Our Dumb Animals

Our Dumb Animals was an important publication in the early animal advocacy movement, and has the distinction of being the first magazine in the United States dedicated to themes around animal welfare and kindness to all species. It was started by George T. Angell (founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in 1868. The success of Our Dumb Animals inspired many similar publications.

Angell enlisted the help of the Boston police to distribute this first issue, and the very first issue of Our Dumb Animals launched with the following words:

“We issue of this the first number of our paper 200,000 copies for gratuitous distribution, which we think will enable us to put one copy into almost every family in the State. Hereafter we shall issue on the first Tuesday of each month, an edition sufficiently large, to supply all the members of the Society, all subscribers for the paper, and as large a number for gratuitous distribution, as we think the finances of the Society will warrant.”

Angell and members of the MSPCA managed to get copies of Our Dumb Animals out to a very large audience very quickly. Members of Congress would later receive complementary issues of Our Dumb Animals, and several hundred copies were routinely sent to church groups, schools, and animal advocacy groups across the USA. By the early 20th century bound volumes were sent to hotels in New England and other regions.

The motto for Our Dumb Animals was “We Speak For Those Who Cannot Speak For Themselves,” a phrase that was boldly emblazoned on the cover of every issue.

Cover of Our Dumb Animals, December 1886. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

From the early years of Our Dumb Animals there was a focus on Humane Education. Stories and pictures focusing on teaching children to be kind to all creatures were reproduced in the “Children’s Department” on a regular basis. Further, this was a publication that relied heavily on the visual, in particular once printing technologies permitted a wider range of images to be included. From reproductions of animal-themed paintings such as those by Edwin Landseer or Rosa Bonheur to photographs showing activities from the annual “Be Kind to Animals” week, the imagery in Our Dumb Animals was an important part of what made this publication so successful.

Our Dumb Animals included reports of MSPCA activities, stories and news items related to animal welfare or animal rights, and tales of rescue. Items from similar Societies or publications–notably from those in Britain during the early years–were often reproduced.

A number of issues of Our Dumb Animals have been digitized and are available online.

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