Caroline Earle White, the Journal of Zoophily, and “The Tortured Rat”

“This demonstration may surely be classed, partially at least, as the good resulting from intended evil. The dreadful experiment of Professor Watson, which bids fair to make Chicago’s “tortured rat” as well-known as was “the brown dog” of transatlantic fame, aroused thousands to the possibilities of vivisection mania. In an editorial, as clever as it was caustic, a journal of our own city, never committed to the specific support of Anti-vivisection, said in a recent issue: “The Chicago professor may have demonstrated to his own satisfaction that rats possess the sixth sense of direction; he certainly demonstrated to the world at large another medical fact, namely, that scientists can live without hearts” – which was probably more than Professor Watson set out to prove!”

Rats and mice may be considered ‘animals’ in phylogenetic trees, in zoology and in the public mind, however, when it comes to legal protections as awarded in the Animal Welfare Act of 1970, they are not considered animals at all. Even today, people are often surprised at the efforts of humane societies and other groups who work to rescue and adopt out rats; the idea of a ‘humane society’ typically causes most people to think solely of cats and dogs, or, occasionally rabbits or guinea pigs. Caroline Earle White and other activists, however, were outraged at cruelty to every animal, and, in the case of Dr. Watson, that fury made national news.

“An experiment upon a rat having been performed by Professor Watson of Chicago which on account of its cruelty aroused the indignation of the whole country, judging from the articles in the newspapers, your Corresponding Secretary wrote to a prominent anti-vivisectionist of Chicago, Mr. Sydney R. Taber, asking him to use his influence in the Humane Society of Illinois to induce the President to institute a prosecution of Dr. Watson. Mr. Taber in his reply said that the Illinois Society had been investigating the subject but had not succeeded in obtaining the evidence to prove that the barbarous experiment had been performed by Professor Watson.” The Philadelphia Record

It was Professor Watson of the Chicago University who drew national attention to the kinds of experiments that could be done on animals, and, in this case, “which on account of its cruelty aroused the indignation of the whole country, judging from the articles in the newspapers, (1907)” The experiment involved the gradual removal of all five sense from rats in order to determine whether or not they had a sixth sense. The progression was as follows: first, the eyes were removed and their feet were frozen. After this, they were, according to Watson’s own words, “[turned] them loose, to observed if they possessed any instinct of the direction they ought to take.” According to the accounts, such experiments proved to Watson that “that the inferior animals do possess one sense more than others – the sense of direction.” The article that detailed the above description closed with the following sentence which clearly shows that such experimentation was not felt necessary: “Rats and mice, it would seem, can manage to get along somehow without the aid of eyes and tails, and so can scientists without hearts.” – Philadelphia Standard and Times.

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