The Humanitarian League was a small radical British pressure group opposed all avoidable suffering on any sentient being.
In 1891, Edward Maitland, Ernest Bell, Howard Williams, Kenneth Romanes and Henry Salt met with Alice Lewis at her house, 14 Park Square, London. Annie Besant, W. H. Hudson, Sydney Olivier, Bernard Shaw and Edward Carpenter were among those who promised their support. A manifesto was drawn up for the society.
Its campaigns were designed to change attitudes towards crime and punishment; the conditions of labour; the killing of animals for food, fashion, sport or profit; and the use of natural resources. Its ‘battles’ in the Lords and House of Commons are recorded in the League’s journal.
The League were influenced by one person above all others, Henry Stephens Salt. Salt was Secretary of the Humanitarian League and the Editor of the League’s two journals from 1895 to 1919, and he was appointed to special departments to deal with cruel sports, criminal law and prison reform, humane diet, education of children and opposition to war.
He received considerable support from friends and supporters. Salt worked with the RSPCA and other organisations, and made systematic and consistent protests against numerous “barbarisms”.
Not all of his support came from the ‘Left’. The Hon. Fitzroy Stewart, Secretary, Conservative Office, supported him on the question of stag-hunting, and is but one of many examples. Salt also enlisted many able people to carry out reform of criminal law and prison reform.
The demise of the Humanitarian League came about in part, as a result of the first world war but also the death of Salt’s wife, so in 1919 it disbanded. Salt recognised that the Humanitarian League in its day was largely a forlorn hope but with would have far reaching effects by carrying out the necessary groundwork for future reforms.
The Humanitarian League’s sports department continues today in the form of the League Against Cruel Sports.
Salt wrote in 1930: “Its long effort to ameliorate certain sports was not in reality wasted and has now been made evident by the success of a later League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports”.
The League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports was founded in 1924 by former Humanitarian League members Henry Brown Amos (1869-1946) and Ernest Bell (1851-1933), to continue the work of the Humanitarian League’s sports department. This League, now is known as the League Against Cruel Sports.