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The American Vegetarian Union


Until the 1960s IVU only accepted national vegetarian societies as members. The USA had several local groups which met in August 1949 at the First American Vegetarian Convention and created the American Vegetarian Union. The IVU General Secretary, and other Committee members, were present at the Convention and the AVU applied for membership on the spot.

Several Canadian delegates were also present and the Canadian Vegetarian Union followed in January 1950.

Dr Jesse Mercer Gehman was the first president of the AVU. Some background on the local groups at that time:

One of the local groups represented was probably the Vegetarian Society of the District of Columbia, founded in 1927 and still there - now the oldest Vegetarian Society in North America

The following is from The Vegetarian (VSUK magazine), Summer 1996 issue, looking back 50 years to 1946:

On the other side of the Atlantic, The American Vegetarian was a broad-sheet style monthly newspaper published by E L Pratt, Pismo Beach, California. We have a few bound copies of this, but we don't really know much about it. The 1945-46 volume was number 4 in the series so we assume it must have started around 1940. It seems to have been enjoyed by British readers as well as American - the July issue has a rather wistful letter from a Mrs Williams of Hull, musing about the many ads for nuts and tinned fruits the paper contains and wondering if American vegetarians realised how lucky they were! "American vegetarians have so vast a variety of foods to choose from. One advertisement names the Marzipaned Prunes. Couldn't I just enjoy a taste of these prunes for my birthday? Tinned fruits are such a luxury, one person out of ten will be lucky to get some. I have not tasted any since before the war." The editor, I'm pleased to say, took pity on Mrs Williams and sent her two large tins of California peaches!

1947, July 28: the American Vegetarian Party was launched.

Mrs V.W.Bricker & Mr E.A.Webbe,
both from Ohio, USA,
at the 1947 Congress

1947, July 29 - August 5, World Vegetarian Congress at Stonehouse, England. Reports include the following:

Brief speeches were made by the overseas delegates - ... Mr. E. A. Webbe (U.S.A.), ... [no indication was given of which society Mr Webbe represented]

During the course of the evening Mr. James Hough (Congress Secretary) intimated that Mr. Webbe had brought with him, by plane, direct from the States, an attractive basket of fruit as a token of goodwill from the vegetarians in America. ...

The business included reports from representatives of Societies affiliated to the I.V.U., and were given by .... Mr. E. A. Webbe as a delegate from the United States. ...

The congratulations of the I.V.U. were also cabled to the American Naturopathic Congress, celebrating its Jubilee in New York, and holding a special day devoted exclusively to the exposition of vegetarianism, ...

1948 Dr John Maxwell, age 85, nominated in the US Presidential elections by AVP. Symon Gould nominated for Vice President. Gould was also associate editor of the American Vegetarian - presumably the same one mentioned above.

In 1948 Dr. Catherine Nimmo and Rubin Abramowitz formed a Vegan Society in California which ran until 1960.

In 1949 and American Vegetarian Convention was held near Milwaukee, USA, and the above groups joined to form the AVU.

The Vegetarian News (London), in a pre-IVU Congress report mentioned: "... the movement has been greatly strengthened by the emergence of an American Vegetarian Union last August and a Canadian Vegetarian Union which came into existence in January this year. "

Extracts from reports of the 1950 IVU Congress, held in The Netherlands:

SUNDAY, 16th JULY. ... 3.0 pm Lecture by American Vegetarian Union speaker....


... The Congress in Holland, however, will certainly be a turning point in the history of the Union. Chiefly as a result of the kindly interest and generosity Mrs. Clarence Gasque (U.S.A.) .. [photo right].


.. English ... was the official language of this Congress - a compliment which the English and American participants greatly appreciated.

... More than all else, the Congress was noteworthy for the participation, for the first time, of delegates from North America. The new American Vegetarian Union was represented by Mrs. Clarence Gasque (widely known as Mother Gloria) who for sheer eloquence and vitality is not easily to be surpassed, and by Mrs. Sorge and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sorge. ...

...there were interesting lectures from ... Mrs. Gasque on "The Vegetarian Movement in North America "....

... Brief speeches were made by delegates from the countries represented. Mrs. Clarence Gasque (U.S.A.), in speaking on behalf the American Vegetarian Union, brought with her a huge banner which was inscribed: "Vegetarians of all nations unite; you have a world to gain for justice, kindness, health, happiness, peace, progress and prosperity." ...

... Messages and greetings were read from the Los Angeles Vegetarian Society and from the President of the American Vegetarian Union (Dr. Gehman). ...

... Brief reports of work accomplished in the various countries -given by delegates from America, ...

... The following applications for membership of the International Vegetarian Union were confirmed: (1) American Vegetarian Union, ...

... The officers of the I.V.U. were elected as follows-- ... Vice-Presidents: Mrs. Clarence Gasque (U.S.A.) ....

....Mrs. Gasque offered to subsidise an I.V.U. office and Secretary, provided it was in London, and suggested that the Secretary should be a woman. The Committee will decide about the Secretary at a meeting in September....

... The President announced that through the generosity of Mrs Gasque it would be possible for the I.V.U. to appoint a paid Secretary, with Headquarters in Gt. Britain, ... and that such an appointment would be made by the officers of the Union by the end of 1950. ...

... Mrs. CLARENCE GASQUE (U.S.A.) said that she did not recognize nations as such - she was more concerned with human life and with whatever was noble - in that she was interested. She referred to the many phases of our vegetarian philosophy-humanitarian, economic, psychological, physiological, health, philosophical, religious, no less than the important aspect of the treatment-or maltreatment--of the soil. Speaking of America, she said that the advertizing companies required to he called to a halt : they were "psuchologizing" the human mind, and had reached a stage which made her refrain from turning on her radio. She described an incident in Kashmir in which the carrots, potatoes and other garden produce had been grown on foul land, and where it was necessary to cleanse the soil before the vegetables were fit to eat. If this were done, she said, the soil could live naturally and healthily, and nature would be certain to give her best in return. Mrs. Gasque stressed the great importance of demonstrating vegetarian meals. She had, herself, done much in that direction but she made it clear how vital it was to present those dishes in a nice and attractive form, and how necessary it was for us to be reasonable in our approach, other-wise we should never get adherents to our cause.

Mrs. Gasque concluded, as she had begun, on a high level, emphasizing the fact that our object as vegetarians was to ascertain our relationship with life at every stage. ...

... At the concluding session Mr. Sibly, said that the Congress had been a very successful and happy one and that it had been distinguished for the first time by the presence of delegates, as distinct from visitors, from North America and Canada. .... Mr. Sibly was followed, in his expression of thanks to our Dutch hosts, by Mrs. Gasque (U.S.A.), ...

From 1950 -1956 IVU had a salaried seretary, and an office in London, all of which were financed by Mrs Gasque.

The minutes of the IVU Executive Commitee, July 17, 1951, record:

The nomination of the I.V.U. for the Nobel Peace Prize by Symon Gould was discussed and not taken seriously. The feeling was that this was possibly a publicity stunt for his newspaper.

Symon Gould was a controversial character, adopting a much higher profile than most vegetarians at the time. Which did not go down well with the traditionalists but perhaps he was just ahead of his time considering some of the campaigns in the US today.

The minutes of the IVU Executive Committee meeting, April 10/11, 1952, held near Haarlem, Holland record:

On hearing that no fees had been paid by the U.S.A. for the preceding year Mrs Gasque immediately handed the Treasurer a ten dollar bill and explained the present position of the Vegetarian movement in the U.S.A. saying that the vast distances prevented easy co-ordination & that no real degree of organisation had yet been achieved ....

... The Secretary reported that he had received an invitation from the American Vegetarian Union to undertake a 2/3 month lecture tour of the United States to stimulate interest & learn the extent of the movement. He had communicated this suggestion to the President who had given his approval if the financial question could be met. On hearing of the proposal Mrs Gasque had stated her willingness to finance the tour & all arrangements had been made for the secretary to leave England on 7th May to fulfil an extensive tour terminating in mid July. The Committee warmly expressed its gratitude at this further most generous support of Mrs Gasque. [ Mrs Gasque seems to have been paying the AVU subscription, but unaware of their invite to the Secretary.]

...The secretary reported on ... the important forward steps taken by the I.V.U. in Holland in 1950 backed by Mrs Gasque's generous support. [ refers to the 12th World Vegetarian Congress, in Oosterbeck that year. ]

... Mrs Gasque said that she might consider inviting Dr Szekely to the Congress. [ refers to the plans for the 1953 Congress in Sweden - Dr Szekely was, since 1940, running a vegetarian health resort in Mexico, 3 miles from the California border; see: ]

... Mrs Gasque had compiled a very suitable form to be used in notifying air companies that a vegetarian would be using their service. It was decided that this form should be printed not only for use with air companies but also for rail, coach & sea services. On account of the large number required to distribute to all I.V.U. connections the secretary was asked to obtain estimates & report at the next meeting.

... it was agreed that in view of the establishment of a permanent international office the £200 ... by Mrs Gasque's London Brokers chould in future be paid direct into I.V.U. funds and be administered by the treasurer.

At the 1953 IVU Congress, in Sigtuna, Sweden, Mrs Gasque was elected President of IVU.

Minutes of a meeting of members of the Executive Committee held in Hampstead, London on the 18th October 1953

President Mrs Gasque in the Chair
Vice President Mr Scott Nearing
Committee members Messrs Kahler ...
[these three were all Americans, though they were meeting at Mrs Gasque's home in London. Mr Kahler, who also had homes in other countries, appears to have been elected at the 1953 Congress, but it is unclear whether Scott Nearing was already a VP before that event.]
Messrs Nussbaum [France] & Kahler were asked to find a suitable location in Paris for the [1955] Congress and the President would visit it with them on her forthcoming visit to France. [one of Mr Kahler's homes being in Paris]
In connection with this expedition to Israel [by the Secretary] Mr.Woodland Kahler expressed his willingness to accompany the secretary at his own expense and the offer was gratefully accepted.

1953 US Presidential elections, General Herbert C. Holdridge nominated by the American Vegetarian Party.

In the IVU Council minutes of 1954 the American Vegetarian Unon is referred to as having 'petered out'. Vice President Scott Nearing (from Maine, USA) had sent some suggestions for furthering the work of the IVU.

1955, at the IVU Congress in Paris, France, Mr.Curtis Freshel (USA) was elected as a Vice-President of IVU. Mr Freshel and his wife, Emarel were good friends of George Bernard Shaw and had founded the 'Milennium Guild', a vegetarian group in the US which had been represented as far back as the 1926 IVU Congress.

In 1957 Dr.W.McGregor (USA) was elected as a Vice President of IVU.

In 1958 Dastur F. Bode became the first 'IVU Regional Secretary for the Americas', succeeded in 1960 by Dr Jesse Mercer Gehman until 1975 (if Dr Gehman was still there, what happened to AVU?).

1960 H. Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society.

By 1963 there were eight Vice Presidents from the USA: Mr Lowell Fillmore, Dr Jesse Mercer Gehman, Dr W Mc Gregor, Mr S H Linnio, Dr J Maxwell (if this is the same Dr J.Maxwell that stood or US President in 1948, he would now be 100 years old...), Mr Curtis Freshel, Prof Scott Nearing, Prof H B Stevens.

The American Vegetarian Union appears to have closed in the early 1970s, by that time IVU was accepting local groups as members, making the AVU a littel redundant. The Canadian VU appears to have closed around the same time.

In 1974 the North American Vegetaran Society was founded and became the IVU Regional Organisation for North Americ until 1987 when the Vegetarian Union of North America was formed.

!975 saw North America's first ever World Vegetarian Congress in Maine , followed by Baltimore 1984 and Johnstown, PA, 1996.

If you have any more information about anything on this page please contact John Davis - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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