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Why Dresden? The Origins of IVU

IVU was founded in Dresden, Germany, in 1908 which is not the most obvious location that we might think of today, so this is how it happened.

According to the Vegetarier Bund Deutschland the first Dresden Vegetarian Society was founded in 1881. There was also a sanitarium in the city at that time as this extract, from The Vegetable Passion by Janet Barkas (New York, 1975), show:

“Another influential figure in these early days of the movement was Dr. Heinrich Lahmann .... One of the first German physicians to use natural healing methods, Lahmann called animals his brothers and refused to use them for his experiments. Instead, he used himself as a guinea pig. His regime consisted of fruits and vegetables, and fresh air. Water was endorsed for its strengthening powers, and loose and porous clothing were recommended so that air might circulate freely. To provide goods that followed his progressive ideas, he designed shoes, boots, and clothing for all ages. He also recommended pillows filled with plants, rather than feathers.”

An article for The Vegetarian Messenger (UK) in 1908 refers to four vegetarian restaurants in Dresden, suggesting quite a lot of local interest. In 1900, Dresden was the 4th largest city in the German empire, and a major centre for cultural activities. We also know that the Dresden Hygiene Museum was the main national centre for 'nature cure' therapies, and held an exhibition in 1911 which attracted thousands of visitors.

The International Scene
The first Vegetarian Society was founded in England in 1847, followed by the first German organisation in 1867. In 1888 the German vegetarian leaders suggested an International Congress of all the British and German groups. This was held in Cologne in September 1889 and became the first ever international gathering of vegetarians.

Some of the British groups had begun to create a 'Vegetarian Union' of the local British societies, and following the Cologne event declared that it would cover the whole world as the Vegetarian Federal Union (VFU). Groups in other English speaking countries, including the USA, Australia and Ireland soon joined. In 1892 the Deutscher Vegetarier-Bund (DVB) was created, connecting local groups in the German speaking region. The DVB did have some form of membership of the London-based VFU, but there was never any significant involvement.

Also during this time the newly formed French and Belgian Vegetarian Societies began publishing a joint magazine for all Francophiles. They eventually persuaded the British to hold the annual VFU Congress in Paris in 1900 (the others had all been in London, apart from Chicago in 1893). It was then agreed, so some thought, to hold the next one in Brussels in 1901 - but the VFU publicised the next Congress for London as usual. The arguments that followed saw the original Manchester-based Vegetarian Society support the Continental Europeans, and that was effectively the end of VFU.

Over the next few years there was some discussion about creating a more genuinely democratic international vegetarian organisation, with all countries having equal input. In 1907 the Vegetarian Society in Manchester, UK, celebrated its diamond jubilee (60 years) by inviting the leaders of all known vegetarian societies to an international gathering. At that meeting Dr. Danjou, Deputy President of the French Vegetarian Society, proposed a new International Vegetarian Federation, and that the 'mother society' should take the initiative in setting up a meeting.

So why Dresden?
The easiest option would have been to arrange another meeting in Manchester, but the British Society had also had some involvement with VFU and would have been very aware that the Europeans were sceptical about more British domination.

The solution almost certainly came from Mr. J. Arthur Gill, a prominent Esperantist at the diamond jubilee meetings. Vegetarians and Esperantists had quite a lot in common at a time when Europe was largely divided by linguistic barriers, both groups having an interest in universal brotherhood. It would have been Mr. Gill who mentioned that the Esperantists were holding their annual conference in Dresden the following year - which meant that many vegetarians would be in the city.

This was the ideal political solution, a Vegetarian Congress proposed by the French, organised by the British, and held in Germany. Albert Broadbent, the British secretary, wrote to all the Vegetarian Societies around the world inviting them to meet in Dresden on August 18, 1908, during the week of the Esperantist Conference.

Ultimately only the German, British and Dutch Societies were there in person, along with some locals and Esperantists, but groups from 14 other countries sent messages of goodwill and support. During the meeting they adopted the title of the International Vegetarian Union. The photo of the assembly:

The same week saw the creation of the 'International Union of Esperantist Vegetarians' - still active today as TEVA (Tutmonda Esperantista Vegetarana Asocio) and still a member of IVU. 

This original version of this article appeared in The Vegetarian (UK), Winter 2007, and was the basis of a Powerpoint presentation at the opening ceremony of the Centenary IVU Congress, in Dresden, 2008.

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