Historians have largely neglected the animal protection movement, despite its unique accomplishments and its relationship to other reform efforts. While humane advocates in the pre-World War U era rarely transcended anthropocentrism, they launched significant initiatives to extend ethical concern beyond the species barrier. From 1866 onward, they waged campaigns against cruelty to animals in transportation, slaughter, education, entertainment, science, recreation, municipal animal control, and food and fur production.
This study situates organized concern for animals in relation to other post-Civil War reforms--including temperance and child protection. It explains the rise of humane work in light of antebellum trends in law, education, philosophy, and religion, and the perception that animals were at the heart of many sanitary and public health concerns. It qualities interpretations that reduce animal protection to an exercise in social control. It denies the importance of the Darwinian assertion that humans were animals to the movement's formation. Finally, it disputes claims that concern for animals served a "displacement" function until some human reforms became socially acceptable.
As a result of humane education campaigns, the kindness-to-animals ethic gained recognition as an important element in character formation. However, just as humane advocates began to contest an unqualified anthropocentrism, new and unprecedented forms of animal use emerged. The movement proved ineffectual in the face of a broad "industrialization" of animals, and its progress slowed in the early years of the twentieth century. Animal protectionists found it difficult to advance their principles in such arenas as experimentation or food production, where exploitation of animals was expanding. In addition, targeted interests successfully placed many forms of animal use outside of socially and legally determined definitions of cruelty. With the rise of science- and social science-based reform, moreover, the humane movement fell out of step with once allied causes like feminism, temperance, and child protection. After 1920, the movement's agenda narrowed, and it focused its resources on municipal animal control. Even so, humane advocates set precedents upon which contemporary animal protectionists continue to build.
Unti, Bernard, "The Quality of Mercy: Organized Animal Protection in the United States 1866-1930" (2002). WEL. 40.