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Jun 09 2011

Fake Fur and Elephants

NCSU zoology professors Frederick S. Barkalow (left) and Reinard Harkema (right) holding fur coat while standing behind display of furbearing animals used for making clothing, 1950

contributed by Babi Hammond.

What’s so special about special collections? Well, in what other part of the library could you find highway post reflectors, a box full of fake fur samples, or a life-size cut-out of an African elephant? These are three of the oddest things we’ve found so far as we process the papers of the Animal Welfare Institute http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/findingaids/mc00344?query=mc%2000344. But these puzzling objects help tell an important story about a key organization in the animal welfare movement.

Founded in 1951, the AWI and its lobbying arm, the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL), achieved their most well-known victories in the passage of landmark animal welfare laws and in organizing the Save the Whales campaign. The AWI’s papers tell the story of an organization very comfortable walking the halls of power in Washington, DC. There is carton after carton of correspondence with Senators, Congressmen, and federal agency heads, many of whom were on a first-name basis with Christine Stevens, the president of the AWI and an apparently indefatigable correspondent and networker. But while the AWI is prominently–and rightly–associated with successful efforts to pass landmark legislation like the Animal Welfare Act, the scope of their interests was much broader. The boxes filled with laboratory equipment catalogs and scientific journals testify to their efforts to educate scientists about alternatives to using animals in lab experiments; the many letters to CEOs of shipping agencies and meatpacking plants show the AWI’s interest in ensuring that these companies employed the most humane methods possible in the transport and handling of animals.

Which brings us, finally, to the highway reflectors and fake fur. When we found the reflectors, we didn’t even know what they were. But later cartons contained a great deal of correspondence among the AWI, the manufactures of the reflectors, and state highway departments. The AWI had discovered studies in Europe showing that the reflectors were effective in warning animals about the approach of oncoming cars, thus reducing the number of vehicle collisions involving animals. The AWI worked to learn all that they could about the reflectors, and to promote their use on US highways. The fake fur samples were part of an AWI effort to reduce the number of animals killed for fur. They worked to pass new laws and international agreements to make the fur trade as humane as possible, pressuring fur companies to buy only from reputable sources and educating clothing manufacturers about viable alternatives to the use of animal fur. The elephant cut-out was apparently part of publicity for the campaign to ban trade in ivory.

Processing an archival collection–especially one as large as the AWI collection–can be tedious at times. Finding odd objects like these can make an afternoon more entertaining. But these objects, along with hundreds of cartons of papers, exemplify the AWI’s incredible range of interests and the marvelous energy with which its staff pursued their goal of making the world a better place for humans and animals. It is quite humbling to reflect (no pun intended) on that while working on the collection.

For more information on the Animal Rights Collections found at NCSU, please visit us at http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/specialcollections/.

For more images like the one above, please our online digital resource at http://historicalstate.lib.ncsu.edu/.