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Bless the Beasts

Quakers have a long history of advocating for animal rights—they became the first denomination to establish such an organization within their faith group, when the Friends’ Anti-Vivisection Association (now known as Quaker Concern for Animals) was founded in 1891. By then, individual Quakers had long been involved in the secular animal rights movement: Caroline Earle White was a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1867 (the first state SPCA after the ASPCA formed just a year earlier) and also founded the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

The Friends Vegetarian Society was founded in 1902, but individual Quakers chose to live meat-free lifestyles centuries earlier, including anti-slavery activists Anthony Benezet, Joshua Evans, and, of course, Benjamin Lay.

Many Quaker journals describe formative experiences such as that of John Woolman, one of America’s most famous Quaker ministers. Struck with remorse after killing a mother bird as a boy, he traveled hundreds of miles on foot as an adult rather than ride on stagecoaches pulled by mistreated horses.

Perhaps the Quaker who had the greatest impact on improving animal welfare was Anna Sewell, whose 1877 novel Black Beauty—“The Autobiography of a Horse”—is sometimes referred to as the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the animal rights movement. With its frank depictions of the cruel treatment endured by taxi-pulling horses, Black Beauty sparked an international movement, directly led to animal protection legislation, and remains one of the world’s all-time best-selling books.

In honor of animals, we welcome you to stop by Friends Historical Library to explore our anti-cruelty materials, including a Quaker Peaceable Kitchen vegetarian cookbook.