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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


The second half of the nineteenth century saw certain changes in the state of medicine that were to have enduring consequences for vegetarianism and for the alternative medical tradition to which it is allied. The period from the 1850s saw the growing independence and power of the medical profession; (1) this occurred both institutionally, with the consolidating effects of the 1858 Medical Reform Act that united the profession; socially, with the full assumption of the status of the professional man and the throwing off of the aspects of the superior tradesman; technically, with the rise of the science-based medicine of the hospitals, now for the first time, centres of medical knowledge and training, and with the arrival of anti-sepsis, to join anaesthesia, in permitting the development of effective surgery; and ideologically, with the successful struggle by doctors to free themselves and the practice of medicine from older moral and religious concepts and constraints.

As part of this, they stressed the scientific nature of their knowledge and the radical separation of the medical treatment of the body from mental and moral aspects pertaining to subjectivity, and in this the discovery of germ theory was central, since it endowed medicine with an effective model whereby illness could be regarded as a neutral occurrence in the body to be eradicated by the simple administration of drugs.

Two movements in particular articulated popular hostility to these developments, these were anti-vivisection and anti-vaccination.

Though vaccination as a means of controlling smallpox had been discovered in the late eighteenth century, it was not until 1853 that attempts were made to make it compulsory, and in 1867 enforcement of the law was made more stringent. From then on agitation against the Vaccination Acts began to build up, rising to a peak in the 1880's. In 1889 a Royal Commission was appointed, reporting in 1896 and broadly endorsing the effectiveness of the practice. The 1898 Vaccination Act reiterated the earlier policy, though in recognition of objections it included a conscience clause. By the end of 1893, some 230,000 children had been exempted. (2)

From the beginning, the vegetarians had opposed the policy, and a number, Francis Newman and Henry Pitman among them - Pitman had founded a penny periodical The Anti-Vaccinator, and been sent to prison for refusing to allow his daughter to be vaccinated (3) - were prominent in the agitation. Opposition to vaccination became almost ubiquitous among vegetarians. (4)

Part of the opposition was libertarian, with the objection to compulsory medical treatment and arrogation to itself by the state of decisions concerning the individual's own or his family's body and health, and the harsher enforcement against the poor also gave the movement a radical bite; but opposition also came from the nature of the treatment. Many - not at the time unreasonably - disputed its effectiveness. Anti-vaccination, like vegetarianism, had links with the older tradition of the public health movement which argued that disease arose not from the bacteria of germ theory, but from dirty and insanitary conditions. Under anti-vaccination pressure certain centres like Leicester, and Gloucester under the vegetarian Hadwen, shifted from a vaccinatory to a sanitary defence policy. (5)

Many of the sanitarians had evangelical religious backgrounds and they attacked the 'atheistical materialism' of the new medicine that undermined personal responsibility and the link between suffering and sin. (6) Simple cleanliness and personal moral purity instead, were seen as the true way. Some of the psychological charge in the Victorian concern with cleanliness and its wider moral meanings is evident in opposition to vaccination, which was regarded as unclean, a form of poisoning that violated the purity of the subject's body. There was particular concern over possible cross-infection with syphilis. With the abandonment in the late nineteenth century of the arm-to-arm method and the substitution of glycerinated lymph from infected calves, a further objection was added in the revulsion from an animal-derived disease, and from the distress caused to the incubating animals. There was also a clear anxiety over the possible animalisation of humans through the injection of animal fluids.

Anti-vaccination, is closely linked with anti-vivisection, and both also share certain features with the earlier Contagious Diseases Agitation, with which vegetarians are also strongly connected. (7) This too was a libertarian movement, objecting to the harassment and compulsory medical treatment of women, and a purity movement, objecting to the recognition and implied acceptance of prostitution, and to the medical theory that sexual indulgence for men was necessary for health. (8) All three contained a hostility to the claimed supremacy of professionalism in moral issues of health and well being.

Growing public interest in the eighties in ideas of healthy living was amply illustrated in the popularity of the 1884 International Health Exhibition held on the South Kensington site. It included exhibitions and publications relating to, among other things, housing, clean air, clothing and diet - these last two being the most popular. (9) The exhibition represented the confluence of the still powerful sanitary tradition with some of the newer concerns with personal health: and Edwin Chadwick, the hero of sanitary reform, arrived at the opening wearing a Jaeger suit. (10) A vegetarian restaurant was provided where some 161,000 meals were served, and Allinson offered free medical advice. (11)

Vegetarianism at this time is linked with various alternative therapies: homeopathy, hydropathy, (12) hypnotherapy (13) and spiritual healing appear in references and advertisements. In 1895, Hills endowed the Oriolet Hospital, with Josiah Oldfield as warden, as a vegetarian centre for such treatment. (14) (I will discuss later the tradition of nature cure and will only note here briefly the presence of some of its characteristic themes).(15)

Many of these vegetarian practitioners attacked the new medicine, and Dr T.R. Allinson was struck off the medical register for advising the public to avoid all doctors and their drugs, a view shared by Shaw. (16) Allinson became famous for his advocacy of brown bread, which in this period assumed a new importance in the natural health tradition. The earlier vegetarians had included wholemeal bread among their causes, and its advocacy had older association with 'spiritual' writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although white and bakery-bought bread had reached the majority of the population by the early decades of the nineteenth century, it was not until the 1880's that the major revolution took place with the discovery of roller milling which made possible the production of white flour of full extraction. (17) In the 1880's Miss May Yates, together with Samuel Morley MP, founded the Brown Bread League, and it attracted many who were not vegetarians. (18) Allinson was active in the cause, setting up a flour mill and licensing bakers. (19) White bread was attacked for lacking food value, particularly minerals, but the main argument for brown bread was that it would eliminate the scourge of constipation (20) from which so many Victorians seemed to suffer, and for which the burgeoning patent medicine industry had developed a great range of laxative products. The late nineteenth century also saw in vegetarianism, and more generally, a new emphasis on fresh fruit. (21)

  1. 179. For the background to the development of the profession see R.D. French, Anti-Vivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society, Princeton, 1975.
  2. 180. For an account by a leading protagonist, see William White, The Story of a Great Delusion, 1885. See also R.M. MacLeod, 'Law, Medicine and Public Opinion: The Resistance to Compulsory Health Legislation, 1870-1907', Public Law, 1967; Lloyd G. Stevenson, 'Science Down the Drain: On the Hostility of Certain Sanitarians to Animal Experimentation, Bacteriology and Immunology’, Bull. Of Hist. Of Medicine, 1955
  3. 181. HENRY PITMAN: 1829-1909. Brother of Isaac, lecturer in phonetics, reporter of the Ramsgate Conference, temperance worker, co-operativist, publisher of The Co-operator, See Dictionary of Labour Biography.
  4. 182. See VM, May 1853, p11; P.W. Newman, The Political Side of the Vaccination System, 1895, Mrs C. Leigh Hunt Wallace, Vaccination Brought Home to the People, 1876.
  5. 183. For Hadwen see p236.
  6. 184. For aspects of this connection see Mrs Leigh Hunt Wallace, 'Disease and Sin are synonymous', Vaccination, p4.
  7. 185. Francis Newman was prominent here, and the DR carried a series of articles on the topic. See for example DR, July 1870, p67, and Newman, The Coming Revolution, 1882.
  8. 186. See F.W. Newman 'Remedies for the Great Social Evil; p274, Miscellanies, III,  for this aspect; also DR, July 1870, p67. It encourages the idea 'that promiscuous sexual intercourse can safely and respectably be indulged in'.
  9. 187. See extensive literature produced as part of the exhibition; also Stella Mary Newton, Health, Art and Reason, p89.
  10. 188. The Lancet, May 1884, p863.
  11. 189. Forward, p97-101; DR, June 1884, p158; The Lancet, May 1884, p996.
  12. 190. Explicit references to hydropathy tend to decline after the 1870's. This conforms to Robin Price's view in his 'Hydrotherapy in Britain, 1840-70', Medical History, 1981. General references to water-cure techniques continue, however, and become integrated into nature cure generally.
  13. 191. See Miss Chandos Leigh Hunt, A Treatise on All Known Uses of Organic Magnetism Phenomenal and Curative, 1876.
    MRS CHANDOS LEIGH HUNT WALLACE noted vegetarian writer, editor of The Herald of Health, ardent anti-vaccinator and anti-vivisector, mother of seven, cyclist and supporter of reformed dress. See her Dietetic Advice to the Young and Old, 1884, for her health and food theories. She rejected a wide range of foods, especially fermented or rotten foods, and believed food should be taken in its 'whole' form. See VN, April 1927, pl27, for obituary. Her Husband JOSEPH WALLACE, practised according to nature-cure principles, see Forward, p134.
  14. 192. Treating especially cancer, see Forward, p170, and VM April 1897: it did use some drugs, unlike Allinson's Hygenic Hospital which allowed none.
    JOSIAH OLDFIELD: had shared digs with Gandhi when they were both students at the bar; subsequently trained as doctor at St. Bartholomews (1897) and became a well known vegetarian and nature-cure therapist. See Medical Register, also reminiscence of Cyril Oliver. Obituary, VM, Spring 1953.
  15. 193. Certain central themes in nature cure are well illustrated in the period. First, disease is attributed to the retention of waste or foreign matter in the body: 'the cause of disease in the human body is, roughly speaking, the retention of waste matter', Mrs Leigh Hunt Wallace, VR, 1895, p14. Methods of cure often involved purification, washing and purgation; fasting was also recommended. Elimination was much stressed: see works of Eustace Miles, or Oldfield in The Voice of Nature, 1897, writing of 'clogged and sluggish lives cleaned and purified to a new life', p12. See also T. Owen, VM, Nov 1894, p412, for a range of self-help treatments.
    Second, illness results from neglect of the laws of nature: 'Every known disease is a departure from God's laws and is the result of a direct rebellion', Mrs Leigh Hunt Wallace, VR, Jan 1895, p11. Oldfield's Voice of Nature is written round this theme.
  16. 194. See Shaw's Preface to the Doctor's Dilemma, 1910.
    THOMAS RICHARD ALLINSON: 1858-1918, worked as chemist's assistant, trained as doctor at Edinburgh. Influenced by Dr Smedley and hydropathy, and by Sylvester Graham. Developed methods of treatment based on nature cure and especially diet. Practised in London, though also lectured around the country and contributed medical advice to newspapers and magazines including the Dietetic Reformer in the 1880's. Allinson challenged the decision of the General Medical Council in the Courts; though the Court of Appeal upheld its correctness. See Law Reports Queen's Bench Division, 1894; brief account of Allinson by Howell Roberts, 1973, published by Allinson's, and including a memoir by his son.
  17. 195. See J. Burnett, Plenty and Want, p16-l7, p139-40; also Burnett in T.C. Barker et al, Our Changing Fare, 1966.
  18. 196. Forward, p82, and May Yates, Experiments on the Digestibility and Nutritive Value of Bread, nd. The League was later absorbed into the London Vegetarian Society.
  19. 197. See his The Advantages of Wholemeal Bread, 1889.
  20. 198. This argument was also applied by people like Mrs Leigh Hunt Wallace to food in general, and taking the food in its 'whole' form was the principle behind her system.  An issue of contention in these diet-reform circles was the raising agent; many, including Wallace and Allinson disapproved of effervescent baking powders, and some, like Just, recommended no raising agent
  21. 199. For the general upsurge in demand for fruit from the 1870's onwards, see Angeliki Torode, 'Trends in Fruit Consumption', T.C. Barker, et al, Our Changing Fare, 1966, though she can offer no adequate explanation. Among the vegetarians, Oldfield in particular refers to the cleansing properties of fruit in his The Voice of Nature, 1897, p12. The lush beauty of fruit, and romantic imagery of old fruit gardens - shades of the Queen Anne movement - appear in the literature, together with schemes for improving commercial fruit growing, see A.F. Hills, 'Fruit Culture', Vegetarian Essays, 1897. There are also repudiations of the older tradition, dating from the seventeenth century at least, associating fruit and summer fever (and thus cholera). Danielite Star, May 1887. As yet vegetarian cookery books contain almost no reference to salads, and the raw food diet relied heavily on fruit. (C.W. Forward, Practical Vegetarian Recipes, 1891; Eustace Miles, A Plea for Simpler Food, 1900).

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