Humanitarian League
Formation1891 (1891)
FoundersHenry S. Salt, Edward Maitland, Ernest Bell, Howard Williams, Kenneth Romanes and Alice Lewis
DissolvedDecember 1919 (1919-12)
PurposePromotion of humanitarianism and animal rights

The Humanitarian League was a British radical advocacy group formed by Henry S. Salt and others to promote the principle that it is wrong to inflict avoidable suffering on any sentient being. It was based in London and operated between 1891 and 1919.[1]


Howard Williams, the author of The Ethics of Diet (1883), a history of vegetarianism, proposed in the book the concept of a "humane society with a wider scope than any previously existing body".[1] William's idea was developed by fellow writer and advocate, Henry S. Salt, in an 1889 article on humanitarianism.[2]


The League was formed by Henry S. Salt, who was also the General Secretary and Editor. Other founding members included Edward Maitland, Ernest Bell (Chairman),[3] Howard Williams, Kenneth Romanes and Alice Lewis (Treasurer).[4] The League's inaugural meeting, in 1891, was held at the house of Alice Lewis, 14 Park Square, London,[4] who remained Treasurer for the League's entire existence.[1] Many of its founders were also members of the Shelley Society.[5]

Its aim was to enforce the principle that it is iniquitous to inflict avoidable suffering on any sentient being; their manifesto stated:

The Humanitarian League has been established on the basis of an intelligible and consistent principle of humaneness – that it is iniquitous to inflict suffering, directly or indirectly, on any sentient being, except when self-defence or absolute necessity can justly be pleaded.[6]

The League opposed both corporal and capital punishment. Its other objectives included the banning of all hunting as a sport, and it was also strongly opposed to vivisection.[1] The Humanitarian League thus anticipated the modern animal rights movement; many of its members were vegetarians.[5] However, the League was not confined to animal protection. They were also responsible for the advancement of human rights. For example, they were largely behind the banning of flogging with birch in the Royal Navy in 1906 and campaigning to amend the law relating to imprisonment for debt and other non-criminal offences.[7] The League also opposed flogging in schools, vaccinations because of the pain, and the wearing of feathers and fur.[8]

The League spread its ideas through two journals, Humanity (1895–1902), which was later renamed The Humanitarian (1902–1919) and a quarterly The Humane Review (1900–1910).[9]

During the First World War, the League's membership and output of publications were reduced in number.[1]

The League closed down in 1919,[10] following the death of Salt's wife.[11]


In 2013, The Humanitarian League was registered as an organisation in Hong Kong.[12] It operates alongside the Ernest Bell Library, republishing historical humanitarian pamphlets and books.[13]

Notable people associated with the League

Notable members and supporters of the League included Annie Besant, W. H. Hudson, Sydney Olivier, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Carpenter,[4] Colonel William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson,[14] John Galsworthy,[15] Leo Tolstoy, J. Howard Moore, Ralph Waldo Trine, Ernest Howard Crosby, Alice Park, Clarence Darrow,[5] Keir Hardie, Thomas Hardy, Bertram Lloyd,[16] Edith Carrington,[17] Christabel Pankhurst, Tom Mann, Enid Stacy,[18] Carl Heath, Thomas Baty, George Ives, John Dillon, Lizzy Lind af Hageby, Stella Browne, Charlotte Despard, Isabella Ford, Anne Cobden-Sanderson, Michael Davitt, Alfred Russel Wallace, G. W. Foote, Conrad Noel, John Page Hopps, Sigmund Freud,[19] Josiah Oldfield,[20] Jessey Wade (Honorary Secretary of the Children’s Department; 1906–1919),[21] Henry John Williams (Humane Diet department)[22] and Henry B. Amos.[23]




See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Weinbren, Dan (1994). "Against All Cruelty: The Humanitarian League, 1891-1919". History Workshop (38): 86–105. ISSN 0309-2984. JSTOR 4289320.
  2. ^ Salt, Henry S. (July 1889). "Humanitarianism: Its General Principles and Progress". Westminster Review. 132.
  3. ^ "Ernest Bell, President of the Vegetarian Society". The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review. October 1933.
  4. ^ a b c "Humanitarian League". Henry S. Salt Society. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Unti, Bernard (2014). ""Peace on earth among the orders of creation": Vegetarian Ethics in the United States Before World War I". In Helstosky, Carol (ed.). The Routledge History of Food. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 186–188. doi:10.4324/9781315753454. ISBN 9781315753454.
  6. ^ Preece, Rod. (2011). Animal Sensibility and Inclusive Justice in the Age of Bernard Shaw. UBC Press. p. 153
  7. ^ Gold, Mark. (1998). Animal Century: A Celebration of Changing Attitudes to Animals. J. Carpenter. p. 11
  8. ^ Marks, Steven G. (2004). How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780691118451.
  9. ^ "Humanitarian League Publications". Henry S. Salt Society. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  10. ^ Henry S. Salt (January 1920). "The Humanitarian League closes". The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review. 17 (1): 7. Archived from the original on 8 August 2018. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  11. ^ Preece, Rod (2011). "The History of Animal Ethics in Western Culture". In Blazina, Christopher; Boyraz, Güler; Shen-Miller, David (eds.). The Psychology of the Human-Animal Bond. Springer. pp. 45–61. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9761-6_3. ISBN 978-1-4419-9761-6. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ "The Humanitarian League Limited". Hong Kong Business Directory. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  13. ^ "The Humanitarian League". HappyCow. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Colonel Coulson". Henry S. Salt Society. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  15. ^ Wilson, David A. H. (2015). The Welfare of Performing Animals: A Historical Perspective. Springer. pp. 30-31. ISBN 978-3-662-45833-4
  16. ^ Hardy, Thomas; Purdy, Richard Little; Millgate, Michael. (1985). The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy: Vol. 5 1914 - 1919. Clarendon.
  17. ^ Edith Carrington (1894). Miss Edith Carrington: Portrait and Autobiography. The Animals' Friend (August), 1:24.
  18. ^ Kean, Hilda. (1998). Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800. Reaktion Books
  19. ^ Freud, Sigmund (2010). The Interpretation of Dreams. Translated by Strachey, James (New York Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group ed.). p. 189. ISBN 978-0-465-01977-9.
  20. ^ Weinbren, Dan (1994). "Against All Cruelty: The Humanitarian League, 1891-1919" (PDF). History Workshop (38): 86–105. ISSN 0309-2984. JSTOR 4289320.
  21. ^ "Meet Cats Protection founder Jessey Wade". Meow! Blog. 8 March 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  22. ^ Grumett, David; Muers, Rachel, eds. (2011). Eating and Believing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology. London: A&C Black. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-567-57736-8.
  23. ^ May, Allyson N. (2013). The Fox-Hunting Controversy, 1781–2004: Class and Cruelty. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-1-4094-6069-5.