The Courtney Bill

Today, scientists can purchase research animals from dedicated suppliers, but in the 1920s, there was no such thing as a scientific dog breeder in the United States. Researchers who needed dogs for their experiments had to find them, just as Bernard once had, on the streets of major cities. Municipal dog pounds were an especially attractive source. American dog ownership grew dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century as pet culture took on social and economic prominence, and many pounds were overflowing with lost and impounded dogs.

The so-called “Courtney Bill,” introduced into the Illinois State Legislature in 1929, would have prevented scientists from using dogs for experimentation whatsoever. For Carlson, Ivy, and others, it represented a fundamental threat to their work and the pursuit of scientific truth. They rallied support among members of the ISMR, wrote to many representatives, and held meetings with others in an effort to defeat the bill. Ultimately, they were successful, and the battle against Courtney signaled the emergence of the ISMR as a political force in city and state politics, exercising greater influence than any individual alone. The struggle against Courtney also gave its members a roadmap for future struggles, one which would soon prove useful.