An inspirational woman I recently heard about through my involvement with an animal welfare organisation is Joan Court. Despite leaving school at twelve, Joan became a social worker and specialised in caring for children with behavioural problems and she also qualified as a nurse. She went on to work in poverty-stricken regions of Turkey, India and the Appalachian Mountains and 1946 saw her in the slums of Kolkata organising midwifery care. It was then that she met the great spiritual leader Mahatma Ghandi whose example had a tremendous impact on her life.
One day in 1978, back in the UK, someone handed her a leaflet from Animal Aid, an anti-vivisection organisation I have supported for many years. Joan wasted no time in setting up a new local group and they conducted all-night vigils outside Cambridge University to demonstrate their opposition to the animal research being carried out there.
Joan’s campaigning didn’t begin until she was almost sixty but she involved herself in any issue that caused suffering to animals and became well-known for her stunts: public hunger strikes, sit-downs, and scaling high places to hang protest banners. Her greatest achievement for the cause of animal rights was being a founder member of the national campaign against the new research facility at Cambridge University. Plans to build this massive complex, which would have carried out horrific and invasive experiments on monkeys, were abandoned in 2004.
And Joan wasn’t finished there. Aged 89, she joined Sea Shepherd’s flagship Farley Mowat as it sailed off to the South Atlantic to hunt for vessels that were engaged in illegal fishing.
On 1st December, 2016, after a lifetime spent making a difference, this intrepid lady died at the age of 97 in her Cambridge home, in the company of her many cats.
(Photo courtesy of Joan’s family and via Animal Aid.)