|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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.
CHAPTER SIX: THE LATE NINETEENTH AND EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURIES.
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During the 1860s and '70s vegetarianism went through a period of decline, evidenced in the dwindling membership figures and in the almost total disappearance of the vegetarian restaurant. (1) Vegetarianism was out of tune with the high tide of mid-Victorian. England. But in the early 1880s new stirrings began to be felt. Many of the mid-Victorian certainties began to be questioned as the challenge to British economic supremacy began to be felt. A series of movements critical of the established social and cultural structures began to gather, and many of the issues of the 1840s re-emerged, although in slightly different form. This Late Victorian Revolt was experienced across a wide spectrum of ideas and movements of which vegetarianism and its connections formed a part.
The new quickening of interest in vegetarianism began to be felt from the late 1870s. (2) In the eighties, a number of local branches were established or revived; (3) the distribution of these groups and of the fast expanding vegetarian restaurants - in 1878, there was one; in 1889, fifty two, thirty four of which were in London - shows a shift away from the previously predominating northern industrial towns, towards London, which now emerged as the new centre. The influence of the Bible Christian Church declined steadily in this period. (4) During the sixties, articles expounding Swedenborgian interpretation were increasingly infrequent, and when biblical arguments were employed - decreasingly from the 1870's - they were non-sectarian in character.
The arrival of Francis Newman in 1868 marked a new departure for the society and foreshadowed a growing acceptance in more metropolitan circles. Newman became president [of the Vegetarian Society] in 1873, (5) retiring in 1883. Despite certain eccentricities, he was a respected figure in literary and academic circles, and the vegetarians clearly felt that his presence gave weight to their cause and helped to divest it of some of its provincial flavour. Professor J.E.B. Mayor, his successor as President, and Professor of Latin at Cambridge, brought further academic respectability. (6)
With this shift to London goes a certain shift in social basis. Increasingly vegetarianism is associated with the middle class, especially with the fast expanding lower-middle class. The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of new intermediary classes, sections of which provided the basis for a series of social progressivist movements. (7) Membership of the Vegetarian Society in the mid 1870's already shows an increased preponderance of white-collar, especially clerical and retail, occupations, and this trend appears to continue. (8) Working-class vegetarians do still occasionally feature in the journals but in decreasing numbers.
The accounts of vegetarian restaurants confirm this social background. Most of them were situated in the City or in other commercial areas. (9) The Pall Mall Gazette described the majority of customers as being dressmakers and shopkeepers assistants, with about twenty-five per cent women. Axon believed that the majority came for cheapness and a change and were not necessarily vegetarians, though he describes them as including: 'some of the more thoughtful members of the artisan class, and large numbers of those - both men and women - who are engaged in warehouses and offices'. (10) These restaurants were part of a wider expansion in the period of cheap and respectable lunch places for white-collar workers, particularly women. (11) Many of these vegetarian restaurants acted as meeting places and club houses for those of similar views. (12)
Certain issues within the Vegetarian Society at this time display conflicts arising from its changing social base. The first was the issue of membership. Newman in particular felt that requiring a pledge of total abstinence was a barrier to recruitment, and he suggested associate membership for those not able to give full commitment. (13) This was introduced in 1874 after much dispute, and the issue rumbled on throughout the eighties and nineties. (14) Many, especially those of the northern old guard, felt that it watered down their stand, and they stated strongly that the Vegetarian Society was 'not simply a diet reform society'. (15) A pledge was in line with ideas from tee-totalism, and was not an alien concept at the time, however it did exclude those from the burgeoning diet-reform movement and it did reinforce the closed sectarian feeling. Both these factors were significant in the conflict between the London-based groups and the Manchester society. Newman summed up the more inclusive London view when he said that: 'the object of the society was not to found a sect but to influence a nation'. (16) Similar tensions were displayed in the attempt to find a new name for the diet. (17)
The second major issue concerned the society itself. In the late 1870's a number of food-reform groups had emerged in London, the principle one of which was the London Food Reform Society. (18) All the vegetarian and food-reform groups at this time included a heavy overlap of members, particularly at the top, and the rivalries between the societies were internal and personal. Relations between London and Manchester became increasingly strained during the 1880's. Manchester felt London should be represented, as before, by a local branch or auxiliary; whereas the London people wanted a strong and independent centre in the metropolis. Their members tended to be younger - in their teens according to Forward. London was also more catholic in its concerns, and its journal, The Food Reform Magazine, carried articles on a wider range of topics. In 1888 these conflicts - intensified by personal animosities - precipitated a total split, and the London Vegetarian Society was founded. (19)
In this period, vegetarianism flourished in a number of different settings; their social background and concerns differ in focus, though as we shall see there are also strong inter-connections. The eighties were in particular a period that favoured the total world-view, in contrast to the more fragmented and compartmentalised approaches that succeeded them. Vegetarianism tends to flourish in such periods of cultural holism.