Cartoons were another visual tool employed by those advocating on behalf of animals. While they may not have fit strictly within Humane Education curricula, there was a strong educational component embedded in many of these images in that they used the power of the visual to ask people to critically reflect on their treatment of animals.

To that end, Our Dumb Animals, the publication of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) and the American Humane Education Society (AHES) held cartoon contests in the early decades of the 20th century. Cash prizes were offered for the best cartoons on the theme of kindness to animals, and those interested in participating could submit their cartoon to any periodical of their choosing. In order to have it considered for the Our Dumb Animals competition a clipping of the published cartoon had to be submitted by the contest deadline. Cartoonists were asked to have their work published during Be Kind to Animals Week® whenever possible.

While cartoons may appear on the surface to be “less serious” than other forms of visual advocacy they were, in fact, used in very sophisticated ways. Further, there were a range of tactics that cartoonists employed to spread the message of compassion for all species.

In some instances cartoons relied on humor to ridicule and poke fun at the behavior they were trying to correct. For example, a number of cartoons appeared in publications like Punch, the British-based satire magazine, in which women who wore fashions made with feathers were portrayed as ridiculous instead of fashionable. In other cases, however, the cartoons had very little humorous content, the artists instead choosing to use the stark black and white graphic design to convey some very difficult content.

Viewing the Objects in This Section

  • Click on any image below to learn more about it.
  • To move to another section in the exhibit, follow the links at the bottom of the page

Cartoon published in the October 1925 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

Craig Fox, “Somebody’s Pal.” Cartoon published in the June 1926 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

Cartoon originally published in Punch, reproduced in the July 1932 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

Cartoon published in the July 1932 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

“No Answer.” Cartoon originally published in the New York Tribune, reprinted in January 1934 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

Four panel cartoon published in the June 1941 issue of Our Dumb Animals. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

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  1. Rick Bogle says:

    Very interesting. It would be helpful if the images could be enlarged.

  2. It makes me think this art form is an under-utilized component of today’s humane movement. Some of the above are very touching.

  3. Debbie Flores says:

    Wow, I remember going to the circus and seeing a whip used to control the lions. Sadly enough, I didn’t think anything wrong with it. But now I do, Yikes!

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