|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
|The earliest known uses of the word 'vegetarian'
Compiled by John Davis, IVU Manager and Historian, with help from members of the ivu-history email group
The Oxford English Dictionary has for a long time given a source from 1839 of the word 'vegetarian':
On p.49 "the pork and bacon would prove a most welcome addition to their farinaceous diet." - an unusual use of the word 'farinaceous', much used in that way by those debating the vegetable diet at the time. She clearly would have been opposed by 1839, but might have read something relevant.
BUT - this journal was never published until 1863, long after the word 'vegetarian' had become commonplace, so may have been inserted by a later editor, or by Ms. Kemble's later revisions. Confirming the use in 1839 requires sight of the original handwritten journal, which we are trying to locate, if it still exists.
OR - She was born in England, was a star of the stage, returned to England often, was a very active abolitionist and so would have been in touch with members of reform movements, and she carried on a lifetime correspondence with at least one English friend. So she could possibly have heard or read the word 'vegetarian' by 1839 - which is within our timeframe. Fanny was in London for a year from 1836-7, then returned to America, but from what we know it is unlikely she would have heard the word 'vegetarian' before Alcott House opened in July 1838.
The most likely common link was Harriet Martineau (right - link to wikipedia ) who was in America from January 1834 to August 1836, she wrote in her 1877 autobiography: 'I saw much of Fanny [Kemble] in America ... She showed me the proof-sheets of her clever "Journal," and, as she chose to require my opinion of it, obtained a less flattering one than from most people ... I was sufficiently shocked at certain passages to induce her to cancel some thirty pages.'- this would have been the earlier journal, 1833/4, not the more famous one from 1838/9 - but it also shows the journals were being edited some time after being written, see BUT above. Ms. Martineau was a member of the Abolitionist Society, so had much in common with Fanny's 1838/9 experiences of slavery, and may well have maintained contact.
She was also close to the Boston transcendentalists - from [Bronson] alcott.net: "Miss Harriet Martineau, who knew Mr. Alcott well in 1837 (sic - 1834-6), spoke of him on her return home to James Pierrepont Greaves,..." Harriet visited Bronson Alcott's 'Temple School' in Boston, and on returning to London she gave Greaves the two books that introduced him to Alcott (probably via her uncle Peter who was a friend of Greaves according to JEM Latham in 'Search for a New Eden - link to Google Books). We also know that Ms. Martineau was a great letter writer - so did she later mention the Alcott House 'vegetarians' in a letter to Fanny Kemble?
In the 1850s and 60s Louisa May Alcott (Bronson's daughter) in her 'letters and journals' (link to archive.org) mentions Fanny Kemble as a neighbor and seems to have known her quite well. But there is no indication that they had known each other earlier.
Neither Fanny Kemble or Harriet Martineau were vegetarian that we know of, but it was certainly something that Harriet was very aware of. In 1862 she wrote to her friend Fanny Wedgwood (of the pottery family), referring to someone else she had known "She became a vegetarian before we heard much of it elsewhere" (Harriet Martineau's letters to Fanny Wedgwood - link to Google Books). Which again implies that Ms. Martineau was familiar with the word before it became commonly used. Several members of Fanny Wedgwood's family, including two of her daughters, were also vegetarian.
Fanny Kemble's main lifetime correspondence was with Harriet St. Leger, 12 years older than herself, a member of the minor aristocracy in London and Dublin, and described as 'eccentric' - just the sort of person who might also have mentioned the new 'vegetarians' in a letter to her friend, even if she was also not one herself.
- some links with Shelley - Fanny Kemble would almost certainly have been aware of his active promotion of the 'vegetable diet':