Hello! Just wanted to send out an update that I have added my thesis and personal annotations for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to this site directly. I belatedly realized scribd was a subscription service.
If you’re still interested… here are the docs:
The Book of Nicodemus and Other Apocrypha: The Works of Robert C. O’Brien as a Reflection of Technological/Scientific Anxieties in 1960s American Culture
It’s been a couple of years since I visited the National Library of Medicine to study Dr. John B. Calhoun, one of the “inspirations” Robert C. O’Brien (Robert Conly) mentioned as leading to his book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what Calhoun was like. I found an interesting person in those records… One who believed “compassion” was the “revolution” that would save humanity. His assignment, to study the effects of overcrowding/lack of privacy on a society’s behavior led to a dire outcome – complete societal collapse.
I did a lot of soul searching, yet again. I suppose it’s because I found what I believed to the corpse of a poisoned mouse on the pavement near my home. Perhaps it was also because I saw an article that Don Bluth wants to resurrect the beauty of hand-drawn animation and it naturally led me to think of Secret of NIMH.
At the risk of starting out sounding like Quint, “You all know me…,” well, you know how I dream of the magnificence of Conly’s book being rendered into film as intended. I think it loses some powerful messages when changed from its original form, as well as going a bit over the top in portraying scientists as mad torturers. On the other hand, I have to admit, I give it mad kudos for getting out the brave message/suggestion that perhaps we don’t have the right or shouldn’t have the right to inflict suffering… even on “rats.” Films are forced to make messages quicker, brighter, faster, and, yes… even darker. This is necessary not just for kids, but for adults, in many cases.
This being said, I have been thinking again about Conly and Calhoun, and what Conly does so well in Mrs. Frisby and in his other books, is raise the alarm about the dangers of the kinds of detachment that can make the wonderfulness of scientific discovery abjectly terrifying.
“Perfectly healthy, except dead.”
That could have summed up in four words what Calhoun’s post-rodent-apocalypse scenarios “clinically” resulted in. Healthy, but dead, rats and mice. Although these mouse/rat worlds were never short of food or water, what they were short of was a way for these creatures to preserve the “unquantifiable,” their ability to function without undue stress or pressure. The colonies broke both in “mental” collapse for the inhabitants, and scientists watched, and did not interfere, as violence and “behavioral instability” led to horrifying results. Whole segments of the populations became withdrawn, others violent, but, eventually, all died. Even the typical burial preparations disappeared in one of the mouse worlds – a situation Calhoun captured “poetically” in a poem dedicated to one of the dying females.
Conly never portrays such anything like this in his books. The rats of NIMH are simply made “smarter” and receive little more than mild shock or quick needle pricks. But it is the “detachment” that makes Dr. Schultz the “bad guy” in Mrs. Frisby. Dr. Schultz isn’t a sadist, but what he is is completely detached. He doesn’t despise the animals – he simply doesn’t acknowledge them as being sentient or worthy of compassion. He criticizes a grad student for getting the gender of a rat wrong when she observes the rat is frightened. But, most of all, it is the end of the book that tells more about how Conly seems to feel: Dr. Schultz, after failing to exterminate the rats of NIMH, notes the dead animals as “perfectly healthy.” Which, of course, they are not. Not now. But, for the experiment’s purposes, for the “reporting” purposes, the rats that he has deliberately caused to die… knowingly…. are “healthy.” Healthy in terms of the Fitzgibbons’ concern about rabies, but also healthy in terms of the only measures of health considered important to the results. Sarah Conly, in her essay “Intelligence and Utopia in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH ,” notes the willingness of the scientists to “attack with cyanide gas a group of rats they believe to be as intelligent as themselves.”
I dedicated my research to Conly because I felt like he got it right. He’s not anti-science – not in any of his books. What he speaks to is the ability of some to turn off feelings and compassion in pursuit of some perceived “better state” of things – the ability to rationalize one’s way through anything at all. He saw past the human desire to simply treat ethics as something that can be reduced to some sort of quantifiable litmus test. Conly didn’t introduce “superhuman” elements into the stories because he needed them to retain the level of “realism” needed to keep the reader actively engaged in trying to question the ethics of the surrounding actions. There was no easy “good” or “evil,” but a seemingly infinite number of shades of human grey.
I find it interesting that Mr. Conly is still challenging me to think about and rethink about the perceptions of “humanity” and “ethics” in his books. Perhaps not many people are comfortable in a world in which things cannot be quickly and easily be categorized…. I am not comfortable in a world where they can be. A false sense of security is no sense of security at all.
Even now, many years later, after the research, I still have trouble figuring out just where I feel Dr. Calhoun fell on the Dr. Schultz scale, and perhaps it is both humbling and important to remember that living with ambiguity is sometimes preferred to living where one is simply “sure of it all.” If we do not closely examine our held beliefs, we may find we believe in nothing solid at all.
Did you know that Robert Conly (Robert C. O’Brien) worked for the National Geographic Society? Did you also know that his book was at least partially inspired by the work of John B. Calhoun? Dr. Calhoun was studying what happens to societies when they can have everything they want except space from constant contact with others. Although the results were horrifying (rodent lovers beware), Calhoun was a huge proponent of compassion as the way to preserve the future of America and the world. He spoke against the extermination of rats – providing expert testimony, including defending rats for their positive features.
I remain mixed on all of this… Calhoun was a bit like Schultz in the sense that we was able to go “clinical” (or should we say sociopathic to some degree?) and watch these poor animals break down and suffer…. even harming each other (which Calhoun stated was NOT normal for rats). On the other hand, he was willing to defend rats and fervently believed in compassion being our saving grace. Calhoun even wrote about this to Nixon and presidential candidates.
P.S. About two years ago or so, the great people at National Geographic Archives allowed me to visit and take a look at their Conly files. One of the BEST days of my life.
I first became familiar with the idea of formalized humane education when I studied Caroline Earle White during my undergraduate studies in history. White and others sought to increase the power and presence of kindness in society by reaching out to children and teaching them compassion and empathy at an early age. Perhaps the most famous example of such education in the United States was Our Dumb Animals which was published by George T. Angell’s Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (https://bekindexhibit.org/exhibition/publications/our-dumb-animals/), however, White, too, worked hard to create publications to educate children and adults on animal rights issues.*
So, needless to say, I was quite excited to be informed of an opportunity to see such work being promoted today!
Yesterday, I had the honor of attending a fantastic workshop put on by Zoe Weil of The Institute for Humane Education (humaneeducation.org). The workshop featured her book The World Becomes What We Teach and introduced humane educators and advocates of humane education to the concept of creating “Solutionaries.” The workshop raises important questions about the history and purpose of education, and asks participants how to visualize how to change the nature of education in order to create hope for a more positive and kind (and existent!) world. The workshop consisted of information and exercises that put us through our own paces as “Solutionaries” and showed how empowering children and young people with the tools needed to affect REAL change is the best “game changer” of all.
I also highly recommend her book for you or for anyone who is looking to encourage young people to make change:
I was delighted at the size of our group – I would say about 30 people – and the wide variety of attendees. Classroom teachers, zoo volunteers, employees of humane societies, veterinarians – these were just a few of the great people I got to speak with. We participated in fun and active exercises as well as splitting into teams of “Solutionaries” to address issues we selected. I almost didn’t write mine down, which was the expansion of the Animal Welfare Act to include rats, mice, birds, and farm animals, but I did. Even better, there were others who also expressed enough interest to make it a group! I kept the diagrams and materials we produced for the work – I plan on referring to it/incorporating it into future work I may do on the subject.
The most important thing I took away from my full day (it was from 9am to 5 pm) was HOPE. I know it’s always been hard to keep up hope, but it has been becoming increasingly more difficult for many of us since the changes that began in 2016. Zoe Weil and The Insititute for Humane Education are releasing their brand new website in two days – a website that will offer a 90-page guidebook for creating “Solutionaries” that will be available free of charge to anyone interested in putting this fantastic plan into action.
A HUGE thank you to The Detroit Zoo ( https://detroitzoo.org/ ) and The Institute for Humane Education for their generous time, resources, and passion for making this world a better place!
You know what’s interesting about the study? Well, maybe about what they discovered? That rats find learning new tasks relieve stress. I will tell you, honestly, my love affair with rats was the only time I’ve believed in love at first site. When I met one, their clear intelligence and curiosity was just one of the many things that won me over. I always enjoy when rat research shows positive things about rats – who are often vilified – but at the same time, I feel disheartened because I know that rats (as well as mice and birds) are not offered the same protections other animals are offered under the Animal Welfare Act. I respect those who have put guidelines in place to prevent animal suffering and I am heartened by moves to alternate models, but progress takes time.
All of that aside, I still find it’s incredibly cute to watch a rat get into a little car and go after their treats (which of course, they would be inclined to share with friends( https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21256-rats-free-each-other-from-traps-then-share-chocolate/ ). I also felt like it was a good time to extract just my Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH chapter from my thesis in case anyone felt like taking a look. (IMPORTANT: This excerpt, as it appears in my thesis is FULL of citations and references that can be seen in my thesis. I have omitted them for readability.)
Chapter Two: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
The story was part of a book of essays, and the reason I had read it so eagerly was that it was called “The Rat Race” – which, I learned, means a race where no matter how fast you run, you don’t get anywhere. But there was nothing in the book about rats, and I felt bad about the title because, I thought, it wasn’t a rat race at all, it was a People Race, and no sensible rats would ever do anything so foolish.
Called “[i]ngenious, credible, and sometimes moving” in Children’s Books of International Interest, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH has been, ever since its release, praised highly by scholars and reviewers of children’s literature. In 1985, Alethea K Helbig called Mrs. Frisby “a combination of science fiction and animal fantasy” that described “fantastic situations with scientific accuracy. Scholar Paula T. Connolly noted the book for Conly’s “gradations of moral understanding and culpability” while dealing with “such problematic issues as the roles of science and technology, identity, idealism, family life, forms of community and means of survival.” The positive reviews for Conly’s pivotal work seem endless, as do the number of issues the ambitious Conly set out to address in the novel.
Of Conly’s four books, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is not only the most well- known, but it is also the book which addresses the broadest range of social issues. It also almost didn’t come to pass. Conly began writing his most famous book in November 1967, while working on The Silver Crown, and had almost abandoned the book in March 1968 – after only two chapters. Then, in 1969, Conly’s work with National Geographic took him to the laboratories of John B. Calhoun, a behaviorist researcher who worked for the National Institutes for Mental Health. Calhoun, who was then doing research on the improvement of intellectual capacities in rats, had been well-known in the 1960s for his work on overcrowding and his development of the concept of societal breakdown which he called the “Behavioral Sink.” The visit would “set him thinking.” That fateful meeting may have been the spark that would lead to the creation of a tale that would address American concerns about genetic engineering and technological materialism.
The Biological Time Bomb, written
by Gordon Rattray Taylor and released in 1968, is notable for its intent to
bring the ethical concerns of biological engineering to the public at large.
Geneticist and philosopher C.H. Waddington, author of books such as The Ethical Animal (1960) and Biology, Purpose and Ethics (1971)
included the following passage in the review of Taylor’s book in The New York Review of Books:
His book is in fact the first major exposition, addressed to the general public, of questions which are going to be very much with us in the next few decades. The main question his book raises is simple to state, and very difficult to deal with. It is that the pursuit of knowledge eventually brings the power to control the subjects the knowledge is about; and power can be used for many purposes, including undesirable or evil ones as well as good. Taylor’s aim is to show that biological knowledge is on the point of presenting us with powers that might be as double-edged as the control of atomic energy proved to be.
In The Biological Time Bomb, Taylor warns that the privileged reputation of the scientist as a “miracle worker” could eventually become one of a “mad engineer, applying his arcane knowledge regardless of the human consequences, causing disasters, manufacturing monsters, prepared even to move the earth from its course or extinguish the sun to test his theories.” Books such as Taylor’s often used the words of scientists to support their assertions. For example, Taylor quoted famed geneticist Francis Crick, who suggested that “the development of biology is going to destroy to some extent our traditional grounds for ethical beliefs.” James T. Patterson, in his non-fiction book about the 1960s The Eve of Destruction, quoted the words of scientist Rollin Hotchkiss who ominously predicted that research into the manipulation of DNA could not be stopped. “It will surely be done or attempted,” Hotchkiss said, adding that “[t]he pathway will be built from a combination of altruism, private profit, and ignorance.”
It is important to note here that Dr. Schultz and his graduate students in Conly’s book are not the mad, sadistic scientists portrayed by the 1982 Bluth film, The Secret of NIMH. Conflation of the two movies often gives Conly an unfair reputation for being virulently anti-scientist and anti-science. This point is reiterated by reviewers of the text who deride the movie for muddling the subtle commentary that Conly provided in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Part of the effectiveness of the book lies in its portrayal of real-life issues in shades of grey, not in black and white. Paula R. Connolly supported this view when she said that “[d]espite O’Brien’s obvious criticisms of the overambitious goals of science and the dangers of experimentation, he is careful not to provide facile characterizations of scientists.” Nevertheless, the book was not well- received in scientific circles. Catherine L. Elick cites a Science magazine article in which authors Deborah Runkle and Ellen Granger attacked “juvenile magazine articles and novels like Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” for “propagandizing” children and accused “teachers of subjects other than science” of “promoting the animal rights agenda during a discussion of civil rights.” The Smithsonian Institution, which included the book in a teaching list about animal research issues, also gained the ire of the American Association for the Advancement of Science whose members felt the book was an unbalanced attack on scientific research.
Conly’s book, indeed, does not condone Dr. Schultz and experimentation he conducts on the rats. It is his subtlety, which, in fact, makes the message more effective: Alethea K. Helbig describes Dr. Schultz as having a “cold, dispassionate manner [which] increases the horror of what may happen. Conly’s daughter, in her essay “Intelligence and Utopia in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH ,” notes the willingness of the scientists to “attack with cyanide gas a group of rats they believe to be as intelligent as themselves.” Catherine L. Elick, in Talking Animals in Children’s Fiction, said that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH presented “not only a harsher view of humanity but also a stronger call to see animals as intelligent, rights-bearing individuals.” She also alludes to Shelley’s Frankenstein, proposing that “Dr. Frankenstein’s inexorable hunt for his creature through frozen wastes” parallels the attempt to exterminate the rats of NIMH.” The literate rats of NIMH are well-aware of their differences to regular rats, noticing the changes in their size and intelligence, as well as the ways in which their former brethren seem to be intimidated by them. This is clear in a discussion between Nicodemus and Jenner in which Nicodemus says:
The real point is this: We don’t know where to go because we don’t know what we are…. But the fact is, we aren’t rats any more. We’re something Dr. Schultz has made…Where does a group of civilized rats fit in?
is another possible reason, however, that Conly’s scientist chooses to be
willing to attempt to exterminate the possibly re-discovered rats of NIMH
rather than capture the rats under the Fitzgibbon rosebush at the conclusion of
the book. Many animal experiments, including those in the fields of genetic
engineering, end in the purposeful deaths of the animals in order that the
scientists can then dissect the corpses in order to learn the effects of the
experiments upon the physiology of the animal. This practice, which still
occurs today, is done not only in the name of scientific analysis, but simply
because any additional upkeep of laboratory animals post- experiment is viewed
as too costly.
Materialism – and the thing about “things” – is another of Mrs. Frisby’s major foci. Alexis de Tocqueville, in now famous observations of mid-nineteenth American culture, declared that materialism was a “dangerous disease of the human mind,” a phrase which closely resembles Nicodemus’s own talk of “a feeling of discontent [which] settled upon us like some creeping disease.” Nicodemus was here describing the feeling of the rats after they had given themselves every gadget and luxury in their home beneath the Fitzgibbon rosebush.
America, too, was feeling some of this malaise, as evident in the anti-materialist sentiment that rose to the forefront in 1960s counterculture. By the 1960s, the proliferation of technology led to a whole new facet to such materialism. Elaine Taylor, in The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home, stated that Richard Nixon linked “consumer aspirations to scientific expertise” in 1959. An exchange between President Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, now immortalized as the “Kitchen Debate,” featured a Nixon who trumpeted the capabilities of American technology against a Khrushchev who jokingly asked the President if the United States had “a machine that puts food in the mouth and pushes it down?” Ruth Schwartz Cohen’s More Work for Mother noted that American affluence wasn’t just indicated by the typical signs of wealth such as home size and automobile make, but also by “toilets, refrigerators, and washing machines.” Popular culture, too, expressed a sense of malaise with materialism, such as in the Monkees’ 1967 hit, “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday,” in which the singer laments that “[c]reature comfort goals, they only numb my soul” and “make it hard for me to see.” Anti-materialism was a prominent theme in 1960s counterculture, with many members eschewing such consumerism and advocating a return to a simpler life, including those which advocated a return to the land.
Anthropologist Loren Eiseley’s The Immense Journey (1962) opens with a chapter in which the author describes himself observing a community: “[L]istening to the talk ringing out from neighbor to neighbor” and “seeing the inhabitants drowsing in their doorways.” It is not a human city, Eiseley reveals, but “prairie dog town.” Eiseley then relates a tale of human evolution in which the roles of rodents and the early primates play pivotal roles. Eiseley describes the rodent predecessor as a “shabby little Paleocene rat, eternal tramp and world wanderer” and the “father of all mankind.” Using detailed scientific language, Eiseley suggests that without these rodents, the early primates would have remained tree-dwelling mammals.
Compare Eiseley’s theories in The Immense Journey to the following passage from Mrs. Frisby:
But there was one book, written by a famous scientist, that had a chapter about rats. Millions of years ago, he said, rats seemed to be ahead of all the other animals, seemed to be making a civilization of their own. They were well-organized and built quite complicated villages in the fields. The descendants today are the rats known as prairie dogs. But somehow it didn’t work out. The scientist thought maybe it was because the rats’ lives were too easy; while the other animals (especially the monkeys) were living in the woods and getting tougher and smarter, the prairie dogs grew soft and lazy and made no more progress. Eventually the monkeys came out of the woods, walking on their hind legs, and took over the prairies and almost everything else. It was then that the rats were driven to become scavengers and thieves, living on the fringes of a world run by men.
Rats taken out of the wild and kept in captivity had also been observed to undergo profound changes. In Mankind Evolving (1962), Theodosius Dobzhansky concluded that the laboratory rats of the mid-twentieth century had undergone significant evolutionary changes since being sequestered from their wild cousins in the mid nineteenth-century. Because the lab rats’ “struggle for survival no longer exist[ed]” they exhibited “smaller adrenal glands and less resistance to stress, fatigue, and disease than wild rats.” Such observations could have influenced Conly’s work. This can be seen in Dr. Schultz’s dialogue with the men who have trapped Nicodemus and the other city rats. When one of the men reports to Dr. Schultz that the wild rats seemed “almost tame,” Schultz replies, “I hope not. I already have enough tame ones.”
had been other twentieth-century books that had included rats and mice in
discussions of science and technology and its effect on human civilization,
including Doctor Dolittle’s Zoo (1925)
and Flowers for Algernon (1966). It
seems likely that the character of Nicodemus may have been inspired in part by
a rat in Doctor Doolittle’s Zoo. In a
story called “The Volcano Rat,” the leader of the rat and mice complain of how
he fears “rat and mouse civilization” may regress due to its proximity to
humans and their technology. He calls the rats and mice who want to continue to
live in this way “parasites,” a description that resembles Nicodemus’s
assertion that to stay on the Fitzgibbon farm would make the rats like fleas on
drowning dog.59 The story also includes a white mouse – a possible inspiration for Mr. Ages, the white mouse who, along with Mr. Frisby, escapes from the lab with the rats of NIMH. However, Conly’s book takes the story much farther, making a far more comprehensive commentary on the rodents’ situation, and, rather than leaving the story in dystopia, creates a path toward utopia in Thorn Valley.
materialism was not only dangerous to a species’ evolutionary progress,
according to Nicodemus, but it also had dangerous implications for the
allegory of “Keeping up with the Joneses” reveals that the damage caused by
materialism is far greater than that of the dent in the pocketbook, but
I was reminded of a story I had read at the Boniface Estate when I was looking for things written about rats. It was about a woman in a small town who bought a vacuum cleaner. Her name was Mrs. Jones, and up until then she, like all of her neighbors, had kept her house spotlessly clean by using a broom and a mop. But the vacuum cleaner did it faster and better, and soon Mrs. Jones was the envy of all the other housewives in town – so they all bought vacuum cleaners, too. The vacuum cleaner business was so brisk, in fact, that the company that made them opened a branch factory in town. The factory used a lot of electricity, of course, and so did the women with their vacuum cleaners, so the local electric power company had to put up a big new plant to keep them all running. In its furnaces the power plant burned coal, and out of its chimneys black smoke poured day and night, blanketing the town with soot and making all the floors dirtier than ever. Still, by working twice as hard and twice as long, the women of the town were able to keep their floors almost as clean as they had been before Mrs. Jones ever bought a vacuum cleaner in the first place.
Compare this to
a passage from French technology-critic Jacques Ellul’s description of the
problems of household technology from his book, The Technological Society:
For example, to make housework easier, garbage-disposal units have been put into use which allow the garbage to run off through the kitchen sinks. The result is enormous pollution of the rivers. It is then necessary to find some new means of purifying the rivers so that water can be used for drinking. A great quantity of oxygen is required for the bacteria to destroy these organic materials. And how shall we oxygenate the rivers? This is an example of the way technology engenders itself.
including American President John F. Kennedy, were also thinking about the
effects of science and technology on the environment – in no small part because
of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The
work which was first serialized in The
New Yorker and eventually published in 1962, immediately gained wide
readership and bestseller status. Her whistleblowing on the pesticide industry
may have gained her friends, but it also gave her dire enemies. The book is
considered the spark for the environmental movement which would fully emerge
with vigor in the 1970s.
Overall, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, served to provide children with a fully- fleshed out story, replete with messages of friendships and the importance of community, with a sub-story of far deeper implications. As in his other books, Conly’s sense of concern for humanity’s future in the face of rapidly expanding science and technology rings clear, giving both children, and, in some cases, their parents, much to think about and discuss.
“Inhumane Humanitarianism:” The Work of Caroline Earle White and H.G. Wells
“Many good people who abhor ordinary cruelty stultify their judgment concerning the extraordinary and feel rebuked when “the good of humanity” is hurdled at them as a telling argument; and when it is hinted that they are hysterical and indulge sickly sentimentality, they are silenced.” American Anti-Vivisection Society Journal of Zoophily , Volume IV, No. 4, 1895, Pg. 46
“To be kind to the race – to save it from self-destructive over-individuation.… This kind-to-be-cruel policy they formulate as that of “inhumane humanitarianism”…In a word, they are pitilessly benevolent (1933b:346). As ethical revolutionaries, they “see things unfeelingly” (1937c:72), with “cold inhuman clearness” (1933c:46). Given scientific self-discipline, they possess the “rational insensitiveness to get facts as facts and not as dreads and horrors” *1937c:72)” (49) Leon Stover on the Works and Philosophies of H.G. Wells pg. 49
A number of theories have been brought forward by historians of the anti-vivisection and animal rights movements to explain its apparent disappearance from the annals of American and English culture, in the early-twentieth century. Some attempted to explain this disappearance as a result of the Great War, while others would argue that it was the advent of anesthesia that had taken the ‘sting’ out of the opposition to the practice. In comparing the works, both fictional and non-fictional, of Caroline Earle White, the founder of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society, alongside the fictional and non-fictional works of the well-known H.G. Wells, another factor presents itself for consideration, and one that would have implications far beyond the perception of the ‘worth’ of animals, but would have terrible implications for human relations as well – eugenics-based beliefs that would take root in the United States and ultimately manifest itself horrifically in the Holocaust. In both fictional and nonfictional works, are reflected their differing beliefs on what it mean to be “humanitarian” to all life.
In the consideration of both pain and the ‘humane motive’ in the nineteenth-century England and the United States, the morality of slavery became a point of fiery contention, featuring two sides that each claimed “God” and “humanity” were on their side. Historian Margaret Abruzzo aptly observes in her book, Polemical Pain, that “[T]he messy history of humanitarianism within the slavery debate reveals the limitations of a humanitarian ethic and the difficulty of resting moral judgments solely on objections to pain.” However, even after ethics of the slavery question had resolved, the Gilded Age would bring more sharply racial, economic, ethnic and gender divides than ever before, and, combined with Darwin’s recent theory of natural selection, emerging eugenicists continued where the pro-slavers left off. Opacity became the new rule, and those who would continue to vivisect both animals and people depended on the ability to cloak their behaviors; something never available to the slaveholder. H.G. Wells, although a ‘staple’ of science-fiction reading lists, considered himself a ‘new Puritan,’ and believed firmly in “inhumane humanitarianism.” His Island of Doctor Moreau was not a cautionary tale, as had been Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but, rather, a novelization of some of his most deeply held beliefs in what he felt would create the ‘perfect society.’ An ardent vivisectionist, he was the antithesis of Caroline Earle White and her allies, whose work to world cultural values.
Prendick, the leading character of The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Hargrave, of Love in the Tropics bear similar may feelings toward their fates at first glance, but even then their inner resolve shows some hint of things to come. Whereas Hargrave weeps, but “[A]fter a time, however, different feelings awoke in my breast. I was young and strong, and the love of life stirred within me, impelling me to preserve my existence,” Prendick bears less resilience and more bitterness. “I was empty and very faint, or I should have had more heart. But as it was I suddenly began to sob and weep, as I had never done since I was a little child. The tears ran down my face. In a passion of despair I struck with my fists at the water in the bottom of the boat, and kicked savagely at the gunwale. I prayed aloud for God to let me die…..,” read the words of Prendick. Each speaks of heart, but within Hargrave, there is, indeed, ‘love of life.’ At the surface, it may seem that these two passages may bear little reflection on the stories to come, however, their significance in regard to the way in which both writers saw ‘life’ would become far more clear.
In dealing first with the issue of cruelty to animals, the views of these two Gilded Age thinkers, there is certainly transparency. Wells had gone as far as to debate George Bernard Shaw on the issue of animal experimentation. Wells and his beliefs would remain a target of criticism of thinkers such as George Orwell. In response to Wellsian theory that “The modern state must apply the “good, scientifically caused pain” (1901a:325) of “social surgery” for the “maximum elimination of its feeble and spiritless folk” (1905c:141f),” Orwell replied that in Wellsian literature: “”one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past…. History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. [Orwell 1941: 169] (26)”” In an interesting twist, Wells once considered himself the defender of vivisection in a debate against George Bernard Shaw, who he termed a sentimentalist. However, in this debate, Wells would consider Pavlov the better many because of his animal experimentation. In truth, Pavlov was a great advocate for overhauling the vivisection system, opposing it not only for ethical reasons, but because pain would contaminate the results. Moreau showed no such concern with his House of Pain. White may have consistently reminded opponents that she was opposed only to ‘painful’ vivisection on animals, Wells gave absolutely no ground.
In regard to the issue of pain, it is not only a question of whether pain is allowed to be inflicted, but rather, what the very nature of pain was. White’s view, incorporating her feelings regarding the practice as follows:
“No one would maintain that we were justified in either robbing or murdering a large number of poor people in order to confer a great benefit upon a large portion of the human race; then why are we justified in inflicting such indescribable tortures upon poor, helpless animals that happen to be in our power? It is just as much of one of God’s laws that we should be merciful as that we should not steal or murder; and is it merciful to cut up sentient creatures alive and torment them in every possible way that the imagination of the vivisector can devise? (9)”
Prendick, who does, to the reader, offer a modicum of resistance to Moreau, at first, does ask Moreau the application of such infliction of pain. Moreau replies in a way that both agrees and yet denies the presence of pain as it exists in Moreau’s work:
“So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you; so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin,—so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels. This pain… Oh, but it is such a little thing! A mind truly opened to what science has to teach must see that it is a little thing. It may be that save in this little planet, this speck of cosmic dust, invisible long before the nearest star could be attained—it may be, I say, that nowhere else does this thing called pain occur.”
A compatriot of Wells in the fight against the anti-vivisection movement, and an equally enthusiastic proponent of eugenics was Dr. Alexis Carrel. Carrel received the Nobel Prize despite protests from members of the anti-vivisection movement. Carrel’s own former medical brethren constantly challenged his results, however, he found a home with the Rockefeller Institute, and, later, in Vichy France where it is believed he continued his open avocation of eugenics. The Rockefeller Farm, a bugbear of White’s, became one of the sources of her most bitter defeat. Her protests against the ‘lab animal farm’ were banned from discussion by political intrigue between Dr. W.W. Keen, a fierce White opponent, President Taft and the complicit cooperation of the President of the American Humane Association.
Slavery may have ended, but imperialism certainly hadn’t, and as imperialism was a mainstay of both England and the United States, it isn’t terribly surprising that the idea of valuing one human life over another wouldn’t be extinguished along with formal practices of slavery. Despite the common accusations that the anti-vivisectionists did not care about humanity, and placed animals above them, consistent research of the movement reveals otherwise. Caroline Earle White was constantly refuting this idea, and a poignant example of her compassion toward people can be found in the introduction to her (FIRST) novel, Love in the Tropics:
“As I know… that a book stands of falls upon its merits alone, I will merely say that, whatever be its fate, it will not have entirely failed if it bring home to the minds of my readers what I believe to be certain truth, that as warm a heart, as noble a nature, and as bright an intellect may be found under a yellow, or brown, or a black skin as under a white one. (iii-iv)”
As in The Island of Doctor Moreau, Love in the Tropics begins with a shipwreck near islands generally inhabited by Polynesians. White portrays them as a kind and beautiful people. Wells may remain neutral (at best) when it comes to the Kanakas of Moreau’s Isle, derogatory terms, but his real world feelings toward the people of Polynesia are not so subtle, saying that “That large, naked, virtuous, pink, Natural Man, drinking pure spring water, eating the fruits of the earth, and living to ninety in the open air is a fantasy; he never was nor will be. The real savage is a nest of parasites within and without, he smells, he rots, he starves… As for his moral integrity, let the curious inquirer seek an account of the Tasmanian, or the Australian, or the Polynesian before “sophistication” came. (16)””
Even as the indigenous peoples in both of these books would have been perceived as significantly different in the eyes of White and Wells, the idea of ‘womanhood’ would also bear marked differences. Moreau’s Prendick even sees gendered differences among the beast people, ascribing to them descriptions such as “these weird creatures—the females, I mean—had in the earlier days of my stay an instinctive sense of their own repulsive clumsiness, and displayed in consequence a more than human regard for the decency and decorum of extensive costume.” White’s ‘leading lady’ of Love in the tropics, on the other hand, is treated positively. The native woman “wore a sulu of the finest native cloth, which reached from her waist below her knees, and was ornamented with the feathers of various birds. Around her wrists and ankles she had circlets of shells. (29)” Polygamy too is addressed, and though neither White nor Wells condone it, there is a distinctly different flavor to the choices of wording made to approve or disapprove of the choices. White, who was certainly the more religiously affiliated of the two, is kinder regarding the practice in Paloa, stating that “polygamy was practiced among the men of distinction in Paloa, but that Owahi, with the good sense and moderation which distinguished all his proceedings, chose to confine himself to two wives. (25)” Wells, however, not only leaves the males out of the system of polygamy, but unsubtly implicates the females as the instigators. “Some of them—the pioneers in this, I noticed with some surprise, were all females—began to disregard the injunction of decency, deliberately for the most part. Others even attempted public outrages upon the institution of monogamy. The tradition of the Law was clearly losing its force. I cannot pursue this disagreeable subject.”
As one investigates more deeply into both stories, and the passions that drove each of these ‘humanitarians,’ the religious focus of Wells versus the minimal reference of religion to the otherwise more religious White starts to lose much of its mystery. In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the idea that even humanity should be subject to shaping and vivisection is but alluded to. However, Wells himself put no such subtleties into his words when expressing his own beliefs. Whereas he stated that “the new Puritans are necessarily cruel to individuals. This kind-to-be-cruel policy they formulate as that of “inhumane humanitarianism” which , in their “obliteration of out-of-date moral values,” White, for her part was confronting a Christian clergyman (and doctor) who preached that vivisection with a worthy purpose was not cruel, White replied by asking:
“But who, I will ask, is to be the judge of the purpose and the motive? Are a few powerful men united in the pursuit of any object, who claim that their motive sanctifies their action, to be allowed to inflict atrocities upon helpless creatures, either human beings or the lower animals? Do we think at the present time that Philip II of Spain was justified in burning alive heretics and schematics, as it is said he did? Yet he had a far greater motive than the vivisectors of today, for they say they are only trying to save our bodies, while he hoped to save souls. Were Cotton Mather and his colleagues justified in burning or in defending the burning of witches at the stake, and were our Puritan ancestors who fled from religious persecution in England justified, after they had obtained power in this country, in flogging and even putting to death the innocent, gentle Quakers?“
However, Wells was far from alone as an advocate for scientific betterment of mankind at any cost. White reported, in her Journal of Zoophily, that the “cruelty of the dog and ear grafting in which Dr. Carrel cut off dogs’ legs and ears and put legs and ears from other animals in their stead was described by sworn witnesses who were at the Rockefeller, who mentioned it was “awful.” Indeed, one or two of the attendants left the institute because they could not endure the sight of so much suffering.” This was not a false flag, and that can be seen clearly through Moreau. When questioned by Prendick regarding the scope of his work and his goals, the vivisectors replies:
“All in good time,” said he, waving his hand at me; “I am only beginning. Those are trivial cases of alteration. Surgery can do better things than that. There is building up as well as breaking down and changing…This is a kind of grafting in a new position of part of an animal upon itself. …,—monsters manufactured.”
In examining the works and beliefs of both sides of the vivisection debate, one sees some of the same arguments which led to two sides of a story claiming moral victory, and arguing pain in disturbingly flexible terms. However, once slavery disappeared, the movement to alleviate the pain and suffering of both animals and the marginalized members of society continued. The key to implementing ‘inhumane humanitarianism’ was not openly asking people to believe that pain was good, rather, it was to be achieved either by convincing people to look the other way either out of selfishness and fear or to never give them the choice at all. In a world of ag-gag laws and distant sweatshops, we can see what appears to be a primarily successful outcome of silencing, discrediting or keeping evidence of what could be considered ‘unethical’ behavior out of the hands of those whom would share it. Fortunately for society, that level of opacity is becoming more and more difficult to maintain.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. Martin Niemöller
On a fateful day in 2013, a new adventure started for me. I had already been a rat advocate, as well as adoring other rodents, but I took a little course called “Animals and Human Civilization” – taught by the amazing Boria Sax (check out his books!). We had to pick out a book to read in relation to the course and I decided it was finally time to read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I had always loved animals and wanted to work on their behalf – ALL ANIMALS, not just the charismatic ones – and I was sort of surprised by what I was learning in my late-life undergraduate studies: It was in to be worried about animal welfare in academia. It sure hadn’t been that was when I graduated high school in 1992. Back then animal advocates were often painted as unbalanced people who didn’t get along much with other humans and who foolishly “anthropomorphized” things like emotions onto non-human animals.
What was I expecting? A light little romp, honestly. What I got was the work of a brilliant man who was worried about all aspects of life. Philoshopher, poet, and a little too well-informed about current events to be blithely optimistic about a human future unchecked by ethics. I can’t even bear to think of what he’d think about today’s world…
Anyway, I keep digressing. Here’s the truth, gang: I have always been concerned about non-human animal abuse and lab testing. I’ve never believed it would be possible to completely eliminate it, and people get REALLY defensive and angry if they even think you’re thinking it, but it used too often, sometimes for frivolous studies, and, on top of all that, the Animal Welfare Act does not consider rats, mice, and birds “animals.” Yep, you read that right – that means they don’t have to consider the suffering of these species. I won’t get into the realities for the sake of the weak at heart, but just trust me on this one. Also, don’t start asking me to compare the values of lives. I just told you I know that I don’t believe it can be eliminated, so that’s my final answer. I won’t die (or be murdered) on that hill.
What’s been interesting, though, is the fact that when I would explain the inspiration for my thesis, people (including my advisor) just assumed it was all about animal testing (which it was not) – a point I was trying to make to anyone who would listen AND here. There was plenty here about Conly’s primary focus – which was human civilization. Conly wasn’t an animals right activist, although he did have a respect for animals. Secret of NIMH removed all the other stuff and then went extreme with the testing angle in a way that would cause any research scientist to automatically assume that Conly’s work was just completely anti-science.
NOW, here I sit, about six months after graduating with my Master’s thesis and I am just going to tell you straight out – YES, I freaking care a lot of about the treatment of rats and rodents. I do want most of it eliminated. Go on – go out there and tell people I’m a bit of an animal activist.
Do me another favor: Tell people about how awesome rats are (or learn about them). Don’t fall for the horror-hype and, also, be prepared for the invasive species stuff. But before you say: “Yes, they are invasive and wipe out other species,” you better realize you-who-is-not-without-sin better not cast the first stone. They survived because they’re adaptable and because we’re bloody filthy. *steps off of soap box, breathing hard*
*ahem* A great place to learn about how cool rats are – or to take your kids to learn about how cool they are – is at the Smithsonian National Zoo in D.C. They have a HUGE area for the rats to run around in and tons of great information about the positive things about rats. I’m not kidding – I almost cried when I saw the display. As you can see, I came dressed for the occasion.
So, yes, Arahshiel Silver cares an awful lot about animals and about reducing animal testing. She cares an awful lot about the suffering of these animals who science is just getting around to “proving” can suffer and have positive affects and emotions.
So yes, you can call me the animal lover. But you should also realize that I also study the facts and don’t promote hyperbole. At this point though, does anyone even pay attention to facts any more? What I do pay attention to is the very real connection I feel with my rats and other non-human animals. Both Caroline Earle White and Robert Leslie Conly had empathy for human animals AND non-human animals. It’s not an either/or proposition.
Note: This was taken from my rough book draft, so please excuse any typos.
1880 – “If you get into any trouble, I’ll see you through”. (419)” T.B. Miller to undercover reporters investigating the selling of medical diplomas
In 1880, the London edition of Puck Magazine published a cartoon entitled “The Philadelphia Physician Factory.” The cartoon, and the scandal which inspired it, was originally published in the American version of the magazine and was an embarrassing indication that the undisputed center of the budding medical profession in the United States was riddled with problems. Ultimately, however, the existence of such a scandal shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise in 1880 as it would to 21st-century eyes. Historian Harold J. Abrams said of early Philadelphia physician education that the city had set the standard and that the requirements for the M.D. required that students attend schooling for only “two winters and take each professor’s course of lectures. This pedagogic foible, at first justified as an expediency, became by 1820 the universal practice in American medical schools because it was the custom in Philadelphia. (23)”
The scandal, which saw the light of day only because members of the Philadelphia press had taken the initiative to investigate the rumors surrounding the selling of medical diplomas, cast a shadow not only on the reputation of those who practiced medicine in Philadelphia, but also in the United States. In Abraham’s wonderful and impressively-detailed work, The Extinct Medical Schools of Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia, the complex webs of deception and corruptions are described. It was on February 27, 1880 that the revelations began. Two reporters from The Philadelphia Record would contact the Dean of the Philadelphia University of Medicine and Surgery. For the mere fee of $100 each (plus some textbooks), Miller promised that he could make them practitioners of medicine, with no actual formal schooling. Diplomas would be provided, with one of three institutions listed on the document: The Philadelphia University of Medicine and Surgery, the Quaker City Business College of the Arts and Sciences or the Pennsylvania Medical University. Seals were to be applied to the certificates the next day. For Miller, however, that was the end of his giving – the next day he would receive the news that the two ‘students’ were undercover reporters and that his activities had been discovered.
Miller would not be the only ‘physician’ revealed as charlatan in the course of the scandal however, with other major players, Dr. Buchanan and Dr. Paine, also unveiled in the New York Times and the Chester Times in the same year. “There are some names uncomfortably near this city, whose owners’ cheeks will tingle when they see their names in print, reads the latter article, and the news would hardly be restricted to the localities in which they occurred. By July 30 word had been sent from Secretary of State William M. Evans to “Pennsylvania Governor H.M. Hoyt, urging him to take steps to prevent further damage to American medical institutions such as had been done by the sale abroad of fraudulent diplomas from the American University of Philadelphia. (449)
In 1882, another scandal would drape the Philadelphia medical community in shame and distrust. Dr. Forbes, ironically the same Dr. Forbes who created the Anatomy Act in order to secure an ample supply of ‘legal’ cadavers for medical research, was indicted for his collusion in the stealing of bodies from an African-American burial ground. To add appalling insult to profound injury, rather than providing apologies to the families, the students and Dr. Forbes showed abject disrespect to the aggrieved families.
for Dr. Forbes’ lecture to begin on December 7, the students yelled threats to
the reporters who had shown up, physically expelled several, and sang racist
songs threatening “niggers” with more body snatching. When the story
first broke at the college, one student was reported to have said, “I
shouldn’t mind if we were [mobbed]. There are 600 of us, and I guess we might
have some fun. We might make a few fresh stiffs too.”c
The same disrespectful behavior was also shown
at the trial As Alan Braddock writes, some of them mockingly
sang abolitionist songs and threatened black passersby near the medical college
with murder and dissection during the time of the trial. This wouldn’t be the first, or last, time that
some medical students and their faculty members took a callous view of life and
death, to the detriments of their own reputations.
Note: This was taken from my rough book draft, so please excuse any typos.
William Williams Keen – The Epitome of Brain without Heart
The speedy disposition of so many uninjected animals in summer, when the world was mainly done, presented many serious obstacles, until, at last, during the regime of one ingenious assistant (who generally superintended such matters), nothing was heard of them either in the way of trouble or expense. On inquiry, a true stroke of genius was discovered. The baggage trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad used to go out Market Street at night, and he simply tied them by a rope to the tail of the train. Those dogs never needed sepulture. (25-26)” Dr. William Williams Keen The History of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy and Its Relationship to Medical Teaching -1875
Of all those of the medical profession that would clash head-on with Caroline Earle White, Dr. William Williams Keen was the most outspoken and prolific. Dr. Keen, who was born in Philadelphia in 1837, just four years after White, is most well-known to medical historians for his work in brain surgery (he was purportedly the first brain surgeon in the United States) and his consultations with American presidents. Dr. Keen was an intimate of the Philadelphia medical ‘esprit de corps,’ and shared with them many views regarding vivisection, women and race. Not as frequently researched as other pro-vivisectionists of his time, such as S. Weir Mitchell (another fierce opponent of White), and Alexis Carrel, Keen’s memoirs are a revealing insight into an individual whose personal ethics were not as lofty he purported them to be.
One of the most telling lectures given by W.W. Keen that is documented in the records was given on March 1, 1875 at the dissolution of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy. The lecture, which intended to be a discussion of the school’s role in medical teaching included passages that were racist, insensitive, and in at least one case, supported the role of Dr. William S. Forbes, the creator of the Anatomy Act that Forbes would later be prosecuted from breaking. Along with Dr. Forbes, Keen would praise Dr. Agnew, a notorious misogynist; it was clear that within this inner circle, which would fall under dire scrutiny in the 1880 “Philadelphia Physician Factory” events, everyone was likely aware of the less than savory activities of their compatriots, at least so some degree.
Even more troubling, however, was the degree to which Keen showed openly his lack of respect toward human and animal life. Although it was fairly admitted by his own apologists that his sense of humor could be rather unsuited for pleasant company, his ‘jests’ in this speech cannot be accounted for as just mere lapses of judgment. This was more than gallows humor. Aside from the quote that opens this chapter, Keen also made a statement that belied his inherent racism:
“It can now be easily understood how
not so much even as a chip has ever been stolen from me with such occupants in
the building, both dead and alive, although the inhabitants of Chant Street,
when I first began, as Bret Harted described them, of “blazing
ruins,” and though the door has often gone unlocked and the cellar was
almost always accessible. Even a former office-boy (of African extraction)
could not be induced to put foot inside the building, alleging that “he’d
heerd of their layin’ for colored boys before now! (26)”
Considering the fact that this statement was made just five
years before Dr. Forbes and his unruly and racist students would mock the
African American families who sought justice for the instances of grave-robbing
that had affected their own families, it was not only an example of insensitive
humor, but a clear revelation of how African Americans and others were viewed
in the eyes of these ‘upstanding representatives’ of the medical community.
His antics with the dead bodies and his irreverence toward the feelings of those whom had not been deadened to empathy was defended by Lederer as not “further evidence of the demoralisation that vivisection necessarily entailed,” but, “rather than a means to alleviate anxiety. (247-8)”
However, the usage of humor and
‘pranks’ has often been used in the most malefic organizations to make
unethical deeds more palatable.
Take for example the tone of the
following passage, which, while it may have been amusing to the doctors involved
would have likely resulted in a lawsuit in our current times, had such details
“My friend Dr. Weir, of New York, tells an amusing
story of a patient he was once etherizing for the late Dr. Gordon Buck.
Touching the eye and finding no response from the lids, he said, “The
patient is ready, Dr. Buck.” At the first touch of the knife, the patient
drew the leg sharply away. ‘A little more ether, Dr.Weir,” said Buck.
Again, after the same test, “The patient is ready now, sire,” and
again the leg was drawn away. “Can’t you give the patient enough ether so
that I can operate, sir?” was the surgeon’s reproach. “But sir, the
corneal reflex is entirely gone” was the excuse tendered. “Which eye
did you test?” asked Buck. “The right eye, sire.” “Oh,
that’s a glass eye.” ((158=9)”
Another, perhaps unintentional, Keen apologist, Amy Werbel, in her book on the artist Thomas Eakins, described “William Williams Keen, Eakins’ colleague in teaching artistic anatomy, in particular shared “humorous” anecdotes in his copious writings,…Keen’s willingness to share amusement at the gory vision of a sawed-off head, jaws chomping and the comic relief of the brain finally “in hand,” indicates his expectation of an appreciative audience. (33)”
It was in this 1886 speech that White’s own words refute some scholar’s assessment of her as an extremist compared to other anti-vivisectionists such as Dr. Alfred Leffingwell (who actually worked closely with White for many years). Rather than exhibiting “stridency” when expressing her beliefs, as suggested by Dr. Susan E. Lederer in her work The Controversy Over Animal Experimentation in America, 1880-1914, White often expressed that she did not wish for a complete abolition of vivisection, but, rather, that experiments be conducted with attention paid to anaesthetization and transparency. “Dr. Henry J. Bigelow, of Boston, and Dr. Leffingwell (whom Lederer indicates was more moderate), both of whom I have quoted,” White stated in her address, “unite in believing that vivisectional experiments should be restricted to those that can be performed entirely without pain, by the through administration of anesthetics and the killing of the animal operated on, before the return of consciousness. (24)” While it is true that White’s AAVS had, for some time, advocated complete abolition, it was for a limited period of time.* * There is some suggestion that the decision to learn toward abolition was the result of another doctor’s letter to the AAVS, Dr. Matthew Wood. In Wood’s letter, he that stated he would ally with the group only if it worked to eliminate vivisection in its entirety.* Interestingly enough, it was Woods who later had to resign his position due to the fact that he felt he could get more done if not associated with the very AAVS he himself felt was once not abolitionist enough.
One of Keen’s most popular tactics when it came to White and the AAVS was to publicly state misrepresentations of facts. In 1893, he claimed that long time AAVS ally, Lawson Tait had “had recanted and had admitted that great benefits had been gained by vivisection, (82)” a statement which was later disproven by Tait’s own words. In a letter published by the Rock newspaper, “where he had been attacked by Mr. Horsley, on the 24th of Feburary, 1893, he stated this his “professional bretheren know perfectly well that he had not changed his mind on the subject of Vivisection. (31)” When denying the reality of Dr. Finger’s infamous experiments upon women who had given birth to children, Keen stated that the article that detailed the experiments were false, and that “No such paper by Finger is published in that journal, at least from 1890 to the present time.” However, the Journal of Zoophily called Keen’s bluff, producing the report which had been released in 1885. By dodging the dates, Keen attempted to lead people astray. In 1914, just months after the well-publicized trial of Dr. Sweet and four other University of Pennsylvania employees, Dr. Keen claimed “”minute care” [was] shown for animals by surgeons, physiologists and pathologists, when they have performed on them.”
Interestingly, in 1900, when Keen was President of the American Medical Association, “a Dr. Bernhein, of Philadelphia, presented to one of the Sections an account of some twelve experiments he had made upon human beings, — six upon a mulattoe and six on a “woman patient.”” Anti-vivisectionists openly stated while these were not the worst cases of human experimentation, it was troubling because of its “expressions of tendency toward that disregard of human rights which underlies all such experiments on the ignorant and poor.” Keen also discounted experimentation done on insane patients; explaining that “they were probably incurable,” and offered no further condemnation of the fact that poisonous substances were given to them.
Other doctors also were wary of Keen’s claims. In response to his article on brain surgery in Harper’s Magazine, an English surgeon stated “Dr. Keen would like us to believe, only one third reco ver, and of that third nearly every one is subsequently afflicted with paralysis. He adds that the treatment for abscesses of the brain, has been much more successful, but that in the localization necessary to this treatemnt, experiments upon animals have been of no use whatsoever. (105)” In 1903, Dr. Frank Woodbury, “although saying he did not like to be quoted in opposition to Dr. Keen” denied that Keen’s assertion that methods of brain localization was achieved solely through vivisection and said “Methods were long ago learned by the results of disease…. (5)” Others denied that surgery on dogs had helped improve surgery on humans, with Dr. Tait and Dr. Frederick Treves stating that such experiments had “led them astray” (CEW 125)” Dr. William Osler, when asked whether the abolition of Yellow Fever (an event trumpeted by Keen as an example of vivisection) had anything to do with animal testing, he replied “It is not absolutely, unless you speak of man as an animal. (12)”
When one doctor, who was certainly not a supporter of anti-vivisection, but was in support of regulation made the ‘mistake’ of saying that “the anti-vivisectionist agitation, ‘with all its expensiveness, idiocy, bad temper, untruth and vexatiousness,’ continued because the medical profession as an organized body refused to recognize the legitimacy of the concern for animal and failed to act responsibly by establishing a code of ethics, enforcing the rules and condemning those practitioners who transgressed, “Keen was wrathful. Like Ahab and the ‘Great White Whale,’ Keen “wrote letters to several anti-vivisectionist publications challenging the veracity of James’ assertions and continued in his own articles and books to dispute James’s reading of the corporate responsibilities of American physicians and physiologists.” For Keen, anti-vivisection and his personal animosity toward White would continue long after White’s death.
In 1910, it was Keen who had masterminded the silencing of anti-vivisection discussion at the meeting of the American Humane Association. Using his influence over President Taft (Keen was known as a doctor to at least six Presidents), he wrote to “[call] his attention to this and expressing the hope that he would not take such an anti-scientific (and also anti-human) attitude.* Taft not only agreed to block the discussion, but immediately sent a copy of his own letter to the President of the Humane Association (Dr. Stillman), who “pledged that no discussion of vivisection would be permitted at the congress.” Gloating in victory, Keen stated in his memoirs “Thus, fortunately, I was able to block their game. Dr. Stillman was true to his promise. But in their journals, the antivivisectionist fumed and frothed at being this muzzled. (215-216)”
*Again, another misrepresentation. Anti-vivisectionists were generally
not anti-human, and White most certainly cared about the lives of human beings.
In 1916, Keen attacked The Journal of Zoophily over an old interchange that had concerned testing of an antidote for snake bite. When White suggested antidotes to snake bites be researched and administered to those whom had been bitten, he failed to take her entire statement into context, and, instead, attempted to use one of the pro-vivisectionists favorite arguments, that she valued animals above humans. What had actually been discussed was not whether animals were more important than humans, but, rather, whether or not the drugs could be put to more immediate and helpful use if attempted on the lives that needed them most at the time – not after taking extended periods of time on animals, tests which may or may not conclusively show that the same curative effect would take place on animals. Keen’s assertion that White and the Journal of Zoophily was “is the last paper which should urge any objection to “human vivisection,” for its late editor-in-chief, Mrs. Caroline Earle White, was an avowed advocate of “human vivisection.”” It was one of his many biting criticisms which seemed to emerge after the passing of White, and, as was typical, did not at all accurately represent White’s views, and, coming after her death, one that may be suspected of cowardice as his old nemesis was dead.
Another event that occurred after
White’s passing in 1916 was the inappropriate honor bestowed upon Keen in
1922: Henry Jacob Bigelow Medal. While
the awarding committee stated ot Keen that he “deserved [the medal] not only
for your accomplishments and services to medicine, but for that which means
more than these – for that more enduring quality – your professional
character,” the reality was that Henry J. Bigelow* would not have approved of
the committee’s selection. Bigelow was known as an ardent and vocal opponent of
vivisection. As in the case of S. Weir Mitchell and Alexis Carrel, many honors
were bestowed on men whose personal beliefs would certainly disqualify them for
such an honor today.
*Memoirs: “The first murder trial I remember as a
boy (and I read every word of it), was that of Prof. Webster for the murder of
Prof. Parkman, both of Harvard Medical School. (110)” played a minor role
in the apprehension of the culprit in the Parkman–Webster murder case.