The founding of NEAVS goes back to an event that took place at Harvard University in 1871. That year, Professor Henry Bowditch, wishing to bring Harvard up to date with the latest European methods of studying physiology, established one of the first vivisection laboratories in the country at Harvard's new medical school. While Harvard President Charles William Eliot was very pleased with the new laboratory, Professor Henry Bigelow, famed surgeon at the medical school and Massachusetts General Hospital, was not.
Dr. Bigelow was so troubled at what he had seen in the new facility, he appealed to Edward Clement, editor-in-chief of the prestigious Boston Evening Transcript, telling him about the new "scientific medicine" using live animals in experiments. Clement, convinced the charge against Harvard was serious, initiated forceful editorials against vivisection in the Transcript, Boston's foremost newspaper. Shocked readers were determined to take a stand against this new "scientific medicine." Joseph Greene of Dorchester, MA, a determined citizen who won $250 in a local “Why I am Against Vivisection” contest recruited a group of Boston’s most prominent citizens for the first meeting of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) on March 30, 1895. Greene approached Philip Peabody, one of the judges in the contest, a physician by training and a lawyer by profession, to become NEAVS’ first president. Six months later, the Society incorporated and opened its first office at 179A Tremont St.
Later, when Edward Clement became the Society's president in 1911, both membership and bequests increased dramatically. He used the power of the media to educate the public and frame the issues. Clement's determination kept the spirit of the Society alive, while the ever-increasing number of bequests kept the office functioning. By 1921, the Boston Evening Transcript noted, "The 'antis' [anti-vivisectionists] have become a force to be reckoned with." This recognition was due mainly to Clement's exceptional leadership, his wide circle of friends, and his ability to produce brilliant publications with incisive attacks against the vivisectors – many of whom were his friends.Since its inception, NEAVS has used a variety of means toward ending the oppression of animals in science including:
- Cultivating public outreach and education
- Encouraging purchase of cruelty-free products
- Exposing animal research, labs or companies
- Funding the development and validation of non-animal testing
- Helping to pass laws that protect students’ rights to dissection choice
- Supporting animal sanctuaries
- Working with federal agencies for policy change that mandates alternatives to animal use
More recently in 2006, NEAVS launched its major campaign Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories and its comprehensive website providing thorough information on the plight of chimpanzees in U.S. labs. Our efforts have lead to the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, a federal bill to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and release all federally owned chimpanzees into permanent sanctuary, a number of published scientific papers building the case against using chimpanzees for research, and other advocacy efforts.Despite the challenges ahead, NEAVS will remain steadfast in pursuing our goal to expose, oppose, and end all harmful experiments on living beings, until all animals are protected from research, humans truly benefit from effective alternative research and testing, and the last laboratory cage is empty.