4 Women Who Paved the Way for Animal Rights

Any activist faces resistance against powerful establishment lobbies, but the fight for animal rights is a particularly difficult one. It’s not only Big Agriculture and various meat lobbies pushing back. It’s also individual organizations, such as Sea World, cosmetics companies and backyard breeders. And it’s even the ordinary people who enjoy all these products — with the conservative backlash about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that we cut back on hamburgers almost seeming like a parody of itself. So you have to be fierce in this business, and these four women are proof of that.

Rachel Carson

Biologist/conservationist Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring is broadly credited with single-handedly launching the modern-day environmental movement. Published in 1962 — just two years before her death and eight years before the formation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency — it took chemical companies to task for the long-term ecological damage of their products and led to the banning of DDT.

Starting to think about nature as something to be protected — even if many people still couched this in terms of human dependence on the ecosystem — was an important first step in considering that living things have value in and of themselves.

Dian Fossey

Primatologist Dian Fossey not only greatly expanded scientific understanding of the social behavior of gorillas, but she also became their greatest advocate. She came to believe that gorillas have rich inner lives and an emotional capacity on par with human beings — and that poachers were as morally culpable as those who kidnap or kill human families. She physically fought and retaliated against the villages from which the poachers came, ultimately being murdered for it. You can debate whether she went too far or not far enough, but you can’t deny her impact.

Since her death, many people have followed in her footsteps. And The Great Ape Project — which pushes for international recognition of inalienable rights for all of humanity’s closest cousins: gorillas, chimps, orangutans and more — probably would not exist today if not for her.

Frances Moore Lappé

The author of 1971′s Diet for a Small Planet, researcher Frances Moore Lappé made an argument for vegetarianism based on environmental considerations and by busting nutritional myths used as the basis of many anti-vegetarian arguments. She carefully explained how humans could (and do) live healthily on plant-based diets and why more of this would have positive outcomes for the environment. Her daughter, Anna, later wrote a follow-up, Diet for a Hot Planet, which considers the same argument in the light of the more urgent environmental situation we now face.

Lappé doesn’t come from an ethical vegetarian or vegan perspective in her book. But as with Carson, the conversation about whether it is ethical to eat animals could not really get underway at the time, as long as the majority of people believed meat was nutritionally necessary. So Lappé paved the way for these ethical considerations in the United States — which, as a nation, had not really contemplated this question before.

Ingrid Newkirk

“The question is not can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?” This powerful quote from a 1789 work of moral philosophy by Jeremy Bentham — not to mention ancient religions and philosophies proscribing the killing of any animal — shows the ethics behind harming or killing animals have been considered for a long time. But it didn’t become a mainstream political conversation in countries, such as the United States or animal rights activist Ingrid Newkirk‘s native Britain, until relatively recently. It especially took off when the group Newkirk founded with Alex Pacheco in 1980, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, came into being.

PETA has been at the forefront of animal rights — always from a basic moral perspective of speaking for and protecting the voiceless. While often considered radical, PETA’s relentless work has slowly shifted the conversation. Even the more carnivorous among my (especially older) friends and family have become more sensitive to issues of animal cruelty and ethical food sourcing within my own lifetime.

Photo credit: Zinkiol/Wikimedia Commons


Barbara S
Barbara S26 days ago

thank you

Melanie S
Melanie St Germaineabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing

Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

Michael F
Michael Friedmannabout a month ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

Leo Custer
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

Nicky H
Nicole Heindryckxabout a month ago

These women are known worldwide for all the efforts they did to start the movement for ANIMAL RIGHTS. Until then, animals had NO rights at all. They either had to work first for many years. For instance dogs who dragged small cars with either bred or vegetables, or milk as an extra service to the customers. Or they were tethered outside, with only a basic or no sheltering place to guard the property of his Owners, or to help with the sheep herding. Horses and mules did the hard work on the fields and in some parts of the world, this is still done, even with other animals. However, in these days, we had no knowledge about the feelings of animals and also some people were treated in such terrific ways. These women learned us to have more compassion and to take care of animals. And when science later on proved that all animals have their specific feelings, are suffering pain just as we do, and can grieve when a family member passes, we became more aware that we had to treat ALL animals with respect and dignity and not just use and abuse them. So we have come a long way already. But when I see and read about all the cruelties and abuse we still do to many of them, knowingly or not, we still have a very long road to go. Especially in the amusement and tourist industry, we still have to make an uncountable number of changes.

Christine Stewart
Christine Stewartabout a month ago

I thank them all for their efforts to help animals!

Shae L
Shae Leeabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBrideabout a month ago

Dian Fossey & others were very brave, as well as very caring women.

Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a month ago

Unfortunately, PeTA stands for animal rights, not animal WELFARE. Scratched Ingrid off my list long ago.