Donald Watson

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Donald Watson
Donald watson.jpg
Donald Watson reading the first issue of The Vegan
Born(1910-09-02)2 September 1910
Died16 November 2005(2005-11-16) (aged 95)
OccupationWoodwork teacher[1]
Known forFounder of the Vegan Society

Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005) was an English animal rights advocate who founded the Vegan Society.

Early life[edit]

Watson was born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, the son of a headmaster in a mining community.[1] As a child, Watson spent time on his Uncle George's farm. The slaughtering of a pig on the farm horrified Watson; he said his view of farm life changed from idyllic to a death row for animals. Watson began to reassess his practice of eating meat. He became a vegetarian in 1924 at the age of fourteen, making a New Year's resolution to never again eat meat. He gave up dairy products about 18 years later, having decided the production of milk-related products was also unethical.[1][2][3]

He said:


Upon leaving school at fifteen, Watson was apprenticed to a family joinery firm, and from became a joinery teacher when he was twenty.[5] He taught in Leicester, where he also played a large part in the Leicester Vegetarian Society. He moved on to Keswick, where he taught for 23 years. He stayed in the Lake District for the rest of his life.[1] For several years, he devoted much time to working as a guided fell-walking leader,[6] as well as to organic vegetable gardening, until very shortly before his death in 2005.[5]

Veganism and the Vegan Society[edit]

As Watson grew up, he did not smoke, consume alcohol, or make contact with foods or substances which he regarded as toxins. In the 1940s, after learning about milk production; he became a vegan.[1] He explained his motivation as ethical concern for sentient animals:

Critics claimed that he could not survive on his proposed diet.[8] In November 1944, in Leicester, he and his wife, Dorothy along with four friends - Elsie Shrigley, Mr G. A. Henderson and his wife Fay K. Henderson among them - founded the Vegan Society.[9] They decided they needed a word to describe their new way of life, and the word 'vegan' was born —"the beginning and end of 'vegetarian'"—"because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion."[9] There is some speculation about who specifically is responsible for coining the term. Some believe it was Donald; others, his wife, Dorothy. According to a research paper submitted by the Vegan Society themselves marking their 70th anniversary, Donald credited the Hendersons for the word. Watson and the group launched the first edition of the Society's quarterly newsletter, The Vegan News, in the same year.[10] He ran the publication single-handed for two years, writing and duplicating the newsletter, and responding to the increasing volume of correspondence.[9]

Watson expanded the philosophy to object to any harm to living creatures. A committed pacifist throughout his life, Watson registered as a conscientious objector in World War II.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Watson enjoyed cycling, photography and playing the violin. While not a supporter of any particular political party, he took a keen interest in political issues throughout his life.[6][12] He was an agnostic.[9]

His brother and sister both adopted vegan lifestyles along with him. All three Watson siblings registered as conscientious objectors during World War II.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary: Donald Watson". BBC. November 18, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  2. ^ Interview with Donald Watson
  3. ^ Donald Watson The Guardian
  4. ^ The Vegan Summer, 2003 Edition. Archived 2009-12-01 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b Davison, Phil (24 November 2005). "Donald Watson - Founder of veganism and the Vegan Society". Obituary. London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  6. ^ a b Interview with Donald Watson at Accessed 2 Nov 2009
  7. ^ Donald Watson in Vegan News nº1, November 1944.
  8. ^ Elliott, Rose (14 January 2006). "Donald Watson - The first vegan, who outlived his many critics". Obituary. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  9. ^ a b c d "Interview with Donald Watson - Vegan Founder". Foods for Life. December 15, 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  10. ^ "Obituary: Donald Watson". BBC News. 18 November 2005.
  11. ^ Booth, Jenny (December 8, 2005). "Donald Watson". Obituary. London: TheTimes. Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  12. ^ George D Rodger’s Unabridged Interview With Donald Watson on Sunday 15 December 2002

External links[edit]