26 Vegetarian & Vegan Women Who Made History


If you’re a feminist who doesn’t eat animals, then you probably already know that animal rights and women’s rights are undeniably connected. Whether you eat meat or not, though, it might be news to you that women’s rights and animal rights have pretty much always intersected throughout history. Although this form of intersectional feminism goes back for hundreds of years (at least), it was Carol J. Adams book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, that really spotlighted the issue when it was published back in 1990. But long before Adams' seminal work, there have been famous vegan and vegetarian feminists from history who saw the relationship between feminism and animal rights advocacy.

Personally, though I’ve identified as a feminist for many years, I only started exploring the connection between feminism and speciesism about a year ago, and I still typically eat meat one day a week. (After spending hours on this project, though, I’m pretty sure it’s time for me to stop eating animals for good.) The logic we base eating and exploiting animals on is the same logic that has historically been used to discriminate against women and people of color — that for them it is "just different" and that their lives and reproductive systems exist for our benefit and consumption.

If you don’t believe me, believe history — because after researching extensively, I found these 26 feminists from history who were vegetarians or vegans. They saw the connection, and maybe after reading this, you will too.

Aphra Behn (1640 - 1689)

Aphra Behn was a British author, poet, playwright, and funny person who wrote about race, gender, and slavery. Behn was the first known Englishwoman to make her living as a professional writer, and she was inspired to give vegetarianism a shot after reading Thomas Tryon write about it.

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Asenath Nicholson (1792 - 1855)

Asenath Nicholson was a writer, philanthropist, abolitionist, temperance activist, and vegan who ran a vegan boarding house in the Five Points of New York City. She also traveled to Ireland during the Great Famine to help families in need. After returning home, Nicholson wrote two books about the struggles of Ireland’s poor.

Image: Vegan Feminist Network

Margaret Fuller (1810 - 1850)

Born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, Margaret Fuller was a transcendentalist, feminist, writer, literary critic, and journalist who campaigned for vegetarianism in her book: Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Fuller believed that freeing women from domestic life would result in a less violent society where vegetarianism would be the standard diet.

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Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855)

Charlotte Brontë’s father, Patrick Brontë, raised her and her sisters as vegetarians. Though Charlotte didn’t write much about her diet, or the convictions that compelled her to stick with it, she’s one of history’s most famous vegetarian authors.

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Ellen G. White (1827 - 1915)

As one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church — a branch of the Christian church that preaches vegetarianism — Ellen G. White believed the human body represented “God’s Temple,” and therefore should not be made unclean by the consumption of animal flesh. She also abstained from tobacco and alcohol.

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Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888)

Interestingly, Louisa May Alcott was actually related to the man who founded America’s First Vegetarian Society, William Alcott. Moreover, the author of Little Women grew up in a strictly vegetarian household. Louisa May’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, actually founded the first vegetarian commune.

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Caroline Earl White (1833 - 1916)

Caroline Earl White is basically the mother of animal rights advocacy in the U.S. Not only did she found the first animal shelter in the nation, she also created the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS). As if that’s not awesome enough, White also gave her money and time to support women’s rights activism and anti-slavery causes.

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Ellen Prince Spiyer (1841 - 1921)

In 1906, Ellen Prince Spiyer formed the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Three years later, the vegetarian badass and other members of the Women’s Auxillary founded a free animal clinic in the Lower East Side of NYC for people who couldn’t afford pay their pets’ medical bills.

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Charlotte Despard (1844 - 1939)

Although she’s most famous for being a leading suffragette of Great Britain, Charlotte Despard was also an activist of animal rights and workers’ rights. She created The Women’s Peace crusade to protest war, and she also formed The Women’s Freedom League, The Women’s Prisoner’s Defense League, and she acted as secretary for the Friends of Soviet Russia. She was imprisoned for her activism on numerous occasions, and at one point, her house was burned to the ground by an anti-communist mob.

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Anna Kingsford (1846 - 1888)

Anna Kingsford was one of the first women to push vegetarianism in England’s animal rights movement. Kingsford was an influential anti-vivisection advocate who also campaigned for women’s rights. In her 1892 work, The Perfect Way in Diet, Kingsford chastised the practice of eating animals with arguments centering around animal rights, human rights, human health, and science.

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Annie Besant (1847 - 1933)

Annie Besant was a British feminist, socialist, and vocal member of the National Secular Society and the Fabian Society. At one point, she also lead the Theosophists — a religious movement founded in 1875 and based on Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation. In 1893, Besant lectured on vegetarianism and slaughterhouse conditions during the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago.

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Gertrude Colmore (1855 - 1926)

G. Colmore, author of Suffragette Sally, was just one of many suffragettes who actively campaigned for the rights of animals. Not only were animal rights themes prevalent in most of Colmore’s works, she also founded the National Council for Animal’s Welfare Work with her partner.

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Margaret Damer Dawson (1873 - 1920)

Depicted on the left, Margaret Damer Dawson became the organizing secretary of the International Animal Protection Societies in 1906. She was also an active member of the Animal Defense and Anti-Vivisection society. When she wasn’t busy fighting speciesism, Damer Dawson co-founded the first women’s police organization in Britain, found homes for abandoned babies, lobbied against sex trafficking, and helped refugees escape Germany in World War I. She was also visibly queer, and lived with her partner until she died.

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Lizzy Lind af Hageby (1878 - 1963)

In addition to being one of England’s most influential anti-vivisection activists, Lind af Hageby was also an outspoken feminist, peace activist, and animal rights activist. She co-founded The Animal Defense and Anti-Vivisection Society (ADAVS). She also created The Anti-Vivisection Review, and she helped run an animal sanctuary at Ferne House in Dorset with the Duchess of Hamilton. On top of all that, Lind af Hageby published a book titled, The Shambles of Science — a text which chronicled all the instances of animal cruelty she witnessed firsthand while attending medical school.

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Elsie Shrigley (1899 - 1978)

In 1944, Shrigley left The Vegetarian Society to co-found The Vegan Society with fellow-vegan, Donald Watson. Shrigley (the lady standing between the two glasses-wearing gentleman) created and maintained the Animal-Free Shopper Series, which was essentially a list of vegan-friendly consumer items. She was also President of The Vegan Society in the early 1960s.

Image: Vegan Society

Rosa Parks (1913 - 2005)

In addition to being the woman who triggered the end of segregation simply by refusing to give up her bus seat, Rosa Parks was a vegetarian for over 40 years. In Positive Energy — a book written by Judith Orloff, MD — Rosa Parks reportedly said, “For over forty years, I’ve been vegetarian. Growing up, my family had little money— I had health problems early in life because of poor nutrition. Eating healthy is a priority for me.”

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Coretta Scott King (1927 - 2006)

Not unlike her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was an anti-war activist who campaigned for the rights of women, people of color, and the gay community. She also spent the last 10 years of her life as a dedicated vegan, because she saw the connection.

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Ruby Brown (? - 1984)

In 1950, Ruby Brown became the first woman of color to run a no kill animal shelter. When Anna Briggs — founder of the National Humane Education Society (NHES) — offered Ruby the job, she and her four children left Washington D.C. so Ruby could oversee Peace Plantation Animal Sanctuary in Walton, New York.

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Bridgid Brophy (1929 - 1995)

In addition to writing four plays, seven novels, and 14 books, Bridgid Brophy was vice president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society — an organization ”dedicated to ending harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments through the advancement of smarter, human-relevant research.” Brophy was an openly bisexual vegetarian and animal rights activist for most of her life, but she’s also credited with successfully campaigning for better royalty payments for writers. She died of multiple sclerosis at the age of 66.

Image: Vegan Feminist Network

Jane Goodall (1934 - )

Longtime vegetarian Jane Goodall made a name for herself in the scientific community when she traveled to Gombe, Africa to study chimps alongside the legendary anthropologist, Louis Leakey. That experience inspired Goodall to found the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 in an effort to protect the chimps of Gombe and their habitats. At the age of 82, Goodall is still traveling the world promoting vegetarianism and other green causes.

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Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992)

As a lesbian woman of color, author, poet, womanist, and vegan, Audre Lorde knew better than perhaps anyone that intersectional feminism extends beyond the scope of human female rights. In her own words, ”There is no such things as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.”

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Brigitte Bardot (1934 - )

In 1956, Brigitte Bardot starred in the film that would launch her career: And God Created Woman. The French actress and animal rights activist went on to make 46 more films, and could probably still be acting if she wanted to; but In 1973, Bardot quit the film industry to advocate for animals full time. Years later in 1986, Bardot auctioned off her possessions to establish the Bridgitte Bardot Foundation for animal rights. She once told The Guardian: “To eat the flesh of animals is akin to cannibalism.”

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Angela Davis (1944 - )

Liberation icon Angela Davis hasn’t always spoken out on her vegan lifestyle, but that’s changing more and more these days. As Davis reportedly said during the 27th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference: “I think it’s the right time to talk about it because it is a part of a revolutionary perspective — how can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings, but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet, and that would mean challenging the whole capitalist industrial form of food production.” Word.

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Alice Walker (1944 - )

Though she’s probably most well-known for penning her American classic, The Color Purple, Alice Walker has also spoken out on the link between civil rights and the rights of animals. In one quote, Walker explains the connection beautifully: “If I’m eating food I know was a creature in a cage, it brings up memories of segregation and the stories from my ancestors, of being in captivity and denied their personalities, their true beings. Animals were not made for us, or our use. They have their own use, which is just being who they are.”

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Carol J. Adams (1951 - )

Author of more than 100 articles and 20 books — including the groundbreaking feminist-vegetarian critical theory, The Sexual Politics of Meat — Carol J. Adams may be the most famous and influential vegan feminist ever. Adams writes compellingly about the intersection of feminism and animal ethics, and frequently lectures on the topic as well. In Adams’ own words, ”The heart-opening work of loving and responding with care to this fragile world and its inhabitants has shaped me as a writer and activist.”

Image: Carol J. Adams/Wikimedia

Joan Jett (1958 - )

Rock legend, Joan Jett, decided to commit to vegetarianism while on tour back in the ’80s. In 2010, Jett told The Guardian: “A lot of things converged in my life then – musically, emotionally – but mainly it was my love of animals and spending so much time touring that made me decide I had to change my diet.” Since then, Jett’s been an outspoken advocate for animals in both her personal life and through her work with PETA.

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