The founding of NEAVS goes back to an event that took place at Harvard University in 1871. That year, Professor Henry Bowditch, wishing to bring Harvard up to date with the latest European methods of studying physiology, established one of the first vivisection laboratories in the country at Harvard's new medical school. While Harvard President Charles William Eliot was very pleased with the new laboratory, Professor Henry Bigelow, famed surgeon at the medical school and Massachusetts General Hospital, was not.
Dr. Bigelow was so troubled at what he had seen in the new facility, he appealed to Edward Clement, editor-in-chief of the prestigious Boston Evening Transcript, telling him about the new "scientific medicine" using live animals in experiments. Clement, convinced the charge against Harvard was serious, initiated forceful editorials against vivisection in the Transcript, Boston's foremost newspaper. Shocked readers were determined to take a stand against this new "scientific medicine." Joseph Greene of Dorchester, MA, a determined citizen who won $250 in a local “Why I am Against Vivisection” contest recruited a group of Boston’s most prominent citizens for the first meeting of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) on March 30, 1895. Greene approached Philip Peabody, one of the judges in the contest, a physician by training and a lawyer by profession, to become NEAVS’ first president. Six months later, the Society incorporated and opened its first office at 179A Tremont St.
Later, when Edward Clement became the Society's president in 1911, both membership and bequests increased dramatically. He used the power of the media to educate the public and frame the issues. Clement's determination kept the spirit of the Society alive, while the ever-increasing number of bequests kept the office functioning. By 1921, the Boston Evening Transcript noted, "The 'antis' [anti-vivisectionists] have become a force to be reckoned with." This recognition was due mainly to Clement's exceptional leadership, his wide circle of friends, and his ability to produce brilliant publications with incisive attacks against the vivisectors – many of whom were his friends.
Since its inception, NEAVS has used a variety of means toward ending the oppression of animals in science including:
- Cultivating public outreach and education
- Encouraging purchase of cruelty-free products
- Exposing animal research, labs or companies
- Funding the development and validation of non-animal testing
- Helping to pass laws that protect students’ rights to dissection choice
- Supporting animal sanctuaries
- Working with federal agencies for policy change that mandates alternatives to animal use
Author Cleveland Amory was NEAVS president from 1987 until 1998. He has been described as "the founding father of the modern animal protection movement.”
In anticipation of his retirement, Amory appointed a nominating committee that chose psychologist and former NEAVS board member, Theodora Capaldo, EdD, to succeed him. She was elected NEAVS’ first woman president in 1998 and continues to hold the position (Amory died unexpectedly later that same year). Capaldo and her newly elected board of directors came with extensive animal protection and animal rights experience and have included individuals with medical, veterinary, psychology, mental health, sociology, and legal credentials, such as Sarah Luick, Esq., a founding member of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).
Under Capaldo, the board and staff have developed and implemented a succession of new and effective strategies with which to achieve the organization’s sole mission of ending the use of animals in science and replacing them with non-animal and scientifically superior alternatives. Highlights of those programs include campaigning to end the use in research of the first nonhuman species, chimpanzees – human’s closest genetic relative (Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories); ending the use of terminal dog labs at the first veterinary school in the country, a curriculum shift later followed by other schools; and, most recently, reaching out to and incorporating other social movements into the animal protection movement. Examples include support for women doing research that does not involve animals and is aimed at understanding, among other things, sex differences’ effect on biomedical research results as well as the implications of such differences for the use of other species to extrapolate animal data to human health; and environmentalism through investigation of the serious and detrimental environmental impact that the use and disposal of millions of animals used in research, testing, and education has on the environment (women and the environment are the core of NEAVS’ current Common Ground campaign).
NEAVS’ philosophy emphasizes: that the use of animals in research, testing, and education is unscientific, as shown in numerous studies, and is unnecessary due to the availability of and continuing development of alternatives that yield results superior to animal use; and that the humane and ethical arguments against the suffering and death of millions of animals in labs each year has never been stronger given how modern science shows animal use has limitations, dangers, and is little or no benefit to human health.
In 2003, NEAVS launched its major campaign Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories and its comprehensive website providing thorough information on the plight of chimpanzees in U.S. labs. Our efforts led to the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, a federal bill to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and release all federally owned chimpanzees into permanent sanctuary, a number of published scientific papers building the case against using chimpanzees for research, and other advocacy efforts. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health announced it would retire the vast majority of its chimpanzees from research – a major victory!
Despite the challenges ahead, NEAVS will remain steadfast in pursuing our goal to expose, oppose, and end all harmful experiments on living beings, until all animals are protected from research, humans truly benefit from effective alternative research and testing, and the last laboratory cage is empty.