Donald Watson

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Donald Watson
Watson reading the first issue of The Vegan
Born(1910-09-02)2 September 1910
Mexborough, Yorkshire, UK
Died16 November 2005(2005-11-16) (aged 95)
OccupationWoodwork teacher[1]
Known forCo-founding The Vegan Society
Dorothy Morgan
(m. 1946; died 1994)

Donald Watson (2 September 1910 – 16 November 2005) was an English animal rights advocate who co-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 understood the production of milk-related products was also unethical.[1][3][4]

He said:

I was surrounded by interesting animals. They all "gave" something: the farm horse pulled the plough, the lighter horse pulled the trap, the cows "gave" milk, the hens "gave" eggs and the cockerel was a useful "alarm clock" - I didn't realise at that time that he had another function, too. The sheep "gave" wool. I could never understand what the pigs "gave", but they seemed such friendly creatures - always glad to see me.[5]


Upon leaving school at fifteen, Watson was apprenticed to a family joinery firm, and became a joinery teacher when he was twenty.[6] 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,[7] as well as to organic vegetable gardening, until very shortly before his death in 2005.[6]

Veganism and The Vegan Society[edit]

Watson 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:

We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies.[8]

Critics claimed that he could not survive on his proposed diet.[4] 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.[3] They separated from the London Vegetarian Society and founded The Vegan Society because the former group refused to support veganism, which they saw as extreme and antisocial.[9]: 4  (However, Watson remained a member of the London Vegetarian Society to keep in touch with the movement.[3]) They had also decided they needed a word to describe their new way of life.[3] The word 'vegan' was coined by Watson and his then-future wife Dorothy Morgan[2] from the first three and last two letters of 'vegetarian' in 1944.[10]

Watson and The Vegan Society launched the first edition of the Society's quarterly newsletter, The Vegan News, in 1944.[1] He ran the publication single-handed for two years, writing and duplicating the newsletter, and responding to the increasing volume of correspondence.[3]

Watson expanded the vegan philosophy to object to any harm to living creatures. A committed pacifist throughout his life, he 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.[7][12] He was an agnostic.[3]

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

Watson married Dorothy Morgan in 1946, and they had one child, Janet. His wife, who was a primary school teacher, predeceased her husband by about 10 years and died around 1994/1995.[13][14]


In November 2019, a blue plaque was unveiled in honour of Donald Watson at his former Doncaster Road School, in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. The plaque was organised by Mexborough and District Heritage Society, and unveiled by Watson's nephew Dr Tim Cook, in honour of the seventy fifth anniversary of the foundation of The Vegan Society.[15] A heritage panel to recognise Leicester as the home of veganism and to commemorate Watson was installed in March 2024 in Evesham Road, Leicester where he lived in the 1940s.[16] His funeral was held at St Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite and he is buried in its cemetery.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Obituary: Donald Watson". BBC. 18 November 2005. Archived from the original on 21 May 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  2. ^ a b Davis, John (2016). "The Origins of the Vegans: 1944-46" (PDF). pp. 8, 12. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 November 2019. Dorothy, nee Morgan, had passed away about ten years before Donald, having long since retired as head of a small village primary school. (...)The Vegan Society AGM on Sunday November 10, 1946, at Friends House, Euston, London (TV Spring 1947 pp.4-5) was reminded that Donald Watson had already said he could not continue running everything himself (He had married Dorothy two weeks earlier).
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Interview with Donald Watson - Vegan Founder". Foods for Life. 15 December 2002. Archived from the original on 24 May 2019. Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  4. ^ a b Elliott, Rose (14 January 2006). "Donald Watson - The first vegan, who outlived his many critics". Obituary. London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2009.
  5. ^ "The Vegan Summer" (2003 ed.). Archived from the original on 1 December 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2009.. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  6. ^ a b Davison, Phil (24 November 2005). "Donald Watson - Founder of veganism and the Vegan Society". Obituary. London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 17 June 2018. Retrieved 2 November 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Interview with Donald Watson". Archived from the original on 14 March 2018. Retrieved 2 November 2009.
  8. ^ "Donald Watson in Vegan News". (1 ed.). November 1944. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  9. ^ Laura Wright (2015). The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-4856-8.
  10. ^ "Ripened by human determination. 70 years of The Vegan Society" (PDF). Vegan Society. 2014. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 April 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  11. ^ Booth, Jenny (8 December 2005). "Donald Watson". Obituary. London: TheTimes. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2009.
  12. ^ "George D Rodger's Unabridged Interview With Donald Watson on Sunday 15 December 2002". Archived from the original on 11 September 2019. Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  13. ^ Davis, John (2016). "The Origins of the Vegans: 1944-46" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 November 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2021. Speaking at Donald's funeral, Janet [his only child] mentioned a day that Dorothy and Donald both attended a dance. During the event the two started discussing the founding of a new society; and Dorothy came up with the word vegan as a possible name for it, on the basis that its letters are the beginning and conclusion of vegetarian.
  14. ^ "Vegan Society founder Donald Watson's Keswick legacy - his son-in-law's B&B - The Keswick Reminder". 7 September 2020. Archived from the original on 27 October 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2023. Anthony said he was inspired to become a vegetarian by his wife Jan — Donald's daughter.
  15. ^ "Vegan Society founder honoured with blue plaque". 9 November 2019. Archived from the original on 11 November 2019. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  16. ^ "Heritage panel recognises Leicester as home of veganism". BBC News. 8 March 2024. Archived from the original on 8 March 2024. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  17. ^ "In Memory and Celebration: Donald and Dorothy". 26 May 2014. Archived from the original on 21 May 2022. Retrieved 19 April 2022.

External links[edit]