Saturday, May 14, 2016

Janet M. Davis's "The Gospel of Kindness"

Janet M. Davis is Associate Professor of American Studies, History, and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top, as well as the editor of Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Life of Tiny Kline. Her opinion pieces have been published in the New York Times and Newsday.

Davis applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America includes a discussion of slaughter practices and a new section on the ways in which animal advocates participated in civil rights struggles. The page begins with journalist W. Joseph Grand praising the efficiency of modern livestock slaughter at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards in 1896. He glowingly describes the spectacular size and scale of the facility’s holding pens, the moving masses of animals, and the assembly-line process of slaughter as a form of modern spectacle, which captivated thousands of tourists who visited the Yards each year. By contrast, the next paragraph turns to muckraking journalists, animal advocates, and labor organizers, who condemned the Yards as a horrifying “colossus of cruelty.” George Angell, the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, recounts how he disguised himself as a laborer to gain access to the inner regions of the Yards out of public view, where he could bear intimate witness “to the inhumane conditions, and plead for those who were dumb yet keenly suffered.” Upton Sinclair is also here, coupling the destruction of animal and laboring human bodies at Packingtown as a scathing indictment of capitalism.

Sinclair’s sentiments segue to the next section, “For Justice and Fair Play,” which explores how animal advocates extended their concern for “the least among us” to fight for human equality. They denounced race riots and lynching, as well as everyday instances of racism—from San Francisco’s Chinatown to the Deep South. They also built humane education programs in public schools, Sunday Schools, and youth groups, some of which were led by people of color during the Jim Crow era.

Page 99 of The Gospel of Kindness captures a fundamental goal of the animal protection movement during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: to promote a wholesale project of stewardship and compassion for animals and people alike. The page also acknowledges the movement’s tensions: in a pluralistic, animal-powered society, anticruelty laws often unwittingly targeted immigrants and laboring people whose livelihood and cultural rituals depended on animals. Consequently, Ford Madox Ford’s insights regarding the power of page 99 to reveal “the quality of the whole” apply beautifully here to a complex and far-reaching American social movement.
Learn more about The Gospel of Kindness at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue