|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
by John Davis, IVU Manager and Historian
The first IVU Congress was held in Dresden, Germany, in 1908 which is not the most obvious location that we might think of today, so these are some thoughts about how that happened.
According to the Vegetarier Bund Deutschland (May/June 1992 issue of Der Vegetarier) the first Vegetarian Society in Dresden was founded in 1881 and, a few years later, the leadership was taken on by Georg Förster. There was also other activity in the city at that time as this extract, from The Vegetable Passion by Janet Barkas (New York, 1975), indicates:
Ms. Barkas' final comment doesn't quite tally with the more recent research done by VDB. Either this was another Society or, more likely, she had her attribution a little wrong. In an article for The Vegetarian Messenger (journal of The Vegetarian Society, Manchester, England) in December 1908, Mr. J. Arthur Gill refers to "four vegetarian restaurants" in Dresden, suggesting quite a lot of local interest in vegetarianism. The official website for the City of Dresden ( www.dresden.de ) states that in 1900, Dresden was the 4th largest city in the German empire, and a major centre for cultural activities. We also know that the Hygeine Museum was a major national centre for 'nature cure' therapies, and held a an exhibition in 1911 which attracted thousands of visitors. (see Dresden in 1908 for more details of the city at that time).
The International Scene
The first Vegetarian Society was founded in England in 1847 and was based in Manchester, where it still has its headquarters today. It was soon followed by the American Vegetarian Society, launched in New York in 1850.
The first German vegetarian organisation was founded in Nordhausen in 1867, followed by one in Stuttgart in 1868, then Berlin in 1879. In 1888 one of the German vegetarian leaders visited Britain, where there were now many local vegetarian societies, and suggested an International Congress of all the British and German groups. This was held in Cologne in September 1889 and became the first ever international gathering of vegetarians.
Some of the British groups had begun to create a 'Vegetarian Union' of the local British societies, and following the Cologne event declared that it would cover the whole world as the Vegetarian Federal Union (VFU) - without actually asking the rest of world whether they wanted to join such a thing. Groups in other English speaking countries, including the USA, Australia and Ireland responded readily enough, but the Germans were not so impressed. In 1892 the Deutscher Vegetarier-Bund (DVB) was created, intially as a union of two local societies, with other local groups in the German speaking region linked to them in various ways. At some point the DVB did have some form of membership of the London-based VFU, but there was never any significant involvement.
Also during this time the French speaking vegetarians began grouping together, with the newly formed French and Belgian Societies publishing a joint magazine for all Francophiles. They also had some contact with the VFU and eventually persuaded the British to hold the annual Congress in Paris in 1900 (the others had all been in London, apart from Chicago in 1893). It was then agreed, so some thought, to hold the next VFU Congress in Brussels in 1901 - but the Londoners ignored that and proceeded to publicise the next Congress in London as usual. The arguments that followed saw the original Manchester-based Vegetarian Society support the Continental Europeans, and that was effectively the end of the VFU's international aspirations.
Over the next few years there was some discussion about creating a more genuinely democratic international vegetarian organisation, with all countries having equal input. This was most actively promoted by the Deputy President of the French Vegetarian Society, Dr. Danjou, who spoke about the idea in several European countries.
In 1907 the Vegetarian Society in Manchester celebrated its diamond jubilee (60 years) by inviting the leaders of all known vegetarian societies to an international gathering. Dr. Danjou was there and again made his plea for an International Vegetarian Federation, this time proposing that the 'mother society' should take the initiative in setting up a meeting. This was promptly taken up by Mr. Albert Broadbent, the Secretary of the Vegetarian Society (Manchester).
So why Dresden?
The easiest option for Mr. Broadbent would have been to arrange another meeting in Manchester, but he had also had some hesitant involvement with the Vegetarian Federal Union and would have been very aware that the Europeans were sceptical about more British domination.
The solution almost certainly came from Mr. J. Arthur Gill, secretary of the Friends (Quakers) Vegetarian Society - and an enthusiastic Esperantist - who would have been at the diamond jubilee meetings. Vegetarians and Esperantists had quite a lot in common at a time when Europe was largely divided by linguistic barriers, both groups having an interest in universal brotherhood. It would have been Mr. Gill who mentioned to Mr. Broadbent that the Esperantists were holding their annual conference in Dresden the following year - which meant that many vegetarians would be in the city. They would also have been aware of the Dresden Vegetarian Society, the nature cure clinic, and the four vegetarian restaurants.
This was the ideal political solution, a Vegetarian Congress proposed by the French, organised by the British, and held in Germany. Mr. Broadbent soon wrote to all the Vegetarian Societies around the world inviting them to meet in Dresden on August 18, 1908, during the week of the Esperantist Conference.
The Dresden Vegetarian Society, of which Georg Förster was still Secretary, enthusiastically hosted the event and provided accommodation for those able to make the journey. Ultimately only the German, British and Dutch Societies were there in person, along with some locals and Esperantists, but groups from 14 other countries sent messages of goodwill and support. During the meeting they adopted the title of the International Vegetarian Union.
Click on the photo right for bigger picture of all the Congress delegates (opens in a new window). Albert Broadbent is the big man just left of centre in the white waistcoat, behind the desk. The man right of centre, in front of the desk is probably Dr. Selss, President of the Deutscher Vegetarier-Bund, and we think Georg and Martha Förster are 3rd and 2nd from the right at the back. (photo from the DVB magazine of 1908)
The same week saw the creation of the 'International Union of Esperantist Vegetarians' - still acitve today as TEVA (Tutmonda Esperantista Vegetarana Asocio) and still a member of IVU.