Colonialism and the Animal Welfare Movement

A fantastic exhibit on the intersection of the animal welfare movement and colonialism: a short book addressed “to the children of Calcutta” to convince young people to adopt the cause.


The book begins by introducing a “band of valiant gentlemen”—knights—who “roved about different countries seeking to do deeds of great bravery,” painting imperialist exploration as a Christian crusade of Arthurean proportions. First, the author celebrates their victory against the “cruel giants” of slavery, successfully freeing the “poor captives”(…. thank you?!)

He seamlessly changes the subject to another set of cruel giants and victims. But he does not divulge the fact that he is speaking of non-human animal victims until a few pages of emotional description, after stirring up heroic sentiment.    

Turning to shaming tactics (one of the greatest weapons of the animal welfare movement), the author describes how the “great army to fight against cruelty” in England, Scotland, and Ireland had inspired “nearly all the other countries in the world” do do the same…. 

“…. but there is one country—one whole quarter of the globe I said nothing about—that is, ASIA. This you all know is where we are. Now, as Asia is bigger than Europe, and Europe has more than one hundred and forty “Societies,” how many do you think Asia ought to have?—Asia has only one…. “


“Perhaps you ask why doesn’t the great “Royal Society” in London (which we call our Parent Society) send some of its officers out here. Oh! they could not afford that! They have enough fighting to do there, and every country must find its own army. They did all they could for us, as good parents always do. They showed us how to begin, and what to do, and gave us their Law, and told us all they had done, and now they expect us to do our best and fight for ourselves.” 


Beautiful Joe’s mystery old lady

Who is the mysterious “very sweet-faced,” “fine-looking” “old lady” with “snowy white” hair and a “deeply wrinkled face,” “tall and stately,” mentioned in Chapter 15 (“Our Journey to Riverdale”) of Margaret Marshall Saunders’ 1893 Beautiful Joe? There’s reason to believe this character is a famous animal rights activist making a “cameo” appearance. The novel reads:

“If you are ever in Washington, come to see me.” She gave him some name, and he lifted his hat and looked as if he was astonished to find out who she was. 

Speaking later, the “old lady” says, 

[W]hen I became a woman… I agitated the matter among my friends, and…was able to assist in the formation of several societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals….

Could it be Caroline Earle White, founder of the WSPCA, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, and the first dog shelter in the U.S.? (See wonderful information about this early animal rights activist at the National Museum of Animals in Society page and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania page.) 

It sure looks like it could be. But then, the novel describes the old lady as being age 75 (“I have lived in this wicked world for seventy-five years”), and White would have been only 60 in 1893 when the novel was published (and 59 when the novel was written). 

Frances Power Cobbe, the Irish anti-vivisectionist, would have been only 71, but her face really fits the description, as Saunders repeatedly emphasizes the “old lady” has a “pleasant-looking” face. It seems unlikely, however, that Saunders would have used her for the “cameo” in book she was trying to pitch to an American audience, famous though Cobbe was. Besides, “as a little girl,” the “old lady” walked the streets of Boston.

Who might this mystery woman have been?