April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month! We’re combining our celebration of this special occasion and Women’s History Month (which was celebrated in March) with a blog post about a prominent woman in the history of animal protection activism. Since the 19th century, women have played a major role in animal advocacy. Leaders of the animal protection movement have disproportionately been women, and many female animal protection activists have been involved in other avenues of activism, such as women’s rights.
In this inaugural post, we’re featuring Frances Power Cobbe, Irish writer, feminist, and anti-vivisectionist. Vivisection, a term which has been broadly used to mean experimentation on animals, was a common focus of early animal protection activism. Cobbe founded two organizations dedicated to ending vivisection, the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection (SAPLV) in 1875, and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in 1898. Both of these organizations still exist today, the SAPLV under the name National Anti-Vivisection Society, and BUAV under the name Cruelty Free International.
Cobbe was also a prominent campaigner for the National Society for Women’s Suffrage and a prolific journalist. She wrote articles for London newspapers on anti-vivisection, suffrage, and women’s property rights. Her activism also focused on women’s education, including advocating for women to be allowed to take university exams and earn degrees at Oxford and Cambridge.
Though she was born in Ireland, she lived most of her life in Wales, where she shared a home with her partner Mary Lloyd, a Welsh sculptor, from 1864 until Lloyd’s death in 1896. Cobbe continued to live in Wales until her death on April 5, 1904, at the age of 81.
After her death, Cobbe was remembered by Rev. John Verschoyle as the “master-builder” of the anti-vivisection movement. Rev. Verschoyle wrote “If she failed in her main purpose, the suppression of Vivisection, she laid the foundations broad and deep for that and all future reforms in a true conception of human duty to the animal world.”
The resources featured in this post, as well as other digital resources related to Frances Power Cobbe, anti-vivisection, and the animal protection movement, are available in the Libraries' Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to over a million images, drawings, video, audio recordings, and textual materials from the Libraries' Special Collections Research Center.