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Muriel Dowding

2012 March 15
Animal aid soap

Animal Aid following in Muriel Dowding’s path

This is a summary of my entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Muriel Dowding, Lady Dowding (1908-1993), animal rights campaigner, was born in Paddington. She was influenced by her mother’s spiritualist and theosophical views and became a member of the theosophist lodge in Tunbridge Wells and, later, a member of the White Eagle lodge run by the spiritualist Grace Cooke. After her first husband, Jack Maxwell (Max) Whiting, went missing in action over Denmark in May 1944, she contacted Hugh Dowding then Air Chief Marshal (later Baron Dowding) for details of her husband’s mission. He too was a keen spiritualist. They married in 1951. Both Dowdings were active anti-vivisectionists. Hugh used his position in the House of Lords to speak against animal vivisection and against the ways in which animals were poisoned in the wild. Most of his speeches in the Lords were on animal welfare. Muriel became a member of the committee of the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society, founded by Louise Lind af Hageby, and a council member. For many years  she chaired the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), and in that role, and later as president of the NAVS, she led demonstrations, presented petitions to parliament, represented the organization at international conferences, and helped to increase the public profile of the anti-vivisectionist cause. Her writing for the NAVS drew attention to the part played by women such as Anna Kingsford and Frances Power Cobbe in earlier campaigns.

In the late 1950s Muriel Dowding, with similarly minded friends, founded Beauty without Cruelty, originally to campaign against existing cruel practices in the fashion and cosmetics industry. She helped to publicize the ingredients of cosmetics, in particular the use of whale oil in lipsticks and civet in scent, and the testing of cosmetics and shampoos on animals; she also compiled lists of brands free from cruelty. Beauty without Cruelty held its first official meeting in autumn 1959. Beauty without Cruelty attracted much publicity, helped by the involvement of 1960s model and pro-animal activist Celia Hammond. Hugh Dowding acted as president of Beauty without Cruelty and was patron of the International Association against Painful Experiments. Three years after his death, in February 1970, the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, to promote practical alternatives to animal experiments, was established by the NAVS, as was the annual world day for laboratory animals, on his birthday, 24 April. Muriel continued her campaigning work after her husband’s death. As a participant in a televised debate in November 1970 she declared: ‘If we can put a man on the moon, surely we are clever enough if we put our minds to it to evolve the alternatives to using animals’.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. David Whiting permalink
    December 8, 2015

    Correction to” After her first husband, Jack Maxwell (Max) Whiting, went missing in action over Norway in May 1944″ It was Denmark, not Norway. See: http://www.airmen.dk/a014240-DW9.htm

    No, my father in a ‘reserved occupation’ volunteered to join the RAF hoping to be one of Dowding’s fighter pilots, but he was too old for pilot training, so was posted to 5 Group, Bomber Command as a flight engineer, first with No 9 Squadron (which Dowding had been with in WW1) and then transferred to RAF East Kirkby on the formation of 630 Squadron. On the night of 21 May 1944 Lancaster LL950 code LE-Y took off as part of a diversion to draw the German fighters away from the main target, Duesberg, and headed to drop sea mines in Kiel Bay. On the return the Lancaster was shot down, exploding in the air at 2an on 22 May, over the village of Vesterlund, Denmark. The local villagers hold an annual memorial service at the memorial crash site to commemorate the the sacrifice made by the airmen in liberating their country.

    • Hilda Kean permalink
      December 8, 2015

      Thank you so much for this correction. I will amend accordingly. I had obtained this information from other works and used in the DNB entry. I hope you have contacted the Oxford DNB too about the error!

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