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Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904)

The Anglo-Irish writer Frances Power Cobbe was a founder of the animal rights movement. She also campaigned for women's suffrage and social reform. She was a forceful character - even her critics acknowledged her ‘superabundant energy, absolute self-conviction and inextinguishable eloquence’. Cobbe's protest was initially prompted by animal experiments she witnessed in Florence in 1863 when she worked as the Italian correspondent for the London Daily News. In subsequent decades Cobbe enrolled supporters both in Britain and the US. In 1875 she founded the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection. The protests of the early animal-rights movement led to the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, which regulated animal experimentation.

But Cobbe was disappointed with the Act's long-term effects, which she considered detrimental. The numbers of animal experiments had actually risen since the introduction of the Act, she argued 12 years later. The act exempted physiologists from prosecution under earlier laws to protect animals from cruelty so long as they adhered to the regulations and obtained a government licence. Cobbe remained sceptical of scientific medicine because she felt it made people insensitive to things like suffering or beauty. Science, she said, ‘has given us many precious things, but [it] takes away things more precious still’.

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F P Cobbe, Vivisection in America. I. How it is taught. II. How it is practised (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co, 1889)

F P Cobbe, The Scientific Spirit of the Age: And Other Pleas and Discussions (London: Smith Elder and Co, 1888)

F P Cobbe, The Life of Frances Power Cobbe, as told by herself (London: Bentley and Son, 1894)

S Mitchell, Frances Power Cobbe: Victorian Journalist, Feminist, Reformer (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2004)

L Williamson, Power and Protest: Frances Power Cobbe and Victorian society (London: Rivers Oram, 2005)



The science of the functioning of living organisms and their component parts.