Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beautiful Joe and the Band of Mercy


I was thumbing casually and carefully through the crumbling pages of the January 1892 The Ladies' Home Journal I'd found at an estate sale, when I came across a familiar phrase: "Band of Mercy."  

The brief article was part of a regular feature of the magazine, The King's Daughters, edited by Mrs. Margaret Bottome.


The Band of Mercy was mentioned in one of my favorite children's books, Beautiful Joe.  Even though the book is a work of fiction, the LHJ clipping shows that the Band of Mercy was a real organization.  In researching the Band of Mercy, I discovered that Beautiful Joe was also the name of a real dog.


Did you ever read Beautiful Joe?  It's a classic children's book published in 1893 (a year after the Ladies' Home Journal article).  Beautiful Joe was written by an author named Marshall Saunders -- or so I thought.  It wasn't until I started doing research for this blog post that I discovered that Marshall Saunders was, in reality, Canadian author Margaret Marshall Saunders, CBE (1861-1947).



There's a website for the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society in Canada.  It gives us details of the story of Margaret Marshall Saunders, and why she published under an assumed (sort of) name:


In 1892 while she was visiting her brother in Meaford, Ontario, she heard the story of a dog that was rescued by Mr. Walter Moore (the father of her sister-in-law, Louise Moore). This event inspired her to write the story of Beautiful Joe, a canine autobiography of a Meaford area dog, rescued from a brutal owner who had chopped off his ears and tail. She decided to enter the story in a literary contest sponsored by the American Humane Education Society. In her book the Moore family became the Morris Family, and she relocated the story to a small town in Maine, USA. as per the contest rules. Also, because female authors were not popular at the time, she disguised her sex by not using her first name Margaret, instead using her middle name Marshall. Beautiful Joe written by Marshall Saunders, was finally submitted... and won!
The book was first published in 1893 and quickly became the first Canadian book to sell more than a million copies. By 1900, over 800,000 copies had sold in the U.S., 40,000 in Canada and 100,000 in the United Kingdom. And by the 1930's worldwide sales were over 7 million copies.
Beautiful Joe is dedicated:


TO

GEORGE THORNDIKE ANGELL

PRESIDENT OF THE 
AMERICAN HUMANE EDUCATION SOCIETY
THE MASSACHUSETTS SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION
OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, AND THE PARENT
AMERICAN BAND OF MERCY
19 MILK ST., BOSTON.
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
BY THE AUTHOR

http://www.beautifuljoe.org/the-society/the-storyteller





An online exhibit for students and teachers called Be Kind, tells us more of the history of the Band of Mercy:

http://bekindexhibit.org/exhibition/bands-of-mercy/

Bands of Mercy were formal organizations that brought young boys and girls together under the umbrella of being kind to animals. Humane Education was a central component of Band of Mercy activities.
The history of the Band of Mercy movement dates back to 1875,  when Catherine Smithies formed the first one in Britain. In 1879 the Band of Mercy Advocate began as a periodical publication in Britain. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) took over the organization of both the Bands of Mercy and its related publication in 1882.

1882 also marked the year when the Band of Mercy movement came to North America. George T. Angell, founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) teamed up with Rev. Thomas Timmins to start Bands of Mercy in the United States. This movement grew rapidly–by the early 20th century there were more than 27,000 Bands of Mercy in the United States.
I wonder how many children joined the organization because they read Beautiful Joe?

Margaret Marshall Saunders was awarded the CBE in 1934 in recognition of her contribution toward securing humane treatment for animals.

I suspect that when most people think of Canadian children's book authors, they think of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series and so many other books.  Margaret Marshall Saunders and Lucy Maud Montgomery co-founded a local branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club.

_______________________________________

You can read Beautiful Joe online, here: 

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/saunders/joe/joe.html#XIX

Or, even better, find a printed copy of it, an old printed copy, and share it with a child who loves animals.

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