International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Take me to your leader...
by John Davis, IVU Manager and Historian

All organisations have someone at the top, and IVU is no exception with various changes between 'chairman' and 'president' over the years since 1908.

The first IVU Congress was held in Dresden in 1908 and, despite all the international work being done by the British Vegetarian Society and the local work by the Dresden group, all the meetings were chaired by the President of the Deutsche Vegetarier-Bund (German Vegetarian Federation) of which the Dresden Society was a member.

So the first 'chairman' was Dr Gustav Selss, though he was never given any official title. A provisional committee was set up which met in Rotterdam the following February - the President of Dutch Vegetarian Society, Mr Meyroos, was present and it is probable that he chaired the meeting as it was in his country, but the available reports do not confirm this.

Congress President

The idea of the host country taking the chair seems to have been a convention at that time. During that second committee meeting the brief report tells us: 'It was decided to elect Mr.W.E.A.Axon, LL.D., president for the year'. Mr Axon was President of the British Vegetarian Society which was due to host the next Congress in Manchester in October 1909.

He duly chaired the meetings at that Congress but the convention was then established of handing on the 'President of the Congress' to the President of the next host Society. As the next Congress was planned for Brussels in 1910 M. le Dr. Huchard, member of l'Academie de Médecine and President of the Belgian Society, held the post for the next 12 months.

At the 1910 Congress it was decided to hold future Congresses every 3 years instead of annually. It was agreed to hold the next one at The Hague in 1913 and Mr. Hugo Nolthenius, President of the Dutch Society, became Congress President for 3 years.

During the Congress at the Hague it was agreed to hold the 1916 Congress in Paris, but inevitably that was cancelled due to the war. The President of the Congress would have been the President of the French Society, apparently M.Morand, but he would have had little opportunity to chair any meetings before the outbreak of war.

After a 10 year gap the IVU Congresses resumed in Sweden in 1923. Following the convention the Congress President was Mr. J. L. Saxon, President of the Swedish Vegetarian Society. It is not clear how far in advance the Congress was planned, and therefore at what point Mr Saxon assumed the Presidency.

At some point the convention became written into the Constitution as the 1923 report tells us that they decided to hold the next Congress in England and: 'According to the Constitution Mr. Ernest Bell becomes the President for the period from this Congress to the end of the next. A hearty Vote of thanks was given to the retiring president, Mr .J. L. Saxon and he was unanimously elected 'President Emeritus for Life with consulting and voting power. ' ['emeritus' means he kept the title but didn't necessarily have to do anything].

The 1926 Congress was held in London and jointly organised by the Vegetarian Society (based in Manchester) and the London Vegetarian Society (which also operated nationally). Mr Bell was President of the Manchester based Vegetarian Society, despite actually living in London. It took them another 43 years to end this little confusion...

In 1929 the Congress was held in Czechoslovakia and the Congress Presidency duly passed to Herr B. O. Dürr for the preceding three years. A later report tells us that Herr Dürr was also elected as an 'Honorary President' for life following his term of office.

President of IVU

Berlin was the venue for the 1932 Congress and Mr. Carl Gumprecht became Congress President until the end of that one. However, during that Congress it was agreed to have a longer term 'President of IVU' and Mr. C. J. van Borrendam, from Amsterdam, was the first to be elected to the new post.

Mr. van Borrendam was reelected at subsequent Congresses in 1935 and 1938. The 1941 Congress was planned for England, but again inevitably cancelled and at the next Congress, in 1947, it was reported that Mr van Borrendam had died during the war.

There appears to have been a small meeting in 1946 at which Mr W.A.Sibly, from England, was elected IVU President. He was then formally elected at the 1947 Congress (which he organised at the school where he was headmaster) and re-elected in 1950.

By 1950 IVU had acquired a wealthy Patron, Mrs Clarence Gasque from the USA (real name Maude but known as 'Mother Gloria', but the formal title was always used in the records), and she was funding a full-time General Secretary complete with an office and a car. At the 1953 Congress, in Sweden, Mr Sibly stood down in favour of Mrs Gasque who was then elected as IVU President. Mr Sibly was given the title of 'Past-President' and remained on the Executive Committee chairing most of the meetings.

Mrs Gasque was re-elected in 1955 and 1957 but the reports from 1960 Congress, in Germany, show that both she and Mr Sibly had died since 1957 - and the Deputy President missed his first Congress since 1923 due to illness. Mrs Rukmini Devi Arundale MP (India) was elected as Chairman for the Congress (rather like Dr Selss at that very first Congress back in 1908).

During that Congress Mr Woodland Kahler was elected President of IVU. He was originally from the USA but now had homes in France, Spain and India. Mr Kahler was re-elected in 1963, 65, 67 and 69 - at some point becoming the Marquis de St.Innocent whilst in office.

In 1971, in The Netherlands, Mr Kahler was succeeded by Dr Gordon Latto, President of the recently formed Vegetarian Society UK (the Manchester and London factions having finally got their act together). Dr Latto was re-elected at all subsequent Congresses for a record 19 years, until he stepped down in 1990.

The first President from outside of Europe or North America was Sri Surendra Mehta from India, elected in 1990 in Israel. At the next Congress, 1993 in India, the Constitution was changed to limit the President to two terms in office and Sri Mehta was re-elected for his second term. But he apparently proved so popular that in 1994 the Constitution was changed again to allow three terms of office and Sri Mehta was duly re-elected.

The 1996 Congress was held in Johnstown , USA, and the assembled delegates elected an American, Howard Lyman, as the next IVU President. Unfortunately Mr Lyman became embroiled in a major legal action (which he eventually won) preventing him from standing for reelection at the 1999 Congress in Thailand. His successor was Maxwell Lee from the UK.

Chairman of the International Council

During 1999 the IVU Constitution was completely re-written via an internet forum and it was decided to abolish the role of President. The Members would now elect the council who would then elect their own chairman as they considered appropriate.

Soon after the new constitution became effective, in November 1999, Mr Maxwell Lee was elected as the first Chairman of the International Council. At the 2000 Congress, in Toronto, Mr Lee did not seek re-election, and his deputy, Kevin Pickard of Toronto, was elected Chairman by the council meeting during the Congress.

During the 2002 Congress, in Edinburgh, Mr Pickard decided to stand down and Tina Fox, Chief Executive of The Vegetarian Society UK was elected to the Chair, with Kevin Pickard continuing as Deputy. He was replaced as Deputy by Saurabh Dalal in 2004.

At the IVU Centenary Congress in Dresden, 2008, Tina Fox stood down as chair and a few days later George Jacobs, from Singapore, was elected as the first chair from the SE Asia region, and the most southern and eastern of all IVU's leaders, so IVU begins its second century being led from the other side of the world to where it all began.

To be continued at some time in the future....