Jessey Wade was the founder of the Cats Protection League in 1927 – she was an animal rights campaigner and an incredibly inspiring woman.
During the 1920s cats were not seen as the companion animals they are today. Rather than pets most were thought of as nothing more than pests.
Concern was expressed at the general ignorance of many people regarding the needs of the domestic cat, so much so that on 16 May 1927 a group of like-minded people gathered together at Caxton Hall in London to form the Cats Protection League, an educational society to raise the status of cats.
The charity’s founder was Miss Jessey Wade, a tireless campaigner for animal welfare and a founder or original member of other societies such as The Humanitarian League, The Pit Ponies’ Protection Society, The Performing and Captive Animals’ Defence League and The League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports (now League Against Cruel Sports).
Jessey Wade wrote articles for The Animals' Friend journal supporting animal rights
She was also a champion of women’s rights; she was friends with renowned Suffragists, Eve Gore Booth and Esther Roper, editor of their journal Urania and a member of the Women’s Freedom League. Demanding votes for women, in 1911, Jessey, along with thousands of women across the country, voided her census, scrawling ‘No Vote, No Census’ across it.
Jessey was personal secretary and friend to publisher Ernest Bell of George Bell & Sons, a London publishing firm who produced the magazines and journals of many animal charities. Ernest was the Editor of The Animals’ Friend and Jessey was editor of The Little Animals’ Friend, a sister journal for children.
Jessey was a prolific writer on animal rights. She wrote articles for The Animals’ Friend, pamphlets for the charities above and sent letters to numerous national and local papers speaking out against the ill treatment of animals. She wanted to see an end to them working in pits and mines, being exploited in circuses and shows and having their fur and feathers used in fashion.
Tibby the cat and a woman who we think is Jessey Wade (From The Animals' Friend Cat Book – Credit G Bell & Sons SM)
She loved all animals but there can be no doubt that the cat was one of her favourites. In 1917 Jessey wrote the The Animals' Friend Cat Book, published by Bell Brothers. In this she refers to their office cat Tibby, and in the front of the book is an illustration of Tibby the cat and a lady next to him. We can’t know for sure but we like to think that this is of Jessey herself! It is the only likeness we have been able to track down.
It was this book that led to Jessey creating the Cats Protection League (CPL) in 1927. Her old friend and colleague Ernest Bell became Treasurer.
A selection of covers of The Cats' Mews-sheet and The Cat edited by Jessey Wade
Jessey included updates of the CPL’s progress in The Animals’ Friend but in 1931 she created the charity’s first magazine, The Cats’ Mews-sheet. This later changed its name in 1934 to The Cat. It is the longest running cat magazine in the UK if not the world (we can’t find proof of any other magazine to rival it!) and has not missed an issue in its almost 90 years of publication. It is also claimed to be the first magazine that was exclusively devoted to the ordinary cat, and encouraging people to better understand their needs.
Jessey was a formidable and determined woman, age certainly didn’t dim her energy. She was 67 when she founded Cats Protection, 75 when she stepped down as editor of The Cat magazine and 79 when she retired as Chairman due to ill health. She died at the age of 91 in 1952.
A tribute was written to her in The Cat magazine – “Jessey Wade was an outstanding example of the triumph of mind, or will power, over matter. Petite and of fragile appearance, her indomitable spirit carried her through mental and physical exertions that would have daunted even the most robust. We will never see her like again but her memory will inspire us to continue the task she set us.”
To find out more about Cats Protection’s history, visit www.cats.org.uk/what-we-do/about-us/our-history