Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Southern Sociological Society. Atlanta, Georgia, April 25th, 2013.
Little is known about the lives of persons who founded animal welfare/rights organizations. These founders were placed into 3 groups: those who founded the first such organizations in the United States in the 19th c., those who founded organizations in the 20th c., and a subset of 20th c. founders who were wiling to be interviewed. Similarities among the groups included place of birth, SES, childhood hardships, birth order, low military participation, political/ geographical stability, collaborations, high marriage rate, and low rate of child bearing. Differences showed the 20th c. cohort had a higher divorce rate, higher rate of arrests, less parental loss, and founded organizations earlier in life. Interviews revealed considerable interpersonal strain related to founders’ activism.
Goodney (2002), in her review of Munro’s book, Compassionate Beasts, states that hardly any literature exists offering insight into the lives, motivations, and thinking of animal welfare/rights activists. Ten years later the same situation prevails. This study will be the first to examine the lives of the founders of animal welfare/rights groups. As a group, these persons have been leaders in revolutionizing the way America conceptualizes and treats animals. More needs to be known about them for, as a group, they offer a strong voice for societal change and justice for animals. Flynn (2012) found that violence to animals was largely ignored as a topic of study by academics until the later part of the 20th century. Also, since violence toward animals is so often related to interpersonal violence, (Flynn, 2012, Ascione, Weber, & Wood, 1997) these founders may have contributed to less human violence. Ending violence against animals is an important link in the chain of ending all violence.
Clifton (2003) did a chronology of humane progress and highlighted several aspects of this chronology, not the least of which is that, during the 20th century, many animal organizations evolved from being primarily animal welfare organizations to animal rights organizations (Munro, 2001, Finsen and Finsen, 1994). It is of interest to see if this evolution was related to the life experiences of founders. There are many problems in comparing persons from different historical eras, not the least of which are cultural changes that bring about attitudinal and behavioral change.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to attribute cause to the changes that occurred between earlier and later founders. The first step is to ascertain what, if any, differences exist.
Questions to be explored in this study include: What factors characterize the lives of founders of animal welfare/rights organizations? Do the factors differ when the original founders of a movement are compared with founders who come from a later period? Aspects of the lives of earlier (19th c.) founders of animal welfare organizations were compared with aspects of later (20th c.) founders of animal welfare organizations to see what differences, if any, occur. Does cultural evolution matter and if so, in what way?
The sample consisted of 38 persons (25 women and 13 men) who founded animal welfare/rights organizations in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States of America. The list was compiled from print and electronic sources, and from nomination by some of the founders themselves. Though not exhaustive, it is arguably comprised of most of the major figures in this field. At present, this study is limited to persons who founded animal welfare/rights organizations that transcend the local but do not encompass the international. Most of the organizations were national in scope and focus, or at least began that way. All were initially national in focus and some grew to have an international focus. In the case of co-founders, only 1 founder was selected for this study. However, some original co-founders of one group later became founders of other groups and thus were included in the study for the group they later founded. Future research will address founders of organizations of more local/regional and international focus. A list of these founders and their organizations can be found in Table 1.
A subset of this group, consisting of all living founders, was contacted by mail, email and phone calls, to participate in a survey focusing on their lives and thoughts about animal welfare/rights. After completing the interview process, a few founders called other founders urging them to participate in the study. The majority of living founders responded to the survey. Although the absolute number (11 persons) is small, it does represent the majority of the sample. So, in all there were 3 samples, early founders, later founders, and a subset (55%) of living founders.
A questionnaire was developed by the author that included demographic information about each founder. In addition, were questions of a more detailed and psychological nature, such as what the personal costs of their activism were, what their sources of strength were, did they see themselves as introverted, etc. This approach is the activist biography and while this approach has limitations, it is necessary for us to have a fuller understanding of why and how persons found organizations and how they sustain commitment to these organizations in the face of considerable challenges. See Appendix 1 for a copy of the questionnaire.
This questionnaire was both emailed and snail mailed to each living founder. Follow up phone calls were made. Multiple attempts were made to contact founders. As much information as was possible was gleaned from historical sources for the earlier and deceased founders as well as later founders. 11 of 20 living founders responded to the survey, for a response rate of 55%. Some organizers preferred answering the survey questions by phone. So, the majority of living founders responded to the questionnaire. See Ludwig (1996) for a treatment of the biographical approach to studying eminent persons.
Since the population and consequent sample of founders is small, parametric statistics are not appropriate. Thus, results are reported in percentages, and, where available, compared with national statistics. For the biographical factors investigated, three percentages were calculated for each factor: one for mid to late 19th century founders, one for mid to late 20th century founders, and a grand total of both groups. Only those factors for which information was available for at least 50% of the total sample were included.
In spite of the passage of time, the results of the majority of factors for both groups remained similar. Factors for which the findings of earlier and later born founders were similar included: Place of birth shows 67% of the sample was born east of the Mississippi river, in the USA. A few founders had been born in Europe but founded their organizations in America. SES of family of origin was middle to upper SES in 92% of the cases, with at least one parent who was a professional. 82% of the sample had some post high school education. This educational finding is similar to that of Jamison, 1998 and others.
Forty seven percent of both groups had experienced a major childhood hardship (such as death of a parent, major illness, etc.) and participation in the military was low for each group. Being first born (61%) into a family with 3 or fewer children, and coming from homes in which religion played more than a minor role characterized both groups. Political and geographical stability characterized both groups during their formative years- most likely because the vast majority was born in the US. While a strong majority of both groups married (88%), the rate of having children (36%) was also low for both groups, lower than that reported by the US census (2010). The majority of founders (80%) collaborated with like-minded persons in the founding of their organizations. Very few of founders operated without extensive peer support. Evidence of DSM IV types of pathology in families of origin for both groups was low and founders appeared securely attached to their parents.
Women comprised the majority of both early and late founders, with 60% of early founders and 65% of later founders being women. While agreeing with Shapiro (1994) that the majority of activists were female, this finding differs from Shapiro who reported a majority of the leaders of these groups to be male. All founders were Caucasian.
Factors for which the findings between the earliest and later founders differed included: All but one of the early founders had married, none had divorced, and 90% had influential friends who were a great emotional and financial help to each other. While 86% of later founders married, they had a very high divorce rate of 83%, much higher than that for the US, (Hacker, 2010) and only 15% of these later founders were well connected politically. None of the early founders had ever been arrested (possibly due to their high positions in society) while 35% of the later founders had been. This arrest percentage was much higher than the national average (Snyder & Mulako-Wangotoa, 2012, USFBI, 2012). Parental death occurred in 45% of early founders whereas; only 6% of later founders suffered the loss of a parent before adulthood. There appears to be a trend for later born organizers to have founded their groups earlier in life, with the average age of founding being 47 for the earlier founders, and 38 for the later founders. This is probably due to the societal awareness of the needs of animals being raised by the first group of founders. Later founders became aware of the needs of animals at an earlier age and then became active at an earlier age. Results can be seen in Table 2.
Bartlett (2010) sees reformers as radicals by nature that succeed to the extent that they can make the public feel enough discomfort about abuse and injustice, and seek to create and improve institutions to effectively deal with the abuse. It would appear that the later founders paid a higher price in relationship strain, as they had less financial resources and societal power to act as buffers.
Results of questionnaire
Some interesting findings for the 55% who responded to the questionnaire were: Although the vast majority reported being securely attached to their parents, a majority of them (86%) reported having come from very strict families where physical punishment was sometimes used. 100% changed their religion or religious status from that which was practiced in families of origin. This is a much higher percentage than that reported by the Pew Foundation (2008) – most because they did not feel their earlier religion adequately addressed the rights of animals. Most reported not presently being religious, but 2 switched to Buddhism, which they felt more consistent with their beliefs about the rights of animals. It is as though they lost this major source of support, possibly because their values were in advance of that of religious institutions.
When asked about the costs of their commitment to animal welfare/rights all cited costs but by far the most frequent response was that their intense commitment to animals affected their relationship with spouse, family and friends. Several mentioned estrangements from prior relationships due to persons not understanding their immense dedication to animal rights and thus were deemed “odd” by former friends, etc. This dedication also took its toll on the time these organizers had to devote to socializing. When asked if they were “loners” most of the group (74%) said they were not loners but that they were in the middle of the introvert/extrovert continuum, only one stated that she was an extrovert. When asked why they chose this line of work, the responses tended to be consistent with Kohlberg’s (1976) post-conventional moral thinking. They easily made the distinction between the legal and the moral/ethical, and spoke of wanting to maintain a consistency between their moral judgments and their actions. They spoke of wanting justice for animals, of being faithful to their principles and conscience, of not being able to turn away once they left the denial stage of just how bad conditions were for most animals, of fighting for the rights of the underdog – the neglected/abused under the present system.
When asked about the source of their strength, and what helped them to deal with or avoid compassion fatigue, many mentioned aspects of their personality rather than supports external to themselves, such as being temperamentally suited by being tenacious, never giving up, being unable to turn away, thriving in extreme environments. Some mentioned human relationships (friends) but sadly, only 2 mentioned spouses. This group was deprived of 2 possible avenues of support during difficult times – their spouses and their religions. One mentioned that during tough times she reflects on all the prior social movements that have made good progress despite seemingly Herculean obstacles, and this strengthens her belief that animals will one day have the rights to which they are entitled. Another said that he had faith in karmic justice and believed that most people are humane and desire to live more compassionate lives.
As can be seen from Table 2, founders of animal welfare/rights groups are not average people. They have higher levels of education and income, are Caucasian, and from the Eastern region of the US. Wesley Jamison (1997) found similar demographics. 61% of later founders were first born. Only 1 came from a large family, being the 9th born of 9 children.
In so many fields of human endeavor women have not been equally represented, but this is not the case with the founders. From the very beginning, many of the seminal figures in animal welfare/rights groups have been women (Jasper & Poulsen, 1995: Lowe & Ginsburg, 2002, and Peek, Bell & Dunham, 1996). They have raised large amounts of money and also raised the awareness of Americans as to the often-deplorable conditions under which many, if not most, animals live. Some have speculated that women embraced animal activism because of a sense of shared victimization and identification with the oppressed, while others point to the differences in the way males and females are socialized. (Flynn, 2012).
Most founders had a defining moment vis a vis animals and they could not turn back from this new realization of the needs of animals. Their personal lives suffered as a result of their activism, with the great majority being divorced and childless. Shapiro (1994) speaks eloquently to this point of how emotionally loaded and painful interpersonal relations are with others who don’t have a similar mindset.
Gaarder (2006,2008) also studied the impact of animal rights activism on women, and found, that while many of these women paid a price in their personal relationships and emotional well being, these women also found gains, such as the feeling of empowerment that came from the realization that they were making a difference in the world, and living a life filled with meaning.
Groves (1997) recounts that he found individual personality traits to not explain much about animal rights activists. The present study, with the founder’s own words about personality traits being a source of strength, presents a contrast to Groves.
Although the number of children that founders had is lower than average, and many, if not most, people express the Ericksonian stage of generativity through having children, the actions /goals of the founders can be seen as reflecting generativity. Through their organizations they showed care and concern for the generations that follow them, by working to make the world a less violent place for animals and for all who inhabit the earth. (Erikson, 1982).
Due to these founders, there is increased awareness of the plight of many animals, fewer tests are performed on animals for the cosmetics industry, fewer animals are used and euthanized for experimentation (Katz, 2009), more people have become vegetarian (Rowan & Shapiro 1996), many laws now exist to insure animals’ legal protection (Animal Welfare Institute, 2010), leading law schools now have courses in animal law (Shapiro, 1996, Cohen, 2010), fur is seen as a less desirable product (Clifton, 2003), trapping methods have come under scrutiny, more animals are spayed/neutered, some protection now extends to farm animals (Davis, 2010 & 2011) and no kill shelters are becoming more prominent. These 38 persons have changed the way America conceptualizes, values, and treats animals. They have made the world a better place for all its sentient inhabitants. This study is just a beginning, as much more needs to be known about this unique group of people who have had such an effect on the world.
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Table 1: Founders of Animal Welfare/Rights Organizations
Cleveland Amory Fund for Animals
George Angell Bands of Mercy
Emily Appleton Mass. SPCA
Neal Barnard Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Kim Bartlett* Animal People
Lorri Bauston Animal Acres
Gene Baur* Farm Sanctuary
Henry Bergh ASPCA
Mary Collette* Wildlife Waystation
Karen Davis* United Poultry Concerns
Doris Day Doris Day Animal League
Pat Derby Performing Animals Welfare Society
Adele Douglass* Humane Farm Animal Care
Lucy Furman No traps
George Bird Grinell Audubon/ Buffalo
Alice Harrington Friends of Animals
Steve Hindi* Showing Animals Respect and Kindness
Elliott Katz* In Defense of Animals
Helen Jones International Society for Animal Rights
Flora Kibbe No Kill Shelter
Eleanor Lewyt North Shore Animal League
Faith Maloney* Best Friends Animal Society
Esther Meckler* Spay USA
Eliz. Morris Morris Animal Rescue
Fred Myers Humane Society of the US
Ingrid Newkirk* PETA
Alex Pacheco All American Animals, 1-800-save a pet
Becky Robinson Alley Cat Allies
Nathan Runkle Mercy for Animals
Ann Waln (Linda) Ryerss Ryerss Foundation
Ellen Seiling United Action for Animals
Ken Shapiro* Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Animals and Society, Insti.
Anna Harris Smith Animal Rescue League
Henry Spira Animal Rights International
Christine Stevens Animal Welfare Institute
William Stillman American Humane Society
Joy Tischler Animal Legal Defense Fund
Caroline Earl White American Anti-Vivisection, PSPCA
* Denotes responded to questionnaire
Table 2: Biographical Factors for Founders of Animal Welfare/Rights Associations
Factors Total Percent 19th c. founders 20th c. founders
- POB East of Mississippi 67 100 57
- Mid to Upper SES 92 100 88
- Ordinal position-1st 61 60 61
- FOO mid to hi religious 90 NA 87
- Degree of religion now 33 NA 33
- FOO Discipline-non phys 14 NA 14
- FOO size- 3 or fewer 90 84 93
- > 1 major relocation 42 NA 40
- POB Political instability 06 0 08
- Early helping 55 100 56
- Some college 82 71 84
- Secure Attach mother* 75 NA 73
- Secure attach father* 84 NA 82
- Childhood Hardship 47 42 50
- Parental death 18 45 06
- Parental pathology 16 NA 21
- Marriage 88 90 86
- Parenthood 36 16 43
- Divorce 53 0 83
- Loner 21 NA 26
- Arrests 23 0 35
- Military service 06 0 08
- Age at founding 41 47 38
- Had a Pet 90 NA 100
- Powerful friends 50 87 15
- Collaboration 80 71 90
- Women 64 60 65
FOO known religions
Catholic 6 Jewish 5 Protestant 8
*FOO- family of origin
*NA denotes information not available for 50% of sample
I am a psychologist who studies the early lives of diverse groups of people. I have presented my research at several meetings of the American Psychological Association.
I presented research on the early lives of the Nobel Peace Laureates at APA in San Francisco 3 years ago and on the lives of 20th Century tyrants at APA in San Diego this year. Print versions can be found in the Peace Journal-Division 48 of APA or I can send you a copy of either paper, if you would like.
I am greatly interested in the early lives of persons who seek to make the world a more humane place for animals. The group I am studying now consists of founders of animal welfare/rights organizations. As a group, the early lives of this exceptional group of persons has not been studied and I believe it is time to remedy this lack of knowledge. I publish only group data – not individual responses.
Would you please consider being part of my study? If so, would you read the attached questions and either respond in writing or by phone interview? If you so desire, I will send you a copy of the research in approx. 2 years when I hope it will be completed. Please also see a tentative list of persons I am studying.
If you would like references on me feel free to contact my prior supervisors from Cabrini College where I spent 30 years as a professor of psychology.
- Dr. Anthony Tomasco, chair, dept. of psychology
- Sr. Christine Baltas, past dean of students and present campus minister
Thank you so much for considering my request. If you know of any published biography of you please send me the reference for it or send me a copy of it.
M.L.Corbin Sicoli, Ph.D.
Emerita, Professor of psychology
404 Darlington Drive
West Chester, PA 19382
Animal Welfare/Rights Founders Questions – M.L.Corbin Sicoli, Ph.D.
Paternal Grandparents’ Occupations
Maternal Grandparents’ Occupations
Paragraph to describe your mother
Paragraph to describe your father
What type of discipline was used in your family of origin?
How many siblings did you have?
What was your ordinal position in your family?
Did you face any major hardships before the age of 18? (e.g. major illness, death of parent, poverty)
Did any of your siblings die before the age of 18?
Did your family relocate before you were 18? If so, how many times?
What religion was practiced in your family of origin? Would you characterize your parents as religious/spiritual? Would you characterize yourself as religious/spiritual?
What hobbies, interests did you have as a child?
What is your highest level of education? High school grad, some college, college grad, grad school, grad degree. What was your college major?
Are you married? Do you have children? If so, how many?
Have you ever served in the military? Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Have you ever been arrested for your work with the animals?
Did you ever divorce? Did you remarry?
Did your family have a pet/companion animal when you were a child? If so please describe this animal?
How did your parents treat animals? Did you ever witness an act of cruelty toward animals by your parents? Did you ever witness an act of great kindness to an animal?
Did you have pets/companion animals as an adult? Describe these animals?
Who were your role models, as both a child and a young adult?
What is your first memory of an encounter with an animal?
When did you first become aware of the needs of animals?
When did you first encounter an animal welfare organization?
Did you ever have an “aha moment” as regards animals rights/welfare?
Did you witness violence toward animals?
Has being an animal advocate been at a cost to yourself? If so, please specify.
Would you define yourself as a loner or as a relatively sociable person?
What motivated you to found the animal welfare/rights group that you did?
Was it difficult to recruit others to help you in your mission?
When you have free time what do you enjoy doing?
What is the animal welfare achievement of your group of which you are most proud?
What keeps you going through the toughest of times? What is you source of strength?
Why do you think you became and animal welfare/rights advocate?
What questions have I not asked that are pertinent to your life as an animal welfare activist?