19 October 2013

Fashionable Cruelty - Slaughter of Birds for Ladies' Hats

What Mr. Bergh Thinks of It

Walking up Broadway one fine afternoon lately, a Tribune reporter noticed an unusually large display of plumage on ladies' hats. He was the wings, plumes, heads and bills of red birds, yellow birds, robins and humming-birds and almost every variety of the feathered songster known, doing duty in adorning the headwear and trimmings of the enthusiastic devotees of fashion. In many instances the birds that looked so pretty on those jaunty hats were complete, and the stuffed songster looked as gay as in life. In the windows of a millinery store, frequented mainly by wealthy ladies of fashion, the reporter saw many hats thus decorated. With a hesitating stop he went in and was met by a stout dame, who wore on elaborate dress dotted with dead fire-flies. In life these fire-flies had undergone a squeezing process, which causes the phosphorus in them to exude and has the effect of making a brilliant costume.

The storekeeper informed the reporter that fire-flies are imported from warm countries, mainly the Indies, where they are preserved for market. She had them for sale. One of the large counters was almost entirely covered with stuffed birds and various parts of birds, trade to be placed on hats and trimmings, as the fancy or taste of the wearer might suggest.

"Are you not afraid of being arrested for cruelty?" asked the reporter.

"No, indeed! We import them," replied the woman, looking the reporter out of countenance. "They would not arrest a woman?" she asked or rather stated in the most assuring manner.

The reporter called on President Bergh, who said: "I have noticed lately that this cruel onslaught is increasing. There is a greater display of these little tortured creatures than ever before. I notice it in the fashionable stores to upper Broadway, in cheap 6th avenue, and down in 8th avenue. The wanton slaughter, flaying birds alive, and tearing feathers from their quivering bodies, is the most barbarous cruelty that can be practised. It is an insult to the civilization which we boast. The savages can do no more than that. If he does take a few feathers from a fowl, it is the pride of a warrior that prompts him, not a merciless vanity, and he is, therefore, more excusable that our more cultivated and refined people. The feathers are plucked from these living birds, and their limbs are torn from them while in the agonies of death, under the impression that if the feathers are cured while the blood is warm they have a fresher and more lasting tint.

"They may import a few," continued Mr. Bergh, "but the demand for birds has become so great of late that the Jersey farmers are now trapping pigeons and raising squabs for this market, to be sacrificed to cruel fashion whims. The squabs are killed when only a few weeks old and their plumage is fresh and bright. A stuffed squab sometimes looks more "cunning" on a hat than a full-fledged pigeon. Stuffed squirrels are also largely used. What is more ridiculous, and yet suggestive of insatiable vanity than to see a couple of squirrels on a woman's hat? These squirrels are brought over from Jersey and the Long Island bogs by boys who sell them at 15 or 20 cents each. The young squirrels are generally selected for this bloody sacrifice because of their desirable size. Cats were formerly used, but there was so much trouble in cutting their skins down to the proper size that kittens have been substituted.

"It seems that nothing — not even the most defenseless and prettiest of God's creatures — the birds of the air, can escape the merciless hands of fashion's slaves. Fashion has such an unlimited power that are women are not only dead to mercy, but ruin their own health and sacrifices their lives in following its arbitrary decrees. A few years ago, England, and even India, took steps to prevent the further slaughter of birds. But America has done practically nothing.

"If the wealthy ladies of fashion of this city should set the fashion at discountenancing this practice, a great deal would be accomplished. If the leaders of society would cease using ornament's that were obtained only through cruelty, there would soon be no demand for them. The prevention of this slaughter rests with the leaders of fashion more than with this society; for the work is done so secretly that we cannot traces the doers to their butcher shops or get even the slightest evidence. We see only the results of their cruelty. So poplar has this cruelty of plucking live animals become that live geese are picked under the impression that the feathers make a better bed than if they were plucked after the goose was killed."

December 10, 1884. Washington D.C. Evening Star 64(9867): 3. From the New York Tribune.