To celebrate International Women’s Day, we wanted to talk about one of the pioneers of Australian animal rights – Frances Levvy. While she might not be the household name that some are, she deserves her place as one of the first people to really highlight the importance of protecting animals from ill-treatment of all kinds.
Frances Levvy was born in Penrith and was one of four children. Her dad Barnett Levey was a former watchmaker who worked as a theatre director. Her mother was called Sarah and both were originally from London.
When Barnett died in 1837, Sarah converted from Judaism to Christianity and when she died, Frances and her sister Emma changed their surname to Levvy. Their mother’s moral and religious view of the world shaped both the girls and the work they came to do.
The sisters moved to Newtown, Sydney in 1874 and Frances later moved to Waverley where she lived until 1924 and carried out her most famous work.
Frances mission to raise awareness of what we know as animal rights started in January 1884 when she and Emma formed the first Band of Mercy. The organisation aimed to teach children kindness to animals, to make them more alert of the damage that their behaviour could cause.
With the Band of Mercy, Frances found her calling. By 1897 there were 446 bands across the country and there were over 26,000 members. She was even paid a small payment each year from the Department of Public Instruction in New South Wales where she visited up to 60 schools, organising and judging essay competitions.
Frances viewed children as a force for change in the world, much as many of us do today. She would teach boys humane ways to move stock or how to train a colt to harness and saddle.
Her work also involved asking them questions so they could learn to assess whether something was right. One example asked if the exhibition of wild animals in ‘travelling menageries’ were consistent with humanity – and made them give reasons to back up their case.
The other area that Frances made her mark with her use of the printed word to get her point to new audiences. If she was alive today, you could guess she would love the potential of blogging!
She developed and edited a monthly periodical called the Band of Mercy and Humane Journal that ran from 1887 until 1923. It led to other publications such as The Band of Mercy Advocate. Her advocacy in her writing led the Boston’s Woman’s Journal to describe it as the ‘first newspaper of its kind in Australia’.
While animal rights as we know it has changed a lot since Frances’ time, the work she put in to raise awareness of it was crucial. She was a woman ahead of her time who could use the power of the press to her cause. She also realised that to make change, you had to educate children in new approaches and allow them to make those changes a reality.