Bands of Mercy Songs: The music of 19th-century children's animal-welfare organizations
HISTORY:The Animal-Welfare Movement of the 19th century was powerful and pervasive. Animals had been used for food and work for centuries but it seems that only when part of the population moved to the cities and away from agrarian lifestyles reliant upon animals were they more sensitive TO the often abusive uses of those animals. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was established in England in 1824; its concerns led to the first important legislation on behalf of animals: Martin's Act of 1835 which made cattlel abuse, bull-baiting, and dog carts illegal. In 1866 the American version--the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)--was established. Realizing that children needed to be brought into the movement, Catherine Smithies established the first Band of Mercy in 1875 in Earlham Grove, England. In 1882, George T. Angell and Rev. Thomas Timmins brought the Bands of Mercy to America. If England had 800 Bands by the end of the century, America far outpaced them with 27,000 across the country (Clapp-Itnyre, British Hymns 213). Bands met weekly or monthly to learn humane treatment of animals, sing songs in their defense, and learn facts and political actions. Taking the pledge was paramount to these commitments: "We agree to do all in our power to protect animals from cruel usage, and to promote as far as we can their humane treatment." The Band of Mercy Advocate was a journal established in 1879 by Mrs. Smithie's son Thomas Smithies to spread awareness to a young audience: complete with beautiful engravings of animals, stories of humane treatment of animals, poems by children, and a song in every issue, it must have been a treat to read! The book from which many of our songs come, though, is American Sarah J. Eddy's Songs of Happy Life: For Schools, Homes and Bands of Mercy, published simultaneously in Providence, RI and London (1897). It is freely available on Internet Archives (https://archive.org/details/happylife00eddy).
Richmond, Indiana, where I live, has been the site of at least three Bands of Mercy. The first was established during the original movement by Earlham College Quakers, in 1888. In 2019, Jessica Raposo and I re-activated the Band for a two-week Band of Mercy Camp to learn the traditions and songs of the organization. We even travelled to Indianapolis to sing for the 2019 Children's Literature Association's annual conference. Then, in 2020, as part of my direction of Richmond Civic Theatre's Charlotte's Web, Jessica and I formed another Band to sing Bands-of-Mercy songs before the show. Many of those songs were recorded and are found here.
This is a picture of an 1890 Band of Mercy in America. We attempted to re-create it in our image above!
Primary Sources:Sarah J. Eddy, comp. Songs of Happy Life: For Schools, Homes and Bands of Mercy. Providence, R. I. and London: 1897. In the Public Domain. Available on Internet Archives, Google Scholar and in print through BiblioBazaar.
Volume 1, Bands of Mercy Advocate (London, 1879-1881). Owned by the British Library and a few other libraries globally.
Secondary Sources:Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa. “Advocating for the Least of These: Empowering Children and Animals in The Band of Mercy Advocate.” Chapter 5 in Animals and Their Children in Victorian Culture. Ed. Brenda Ayres and Sarah E. Maier. NY and London: Routledge, 2020. Pp. 87-105.
Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa. Chapter 5, "Reforming Society: Missionary, Bands of Hope, and Bands of Mercy Hymns." British Hymn Books for Children: Re-Tuning the History of Childhood. Ashgate Studies in Childhood: 1700-Present Series, Claudia Nelson, series editor. Surrey, UK: Ashgate (now Routledge): 2016.
THE SINGERS: Bands of Mercy Choir-Camp, June 2019:
- Caleigh Koechlein
- Grace Stewart**
- Melody Stewart
- Mikayla Petersheim*
- Caleigh Collins*
- Molly Fuller
- Matilda Fuller
- Cecelia Hargrove
- Topanga Stingley
- Lea Ramsey
- Hailey Day
- Taytem Rivera
- Harleigh Raduenz
- Karaline Byers
- Alice Couch
- Lucy Couch
Co-Directors: Alisa Clapp-Itnyre, Jessica Raposo
Pianist: Madeleine Demetriades
Sound Engineer: Chris Robinson
Costumer: Sharon Walker
Location: Central United Methodist Church, Richmond, IN