Irene Castle McLaughlin & Chicago's Antivivisection Movement

Antivivisectionists in Chicago found a spirited leader with a knack for publicity in Irene Castle (1893-1969). A fashion icon and household name on both sides of the Atlantic during the Progressive era, Castle popularized modern ballroom dances with her partner and first husband, Vernon. Inveterate animal lovers, the Castles adopted a menagerie of pets including several monkeys, horses, a donkey, and more than a dozen dogs. Following Vernon’s untimely death in a plane crash in 1918, Castle continued to perform onstage, star in films, and collect animal companions.

Castle arrived in Chicago in 1923 when she married Frederic McLaughlin, a polo star whose father had founded a lucrative coffee import business in River North. More accustomed to parties in New York and holidays in southern France, Castle found Chicago society tedious and was unhappy in her marriage, which she later testified was rife with domestic abuse. Alienated from McLaughlin and his circle, Castle devoted herself to animal rights advocacy. In 1928, she founded Orphans of the Storm, a shelter and adoption center still active in Deerfield, Illinois, and became a vociferous defender of dogs following the passage of the Arvey Ordinance. A tabloid favorite, Castle received steady coverage and support from her friend William Randolph Hearst, whose newspaper the Chicago Herald and Examiner became a major outlet for antivivisection propaganda.

Secrets of Rhythmic Living Every Woman Should Know

Irene Castle (1893–1969)

Chicago: The Formfit Company, 1933

Crerar Manuscripts V. 15 No. 12

A savvy entrepreneur, Castle parlayed her fame into several fashion partnerships. In the early 1930s, she became a brand ambassador for the Formfit Company and promoted its corset display at the Chicago’s World Fair. The endorsement was an unlikely one for Castle, who famously railed against girdles, narrow skirts, and other restrictive women’s attire during her dancing days.