opened in 1915, dominating the
MSPCA program ever since. Financially hobbled for more than a decade
even before the Great Depression, the MSPCA allowed the Bands of
Mercy to disappear and the Jack London Clubs to fade, though they
still existed at least on paper as late as 1963.
The MSPCA nonetheless continued as ambitious an advocacy
program as Rowley could sustain, even passing an anti-trapping
referendum in 1930 that was never enforced by the Massachusetts
Department of Wildlife.
Hansen and Swallow ended all that. Whatever crusading spirit
remained from the Bands of Mercy was wholly lost in the post-1942
amalgamation of the Junior Humane group programs with activities of
the 4-H Clubs and Future Farmers of America. “Humane education” for
George Angell and Frances Rowley was synonymous with moral education.
Post-Hansen and Swallow, “humane education” mainly meant teaching
dog and cat care. Animal use industry influence has subsequently
made merely raising moral questions about animal use and abuse in
classrooms more controversial than most “humane educators” dare to
It may be indicative that the Hansen-era MSPCA innovation
most often mentioned and praised in The Quality of Mercy was the
formation of a public relations department– which Swallow directed.
As a public relations pioneer, however, Swallow seems to
have consistently overlooked the most newsworthy aspects of much that
he mentioned in passing.
“In 1922,” wrote Swallow, “the Pennsylvania SPCA pioneered
with radio station WIP in broadcasting the first humane education
program ever to go out over the airwaves.” Why did so many decades
elapse before animal advocates again made use of broadcast media?
Walt Disney Inc. probably did a better job of broadcast
humane education than the mid-20th century humane movement could
have. Yet inability to match the appeal and impact of Dumbo, Bambi,
The Lady & The Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, et al does not explain why
most humane organizations to this day do not buy 15-second spot
announcement space to push pet sterilization and adoption.
Swallow seemed to think it was enough for the Pennsylvania
SPCA to have achieved a first, of sorts, without exploring what
even in 1963 should have looked like an obviously squandered
Another big missed opportunity seems to have been much less
obvious–and is still almost completely missed. The Humane Society
of Missouri, founded in 1870, in 1885 took on the mission of
protecting children as well, Swallow recounted, and tried to
reduce the incidence of both children and animals being killed in
street accidents by promoting driver education.
The American Humane Association child protection division
later saved thousands of childrens’ lives with their “Wear white at
night” campaign, and HSUS in 1957 made a brief attempt to study and
try to prevent roadkills of wildlife, but the original idea of
preventing roadkills through driver education fell by the wayside and
has not been revived, even though ANIMAL PEOPLE has suggested it at
least once per year since 1992.
Roadkills, mostly preventable, are at last declining,
largely through the public awareness activities of New Hampshire
online science education pioneer Brewster Bartlett, better known as
Dr. Splatt, and through many road design improvements pushed by the
federal Department of Transportation. Yet roadkills are also still
killing half a million mammals, birds, and amphibians per day,
according to the best available estimates.
Swallow casually mentioned other squandered opportunities
every few pages, without ever identifying them as such.
“In the State of Alabama, the Mobile SPCA was founded in
1885,” he wrote. “The Society received nationwide attention in 1892
arising from the arrest and conviction of a groom for using a cruel
overcheck rein. At the time it was said to be the first such
conviction in the world.”
Seventy years later, the Mobile SPCA was still hoping to
acquire the funds to open an animal shelter–and 110 years later,
that 1892 conviction remains the only humane accomplishment of note
in Mobile, whose pounds and shelters kill 70 dogs and cats per year
per 1,000 human residents, the worst record of any U.S. city.
Yet another chance was missed almost on Hansen and Swallow’s
doorstep. The Rhode Island SPCA and Children’s Society, founded in
1871, leased shelter space until 1925, when it opened a shelter
funded, Swallow wrote, by the estate of “a Negro lady, Sarah E.
Gardiner of Newport, whom the Society had helped from time to time
in removing stray cats.”
The Rhode Island SPCA and Children’s Society, like the
slightly older American SPCA, MSPCA, and Women’s Humane Society of
Philadelphia, was begun by pre-Civil War antislavery crusaders, who
built on the remnants of the dissolved antislavery societies to which
they formerly belonged.
The bequest by Sarah Gardiner suggests that positive
relations with Afro-Americans continued through the first 25 years of
the 20th century, when the Ku Klux Klan became so strong in New
England that it briefly controlled the legislatures of Maine and New
Why are the once strong black roots of the humane movement
not rediscovered, celebrated, and re-established?
The Quality of Mercy includes one account which superficially
sounds as if history may be repeating itself. The San Francisco
SPCA, recalled Swallow, “in 1954 founded the Northern California
SPCA and initiated a Department of Field Services for counseling and
advising cities and counties on appropriate and humane kenneling of
impounded animals.” A year later the SF/SPCA also founded the
Western Humane Education Society, intending to further humane
education throughout the western states.
These initiatives appear at a glance to have presaged the
outreach efforts that were reinvigorated by the SF/SPCA Department of
Law & Advocacy, 1994-2000, after the Adoption Pact in 1994 made San
Francisco the first U.S. city to end population control killing of
dogs and cats.
Swallow did not spell out exactly what the SF/SPCA sought to
promote as “appropriate and humane kenneling” and “humane education”
in 1954-1955, but it was not what the SF/SPCA stands for today, and
was not popular with the public.
By 1976, when Adoption Pact author Richard Avanzino was
elected president, the SF/SPCA was virtually bankrupt, the Western
Humane Education Society had apparently vanished without a trace,
and the chief activity of the organization was killing animals in a
decompression chamber, which Avanzino scrapped on his second day.
The SF/SPCA has recently endured two years of catastrophic
financial reverses, roughly coinciding with the 1999 exodus of
Avanzino and other key staff to Maddie’s Fund, but really beginning
with the collapse of computer stocks in 2000. The Department of Law
& Advocacy imploded with the resignation of all key personnel in
Despite the retrenchment, however, the SF/SPCA has kept up
several other outreach initiatives, and continues to hold dog and
cat killing in the San Francisco shelters to the lowest levels
achieved by any U.S. city.
Current San Francisco SPCA president Ed Sayres’ father,
Edwin J. Sayres, appeared in The Quality of Mercy as managing
director of the St. Hubert’s Giralda shelter in Morris County, New
Hansen and Swallow were scarcely the only leaders of the
mid-20th century animal welfare movement who lacked vision. Indeed,
since their time, the Massachusetts SPCA seems to have reduced
program outreach, even though it is now the richest hands-on humane
society in the world, with net assets of $101 million, including
more than $75 million in cash and investments.
The MSPCA is still helping humane work in Morocco via the
American Fondouk Association, which spent $245,331 on program
service in 2000: 25% of income and 4% of net worth. The MSPCA is
also still aiding humane work in Turkey via the Alice Manning Trust,
which spent $57,528 on program service in 2000: 19% of income, 3% of
net worth. But the International SPA that the MSPCA sponsored from
1959 to 1981 is now the separately funded World Society for the
Protection of Animals, after a merger with programs of the Royal
SPCA and HSUS.
The MSPCA is not visibly more ambitious in Massachusetts,
where it operates the same number of animal hospitals as in 1963,
but has only six shelters now, down from 11, which had nine
adoption centers and law enforcement offices.
But the semi-somnambulance of the recent history of the MSPCA
grew out of the zombie-like posture of the organization then.
Swallow, for example, praised the incorporation of “lethal rooms”
and gas chambers into the design of various then-new shelters, most
of which are still in service.
Yet, though The Quality of Mercy was published 40 years
after the American Veterinary Medical Association endorsed the
surgical sterilization techniques for dogs and cats that are still
most commonly used today, and six years after the late Alice
Herrington founded Friends of Animals to promote low-cost surgical
sterilization as an alternative to dog and cat population control
killing, The Quality of Mercy made not even one mention of dog and
cat birth control in any form.
The penultimate chapter discussed establishing “Animal
Cemeteries and Rest Farms for Horses” as a major activity of “the
nation’s animal protection agencies,” without an apparent trace of
The brief last chapter, “Projection into the Future,”
lamented that because of scarce funding, “The movement…can
therefore draw only on those who are genuinely interested in animal
welfare to such extent that they are willing to forego material
success in favor of ethical satisfaction.”
Yet alleged lack of material success does not seem to have
inhibited Swallow himself from undertaking “extensive travel abroad
to study humane work in England, France, Denmark, Germany, The
Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey, and Morocco.”
This was not easy when world travel was done chiefly by
steamship, required taking months away from regular work, and cost
about 10 times more per trip than today, in inflation-adjusted
Swallow was not necessarily just junketing. A serious humane
executive might have had good reason to visit these nations, and–as
ANIMAL PEOPLE emphasizes– there is a crying need for humane
organizations of wealth to assist humane work the underdeveloped
world. That includes sending staff from time to time to see in
person just what needs to be done and how best to help.
Yet Swallow himself mentioned nothing learned or taught in
his travels, which seem to have been mainly to vacation spots. He
wrote briefly about the MSPCA outreach to Morocco, cited the MSPCA
aid to Turkey in a single sentence, and said not a word about
anything else seen or done abroad.
The perquisites and compensation standards for humane
executives have risen markedly since Swallow’s time. The
organizations that Swallow profiled now pay, among them, more than
50 salaries in excess of triple the U.S. median household income.
Despite that–with due respect to the post-1976 leadership of
the SF/SPCA, and the more recent leadership of a few other old
organizations–it may be no surprise that most of the impetus to
recent progress has come from organizations which were either founded
well after Swallow wrote, or which Swallow neglected to mention.
The ultimate value in reading and reviewing this 40-year-old
self-celebration is in seeing through the prism of history how far
wrong mainstream perspectives can be, especially when institutional
goals, such as achieving financial security, are confused with