Britain’s First Female Qualified Medical Doctor…and Vegetarian Witch?

Anna Kingsford, Britain’s first qualified female medical doctor, was especially horrified by the burgeoning vivisection industry in the 19th century. Women were disadvantaged by their societal exclusion when protesting men’s scientific violence against other animals, but Kingsford’s medical training granted her access, insider knowledge, and proof that a degree could be earned without harming other animals. She also used her medical training to produce research that supported the suitability of plant-based eating, information that was largely absent in a society that was only just coming to discover and understand the science of nutrition.

When science and medicine proved ineffectual in her liberation campaign, she turned to the psychic realm. She levied psychic attacks on European vivisectionists, aiming not just to disrupt their work but reportedly to end their lives.

In the history of Nonhuman Animal rights, Kingsford is remembered as one of the first vegetarian feminists, bravely resisting anthroparchal violence in an era that offered little platform to women. But I would suggest that Kingsford should also be remembered as one of the first vegetarian witches. She certainly believed male vivisectionists were such—for Kingsford, these were not objective, calm, scientists; they were instead sorcerers engaged in black magic, fiendish for the blood, gore, and suffering associated with their laboratory torture.

Like the 20th century feminist witches that would follow her, she believed in reincarnation. Nonhuman Animals, she warned, were due considerable karmic compensation. Vivisectionists, then, if not to meet any justice in this life, would surely meet it in the next. Her belief in the afterlife of Nonhuman Animals perhaps offered some sort of solace. In her metaphysical work, these victims finally had voices, speaking to her in seances.

Although Kingsford may not have identified as a witch (while she was influenced by a variety of world religions, she was an avid Christian), the same concentrated intention for ending patriarchal violence and enacting justice through metaphysical means would be taken up by second-wave feminists in California a century later.

Work Cited

Budapest, Z. 1986. The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting, and Other Womanly Arts. Oakland: Consolidated Printers.

Ferguson, C. 2022. “Anna Kingsford and the Intuitive Science of Occultism.” Aries—Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 22: 114-135.

Corey Lee Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She is the co-founder of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis.