Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Anguish of J. Howard Moore

J. Howard Moore vehemently
opposed cruelty to animals.

In 1910, the State of Illinois passed an unusual law. It required the teaching of morals in the public schools for at least 30 minutes each week. Evidently, the requirement set off a mad scramble. Thankfully, a Chicago schoolteacher named J. Howard Moore came to the rescue. As recalled by one magazine writer:

No country is without popular heroes. America has at least one. Like young Lochinvar he “has come out of the West.” He is in Chicago at present. His name is J. Howard Moore. . . He became a hero by a book. It happened this way. One day the Illinois Legislature passed a bill compelling teachers to instruct their pupils in morals, thirty minutes a week. Forthwith there was a panic. Ladies’ hearts fluttered and men’s lips dropped naughty words. Nobody in Illinois knew how to teach morals. Nobody? Just one.  J. Howard Moore.

A Darwinist who supported animal rights, free thought, sex education, prohibition, and woman’s suffrage, Moore would go on to produce two guides to teaching ethics. While he wrote the books and lectured about vegetarianism at Hull House and the Crerar Library, Moore also taught at Crane Technical High School in Chicago.

He really saved the day.

And six years later he took his own life at the age of 54. Friends and colleagues said he had been discouraged by his own poor health, but the note he left stated, “I am unable to stand the sufferings of poor animals anymore.”

John Howard Moore, son of a farmer, was born in 1862 in Indiana and moved with his family to Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas during the first 30 years of his life.

There isn’t a clear record of Moore’s activities as he became an adult. In 1886, he graduated from Oskaloosa College (now William Penn University), around 60 miles southeast of Des Moines. Also in 1886, after returning home to Mitchell County, Kansas, Moore ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and came in last in a field of five.

Later, he wrote:

I came to the conclusion out there on the Kansas prairies that the animals were not treated right by human beings. I thought we had not even a right to kill them for food and came to the University of Chicago to study the matter. At that time I had never heard of vegetarianism.

In 1894, he started at Chicago with advanced academic standing. There he formed the Vegetarian Club, which he referred to as a “gastronomic enterprise,” in a house where students could board. During the summer of 1896, he lectured on the topic, “Social Progress,” through the University of Wisconsin’s extension program. It looks like he taught at Wisconsin after graduating from college.

In 1899, Moore married Jennie Louise Darrow in Racine, Wisconsin. The sister of famed attorney Clarence Darrow, Jennie was an elementary school teacher. The couple soon returned to Chicago where Moore published his first book, Better World Philosophy. Part sociology, part psychology, the book addresses problems of industrialization, natural law, and the significance of childhood. 

Advertisement for books by Moore (1908)

“The book is a protest,” wrote the anthropologist Frederick Starr in a review. “Its author is dissatisfied with the egoism of our day. . .  He believes the future is to see better things.” Yet Moore was hardly an optimist. High-strung and frail, he despaired of humanity.

Nonetheless, with Better World Philosophy Moore gained a following and wrote Universal Kinship – about humanitarianism – in short order.

“The name of J. Howard Moore acts like magic on the thousands in this country and he is quite as much worshiped in foreign countries where his books have been published in many languages,” an admirer observed.

In 1908, Moore returned to the University of Chicago for three quarters. His courses included physiographic ecology, evolution of domestic animals, and elementary zoology.

Increasingly he spoke against vivisection and in favor of evolution. He and his brother-in-law Darrow were close, and Moore surely influenced Darrow’s thinking – especially in light of the attorney’s defense of the right to teach the theory of evolution at the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Given that Moore crossed paths with labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, a founder of the IWW; activist Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood; the writer Carl Sandburg, and the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, it is not surprising that he identified as a socialist.

In June 1916, Moore committed suicide in Jackson Park, Chicago, the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After his death, there followed many tributes, including Clarence Darrow’s powerful eulogy:

This man, our brother, never purposely killed a living thing until he put the pistol to his head. Poor dead dreamer, you are not the first or last mortal to learn the truth. . .

I have dreamed my dreams, had my illusions and wakened from my sleep. Why do I not follow him? I do not end it all because the love of life and the shrinking fear of death in all living things stays my hand and my courage fails.

As Moore requested, he was buried amidst nature at the rural Excelsior Cemetery in Mitchell County, Kansas.

Our Dumb Animals, a journal devoted to the prevention of cruelty to animals,
to which Moore contributed many articles

 (issue published June 1916 - the month he committed suicide)


  1. Another great vignette of a life that is just far away enough to be exotic and yet close enough to feel recent. Howard Moore was complex and so sensitive. IN so many ways he busts through the stereotypes of "men of his time." As always a great read.

  2. I have always that that for the working class at least, there was a defacto vegetarianism to their diet because meat was so expensive. But lord, the suffering endured. Which is hardly a thing of the past - in fact, I'm waiting for the day when factory farming is campaign issue.
    To think he killed themselves just as the young men of Europe were engaged in mass, wholesale slaughter, the purpose of which still cannot be explained by any historian. War for war's sake.


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