6 Facts You Didn’t Know About Donald Watson, The Founder of Veganism

The term ‘veganism’ has been making waves lately but the concept behind it is not new. Did you know the online search stats for the term ‘vegan’ have grown by 250% in the last five years?

The philosophy of veganism is simple - it is a way of living that steers clear from exploitation for — and cruelty to — animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. It promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for greater benefit to society and the environment as a whole.

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Today, many people are familiar with the tenets of veganism but hardly know anything about the man behind the vegan revolution. In this article, I will highlight all the little-known facts about Donald Watson, the founder of veganism, in detail.

#1. Watson worked as a teacher at Leicester.

When Watson quit schooling at fifteen, he decided to work as an apprentice at a family joinery firm. After gaining considerable experience, he started working as a joinery teacher at Leicester. While working, he also took an active part in the Leicester Vegetarian Society.

#2. The term ‘Vegan’ was coined by Donald Watson’s wife Dorothy.

As the years went by, Watson dug deeper into the biological mechanics of milk production and after eighteen years of being committed to the vegetarian lifestyle, he decided to give up on dairy products as well.

When looking for a unique name to describe his new diet, his wife Dorothy came up with a short, snappy word ‘vegan’, by combining the beginning and end of the word vegetarian.

In the 1940s, Watson also gave up smoking, alcohol and other food products he labeled as ‘toxins’ and soon, went on to form a new autonomous group in collaboration with other non-dairy vegetarians called ‘The Vegan Society’.

#3. He was only 15 when he dropped out of school.

Born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, Watson belonged to the mining community. He grew up in an environment where the concept of vegetarianism, let alone veganism, was something unheard of. As a child, Watson spent most of his time at Uncle George’s farm and that’s where his perspective on farm life suddenly changed.

He was horrified when he saw a pig being mercilessly slaughtered. He was traumatized by the inhumane incident and reassessed his practice of eating meat. He was only 14 in 1924 when he made a New Year’s resolution to never have meat again. A year later, he left school at fifteen and decided to explore new avenues.

#4. Watson was the first Editor of The Vegan News.

Watson’s close association with The Vegan Society started when he became the first secretary of the society and the first Editor of The Vegan News that he wrote and produced single-handed. The early issues of this four-page publication clearly voiced his unwavering stance on animal cruelty and non-dairy vegetarianism.

#5. He had Objector Status during World War II.

Along with his siblings, Watson a conscientious objector during the Second World War. He continued his vegan advocacy works and worked as a teacher side by side during the war. A committed pacifist throughout his life, he hoped to find a way to work for the nation without having to kill people he’d never met and thus leaving their descendants bereaved.

Individuals who claim the right to refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience, freedom of thought or religion are called conscientious objectors. His mother was quite shocked by this move and said she felt like a hen that had hatched a clutch of duck eggs.

#6. He never took medication of any sort throughout his life.

Donald Watson spent the rest of his life in Cumbria; his interests pertaining to cycling, fell-walking and working as a guided walks leader. Watson truly believed in the benefits of following a vegan lifestyle, free of all harmful toxins and animal products so much so, that he never took medication of any sort throughout his life. He refused to take medicines due to their close ties with animal testing and vivisection.

Watson once said his biggest achievement would be to die peacefully in his sleep when his body would be worn out. He outlived most of his critics and proudly said, ‘Do you know any nonagenarians who have never taken medicine?’ Staying true to the vegan way of life, Watson died at a ripe old age of 95, leaving behind his daughter Janet.

Today, more and more people are turning vegan to counter animal cruelty and exploitation. The Vegan Society has also continued to grow in membership and has gained a prominent position in the society. I hope this article increases your knowledge and understanding about the concept of veganism and most importantly, the little-known facts about Donald Watson.

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  1. I knew him. He lived in my home town., Keswick. He taught at the local school. I understand his grandchildren run a vegetarian guest house in the town.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Donald and Dorothy Watson’s contributions to naming the cruelty-feee lifestyle are so important to remember and honor their memory. It’s important to allow “vegan” to evolve as humanity does and not make vegan religion-like. Inherent in the original definition is to avoid all forms of exploitation “as far as is possible and practicable.” Some people use this as an excuse to compromise, for others going vegan remains challenging, and for some of the most underserved / marginalized people going vegan is not yet possible. Mainstream veganism has unfortunately become broadcast as a largely white, young, middle-class movement of the privileged. An example of among those marginalized are blind/visually-impaired people who need service dogs. Some vegans who are not blind criticize having service dogs as being exploitive. While the life of a service dog is demanding and at 12 years old they must retire, service dogs are currently the only viable option for the blind to live autonomously, and the dog’s companionship is essential for their well-being. If and when other alternatives are available and affordable, we should do everything we can to HELP marginalized people. Same perspective goes for those living in food deserts.

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