International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


Reform Interests and Decline

Lastly we can turn to their reform interests. The [Vegetarian] Messenger reiterates a long and catholic list of causes that the editors confidently assume will be supported by all vegetarians (1) - people who 'always had a strong desire to see the world reformed'. (2)  Many of their reform interests have obvious connections with vegetarianism - for example, their opposition to war, to capital punishment, or to blood sports - but many of them also bear an added political impulse that derives from the attack launched on the seats of privilege and established power by those who may be called the outsiders in the constitution – dissenters, the newly powerful manufacturing and industrial classes, the articulate working class. It also represented the attack by the ascendant provinces on the traditional centre. This relationship of centre and periphery is something that is repeated in different forms throughout the history of modern vegetarianism. The attack went forward on many fronts, of which the humanitarian reforms were only one, and it was socially more complex than the term 'outsider' would reveal; however it is a useful word to apply here because it points to the added bite that this social and political background gave to their moral preoccupations. The peace movement, for example, carried the added attack on the aristocratic domain of the army, and on profligate and expensive wars that disturbed trade. Their hostility to blood sports and in particular fox hunting, was an attack on the pleasures of the aristocracy and of the rural elite. (3)

The vegetarians also allied themselves with a variety of treatments such as hydropathy, homeopathy and 'natural' remedies whose self-help attitude challenged the authority of the medical profession, which, while not yet unified as it was to be later in the century, was headed by the oligarchic and London based Royal College of Physicians. (4)

Though these causes they took up were varied, the vegetarians felt them in essence to be united: 'forming as they do one mighty movement of the world towards a state in which all that is good and true is in the ascendancy'. (5) They presented vegetarianism as the root reform that went to the heart of the evils of society. (6) Vegetarianism is a very diffuse form of reform, and its comprehensiveness derives not so much from these rather partisan enthusiasms for its effects, as from its capacity to encapsulate the idea of Reform itself.

The unexpected death of Simpson in September 1859 precipitated a financial crisis that almost brought the activity of the society to a halt (7) There had, however, been earlier indications suggesting that the impetus behind the society was already on the wane - the early and mid 1850s appear to be the peak - victim of the changing mood in the country and of the decline in the Humanitarian Crusade. (8)(8)

When vegetarianism did re-emerge in any strength, it was to be with a rather different geographical and social focus.

  1. 99. For example: educational reform, temperance, peace, early closing, health of towns, sanitary reform, anti-slavery, abolition of capital punishment, financial reform, civil, religious and commercial freedom. VM, Jan 1850, p3
  2. 100. Vegetarian Messenger, May 1852, p51, testimony of a 'working man'.
  3. 101. For fox hunting, see for example, VM, May 1852, p38; and for its social background see Raymond Carr, English Foxhunting: A History, 1976. The humanitarian movement for animals that emerged in the early nineteenth century and that found its institutional expression in the SPCA had a more conservative and established basis (RSPCA in 1840) than vegetarianism (though Lewis Gompertz, see DNB, one of its founding figures was a vegetarian), a fact reflected in its bias against the cruel sports of working men. The Vegetarian Messenger, July 1859, p79, editorial, criticised its inconsistencies over killing for meat. For a history of RSPCA A. W. Moss, Valiant Crusade, 1961.
  4. 102. See J.L. Beralnt, Profession and Monopoly, 1975, and Sir George Clarke, History of the Royal College of Physicians. Vol II, 1966. The College during the first half of the nineteenth century faced an attack on its monopoly privileges from laissez-faire ideas.
  5. 103. VM, Jan 1850, p36.
  6. 104. For example in a typical statement from Harvey, VM, Sept 1850, p125, in which he asserted that vegetarianism was 'deeper and wider than these [Peace, Temperance, Educational, Sanitary, Financial and Parliamentary Reform] comprehending them all'. Vegetarianism sought to remove the very cause of war; to remove intemperance by taking away the great cause of thirst for intoxicating liquors; promote education by removing the great barrier of sensual indulgence; sanitary reform by removing pigstys and slaughter houses; financial reform by the proper basis of economic food production; parliamentary reform by raising the moral and social condition of man.
  7. 105. See account in VM, Dec 1859, pl47. This last issue of the magazine revealed that though Simpson had left the society £5,000 in his will the estate was unable to pay the sum. (p32)
  8. 106. The Dietetic Reformer which succeeded the Vegetarian Messenger, reported in 1862 the public to be increasingly averse to the cause, due, it felt, to the new mood of militarism. DR, Oct 1862, p98, AGM.

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