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HSA marks International Women’s Day on 8th of March Violet Wood

07 March 2019

Violet Wood 1866-1932

The woman who travelled the world to help animals

Violet was instrumental in seeking improvements in animal welfare across the globe, travelling throughout Europe and further afield to countries such as Tangiers and Albania, undertaking difficult and often harrowing work. 

Our special thanks…to our wonderful secretary in London, Miss Violet Wood, whose work for the better treatment of animals in foreign countries is now so well known.” From the Council minutes 1928

Violet was born in Brixton in 1869, to Henry and Harriet Wood.  Her father was an architect and Violet was the youngest child.  She had no real vocation and, by 1911, was a companion to her widowed mother and helping the fledgling Humane Slaughter Association as a volunteer.   

At a Council meeting of the HSA held on the 5th of March 1920, Violet was appointed Secretary.  At that meeting, she outlined a number of proposed activities including arranging demonstrations of the humane killer in slaughterhouses, writing to all the Chief Constables regarding the destruction of stray dogs and approaching the traffic managers of the railway companies regarding the transport of cattle.  A room at 1 Weymouth Street, Marylebone, was set aside for her to use as an office and two months later she was able to report on satisfactory progress with her proposals, as well as the fact that she had also written to a number of shipping companies asking them to carry a humane killer when transporting live animals. 

Over the next decade, Violet was active in promoting the aims of the charity widely across the UK and throughout Europe.  By 1923, she had made visits to Tangier, Gibraltar, Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseilles and Paris to promote the humane treatment of animals.  The following year, she visited Italy and Greece with the objective of introducing the humane killer into these countries and by 1930, was able to report that the humane killer had been introduced to half the countries of Europe.  She was instrumental in seeking improvements in animal welfare across the globe, travelling throughout Europe and further afield, visiting shelters for stray animals, public slaughterhouses and giving lectures and demonstrations.  It was difficult and often harrowing work, with travel much more arduous than it is today, particularly as a single woman. 

In 1927, Violet was appointed a member of a Government committee set up to investigate the Weinberg Pen which was used for casting animals for Shechita the Jewish method of slaughter. 

By 1930, her health was failing and she resigned as Secretary, leaving her young protégé Dorothy Sidley to continue in her stead.  She died on the 15th of June 1932 at the Hospital for Epilepsy & Paralysis, Maida Vale, having devoted her life to animal welfare.

Violet not only made a real and lasting impact in animal welfare, but also led the way for the generations of women scientists and veterinarians to come.  Examples include Gillian Weyman, who was the first recipient of the Dorothy Sidley Memorial Scholarships in 1986 and Ellie Wigham who was given a special travel award in 2018.  Gillian undertook a study of cattle lorry tailboards and unloading and loading procedures for her scholarship – the idea for this research project coming as a direct result of observations she had made whilst working as a Research Assistant with the HSA. She had noticed, on a number of occasions, cattle slipping whilst being moved on and off transporters and felt there was a need for a study in this particular area.

In February 2018 Ellie Wigham, a student at the University of Bristol, was awarded funding for her project to assess the use of CCTV data to monitor and improve welfare in slaughterhouses in the USA.  She subsequently travelled to the States to assess the effects of independent CCTV auditing on animal welfare in lairage and at slaughter.  This funding was timely as legislation came into force in the UK a few months later requiring all slaughterhouses to have CCTV installed. 

More recently, Dr Dorothy McKeegan was awarded a joint HSA/Defra funding for her programme of research to determine whether Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning (LAPS) might be a more humane way to stun pigs during commercial slaughter.

Thanks to women like these and also to the backing of people who share the charity’s concern for the welfare of animals, the HSA has already delivered initiatives which have made a difference to millions of animals at a time when they are most vulnerable.  Please help us to continue their legacy by reading their stories and donating to the HSA.  Large or small, your donation means a great deal to the lives of many animals and is vital in helping us continue – you can make a donation or become a member here.  Thank you.

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