The Anti-Vivisection Movement

"There will come a time when the world will look back to modern vivisection in the name of science as they now do the burning at the stake in the name of religion."

-Professor Henry Bigelow, famed surgeon at Harvard Medical School and NEAVS supporter (1894)

The general agreement is that Florence, Italy is the birthplace of the anti-vivisection movement, circa 1863. At that time, members of the aristocracy and intellectual community endorsed a petition to end the experiments of Professor Schiff, a vivisector at La Specola, now a Museum of Zoology and Natural History. People of the time affirm that they could hear the cries of his dogs across the Arno River which runs through the city. Ex patriot, Frances Power Cobbe was living in Florence and took the helm of the early anti-vivisection movement. Anna Kingsford, a physician trained in Paris at the turn of the 1880s, succeeded her.  By the turn of the Century, women like Louise Lind-af-Hageby and Liese Schartau assumed the cause head on. The two enrolled in medical school at the University of London specifically to confirm rumors of what the vivisectors were doing to the animals. Their efforts led to the first major AV protest, the Brown Dog riots of 1907. The “antis” were joined by early feminists, suffragettes, trade unionists and others committed to ending oppressions of Victorian society. Since that time, the anti-vivisection movement worldwide has found support in activists of various socially progressive causes including the anti-slave movement, environmental movement and others.

In the United States, Joseph Greene, who won $250.00 in a local contest on “Why I am Against Vivisection,” 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. Six months later, the society incorporated and opened its first office. Philip Peabody, one of the judges in the contest, a physician by training, and a lawyer by profession, became its first president. NEAVS was founded on the heels of the first dedicated animal research laboratory in the country at Harvard University in 1871. Of importance is the fact that NEAVS was originally founded "to expose and oppose secret or painful experiments upon living animals, lunatics, paupers or criminals”─ testament to how far we have come in securing protections for humans even while our work for animals continues.

In addition to the ethical arguments of the AV movement’s inception, strong scientific evidence now buoys the modern anti-vivisection movement confirming that non-animal research methods make not only for more humane but also for scientifically  better research for humans.

Anti-vivisectionists use a variety of means to end the oppression of animals in science including:

  • public outreach and education
  • encouraging the production and purchasing of cruelty-free products
  • exposing specific research, labs or companies
  • funding the development, validation and use of non-animal testing
  • passing laws to protects students’ rights to not have to harm or kill animals in their science education
  • supporting sanctuaries to help former research victims and help others learn about individuals and what they suffered in research
  • working with legislators and federal agencies for policy change that encourages or mandates alternatives to animals and ends and replaces animal use

Although lobbyists for animal research and the research industry work hard to characterize all those opposed to animal experimentation and testing as being indifferent to human needs, “uninformed” and against all science, this portrayal is far from the truth. In reality, the anti-vivisection movement is rooted in science and ethics, and is deeply concerned with social justice for all beings. The anti-vivisection movement brings together people who are committed to ending all forms of oppression and cruelty in our world. To agree with the rights of animals not to be subjected to harm and suffering is consistent with agreeing with human rights no matter race, religion, sexual preference or gender and with the responsibility humans have to protect and value our environment. Ending the use of animals in research and testing is good for animals, humans and the environment.