The earliest animal welfare organizations, whose membership was made up of highly respectable and prominent personalities, certainly did not need the support of large numbers of activists to obtain the ear of the public authorities. Throughout the 19th-century animal welfare campaigners concentrated on exploiting their connections within the political decision-making elite. We have already mentioned how in Britain there were close ties between the RSPCA and the nobility, the judiciary, the clergy, and members of Parliament. In France proximity to the authorities may be inferred from the fact that from 1845 onward “from the time of its formation the SPA was authorized to hold meetings in the Paris Town Hall”. Furthermore, as we have noted, the French SPA, like its British counterpart, had a team of inspectors, which amounted to a private police force authorized to assist the official forces of order in a domain which was, in principle, under the control of the state. Registered as a charity in 1861, the SPA also managed to extend its influence into the public administration of two other key domains: agriculture and public education.
In 1876, the SPA award-giving program obtained the official support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade (BSPA, 1876, p. 226). Moreover, the animal welfare organization received an annual grant from this ministry, and from the Ministry of Education. It is worth stressing the privileged relations the SPA enjoyed within the ministry which formulated national education policy: they go a long way to explaining how the earliest animal protectionists managed to exert considerable influence on a number of political decisions which had a transformative effect on French society. The close natural affinities between the SPA and those who administered the education system were to do with the obsession with pedagogy which was characteristic of European animal welfare activists throughout the 19th century. As early as 1855 Dr. Blatin recommended: “the formation of a propaganda committee whose mission would be to influence the minds of children, either by arousing interest in our cause among schoolmasters and primary school teachers or by spreading our doctrines in the many useful collections of articles, published with a view to entertaining and instructing the young”.
From that time onward, the urgent necessity to distribute pedagogical materials suitable for the younger generations would become a recurrent theme in discussions among SPA activists. In fact, the kind of instruction that enables men to make a living and prosper through work can sometimes become dangerous when it is not moderated and completed by, and above all directed toward the cultivation of goodness by education. Current teaching does not include a program for the education of this kind, and the cultivation of the heart is left up to the good faith and spontaneous initiatives of individual primary school teachers. It is therefore important to ensure that we obtain the cooperation of these men, who are entrusted with the development of our children’s hearts. It is for this reason that we have recently sent round a circular to all the schools affiliated with our organization in which, after summarizing our doctrines and principles, we explain that a prize will be given each year to the pupil who has best put into practice these doctrines and principles. Our circular is accompanied by a poster on which there is the text of the Law and the conditions which must be fulfilled in order to be eligible for the prize we are offering. We would like this poster to be prominently displayed in the school all year round.
By sowing the seeds of zoophilia in children’s hearts we will reap the harvest in the hearts of men. These attempts to influence the educational establishment seemed to have been a success: in the second third of the 19th century, the SPA and the administrators of the national education system worked together very closely. Victor Duruy, who was Minister of Education from 1863 to 1869, introduced animal welfare into the training of primary school teachers and demonstrated his favorable attitude to the animal welfare organization in a number of ways: the purchase of multiple copies of animal welfare textbooks, the establishment of awards for teachers who were particularly zealous in the promotion of the cause, and the inclusion of a letter from the SPA in a collection of administrative acts. Later, in 1871, Claude Auguste Valette, Chief Inspector of Education, became president of the SPA and managed to recruit two education ministers to the society. Furthermore, and even more importantly, the message of SPA doctrines was widely relayed by French schoolteachers, who quickly adopted pedagogical devices similar to those used by the British Bands.
Every year we hear of schoolchildren forming new animal welfare organizations. One primary school teacher found a clever name for them: the little league for the public good. Statistical inventories are sent to us which clearly show the number of bird’s nests which are protected by these societies, the numbers of chicks which have survived and flown away, as well as how many have been stolen from the nests […]. There are so many of these zealous protectors of animals that, in several schools, the teacher, having promised prizes for the most deserving children, has felt obliged to have the children draw lots, as all of them appeared to be deserving. Societies for animal welfare in schools: influenced by our doctrines, a certain number of schoolteachers, who were members of our society, organized the pupils in their schools into animal protection societies. Their example was followed by other teachers who, though not members of our group, nonetheless contributed to the spreading of its doctrines. We cannot encourage the development of this propaganda network enough.
The formation of societies for the protection of animals in schools will not only help our principles to be applied, but it will also serve to teach the children, from an early age, the duties and benefits of cooperation. From childhood, they will be accustomed to working in groups to carry out joint projects for the greater good of the nation. At its annual award-giving ceremony the SPA set up two prizes: a special prize for primary school teachers who had introduced the teaching of animal welfare in their schools, as well as the prize for children: “the winner, who was aged 8, received a bronze medal and 25 francs put in a savings account, the 2nd and 3rd placed children were given 15 francs and 10 francs respectively, also put in savings accounts”.
As well informed pedagogues, the SPA leadership also make every effort to increase awareness of their cause among children by encouraging the emulation of virtuous conduct: “as well as the normal Society for the Protection of Animals awards, every year a special prize is given to a pupil of one of the schools involved in our good works, who is nominated by his schoolmates for his exceptional gentleness toward animals. This year there were twenty candidates for the prize”. The SPA‘s various schools initiatives received staunch support from a succession of Education ministers: “in the lists of award-winners were schoolteachers and pupils, nominated by school inspectors who, in 1896, received reports directly from the SPA regarding how many candidates each school had put forward, and containing the information necessary for their application to be properly examined”.
In 1881, the president of the SPA requested and obtained the support of Jules Ferry, the Minister of Education, for the project of having the Grammont Law displayed in every school. Fourteen years later close relations with the public authorities had been maintained: [T]he Ministry of Education [the secretary-general of the SPA is happy to announce] has consented to contribute to the delivery costs of the 40,000 Grammont Law posters which were sent to every primary school teacher in France. The Ministry of Agriculture authorized that the posters be printed on official paper at the national printing works. Given the generally favorable attitude toward the SPA among the teaching profession, it is likely that a significant proportion of new members recruited at the beginning of 1880 were schoolteachers. The importance attached to this rise in membership was reflected in the fact that the detailed account of recent recruitment published in the SPA bulletin included a special column dedicated to the primary school teachers and the schools who had rallied to the cause.
It is said that at your age you have no pity children [the author writes]. You are certainly without pity when you are ignorant. If you were aware of the harm that your actions cause, you would not commit them. If you think for a moment that animals are sensitive, that they suffer like you, they love like you, then you will not dream for a moment of pulling a little bird’s wings off, of breaking the eggs that you find in a bird’s nest, or of depriving mothers of the children they are raising. You will do some soul-searching. You will remember that you too are afraid of suffering, of loneliness, of being abandoned. Following three chapters about duties to oneself, to the body, and to the soul, the “elementary morality” lessons advocated gentleness toward animals with a view to molding a citizen who masters himself, demonstrates self-control, does not allow himself to behave with intemperance, and is in control of his conduct, his emotions, and his passions.
This widespread appropriation of animal welfare by the pedagogues of the Republic undoubtedly modified the significance and the influence of the original demo-pedic register advocated by elites, who were far more conservative. The animal welfare movement, which had initially been preoccupied with controlling popular violence, was co-opted by advocates of a republican civic order constituted by morally autonomous and responsible citizens. This meant that the integration of animal welfare into the program of moral instruction in the compulsory education system inevitably had a major impact on the evolution of the sensibilities of the population over several generations, making shameful certain behaviors which children had indulged in and which, over time, would be made to appear increasingly “monstrous” (pulling birds’ wings off, destroying eggs found in birds’ nests, etc.)