These posters, by artist Morgan Dennis, were produced for the American Humane Association’s Be Kind to Animals Week during the 1930s. The commemorative week was first observed in 1915, and several well-known artists of the time created artwork to promote it over its first few decades of life. The national organization offered copies of posters like Dennis’ to local branches, leaving space at the bottom for their identifying information.
I first saw these Dennis posters in the online exhibit “Be Kind: A Visual History of Humane Education, 1880–1945,” put together by the National Museum of Animals & Society. The exhibit’s curator, Keri Cronon, writes that the first wave of self-identified “humane educators,” emerging in England and the United States in the late 19th century, believed that young people’s cruelty to animals was linked with other asocial and criminal tendences. Cronin quotes “C.S.,” the author of the 1862 book A Mother’s Lessons on Kindness to Animals:
Habits of cruelty in the young, if not checked in time, are very dangerous, and lead to many other sins. They harden the heart against every right and proper feeling. Children who are cruel to animals will soon be cruel to their parents, brothers, and sisters; as every act of cruelty increases the will and the power to repeat it, until it becomes a rooted and settled principle …
Each Dennis poster featured a child performing a kind act, reflecting the organization’s educational approach. The Association’s timeline history of the week notes that in 1936 Shirley Temple was the junior chair of the Be Kind to Animals Week commemoration—a celebrity endorsement that further cemented the relationship between kindness to animals and childhood.