Blue Plaque for Animal Welfare campaigner, Maria Dickin

Maria Dickin, the pioneer of free treatment for sick animals whose owners could not afford to pay for it, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the Hackney house in which she was born and close to the area of London in which she first started her work.

Animals shown cared for by the PDSA with Maria Dickins Blue Plaque. Blue Plaque in honor of Maria Dickin, founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)

Founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Maria Dickin (1870-1951), opened her first clinic in the East End in 1917. The sign on its door read: “Bring your sick animals. Do not let them suffer. All animals treated. All treatment free.” By 1945, PDSA had become the largest animal welfare charity in the world and Maria Dickin had instituted the PDSA Dickin medal. This became known as the Victoria Cross for animals associated with the armed forces or civil defence who had shown conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

The English Heritage Blue Plaque is at 41 Cassland Road (formerly 1 Farringdon Terrace) in Hackney. The three storey end-of-terrace house was Dickin’s birthplace and her home for the first two or three years of her life. The fact that her work with animal welfare began in East London makes her commemoration in this locale all the more appropriate.

Howard Spencer, English Heritage’s Blue Plaque historian, said: “Maria Dickin was a pioneering woman whose achievements in alleviating the suffering of animals were immense. This blue plaque now marks the place where her own story began, which like PDSA grew out of humble beginnings to play a significant role in animal welfare.”

Jan McLoughlin, PDSA Director General, said: “We owe PDSA’s existence to Maria Dickin. Her passion for improving the lives of animals in war-torn London almost a hundred years ago became the catalyst for great change. It is fantastic that Maria’s birthplace is being recognised by the English Heritage as the starting point for one woman’s incredible journey to change the face of pet welfare in the UK. Maria’s legacy lives on each and every day through PDSA’s network of 51 Pet Hospitals where our life-saving veterinary work continues alongside our extensive education and prevention programmes.”

The daughter of a Wesleyan minister, Maria Dickin’s concern for the plight of animals began when she visited the poor in London’s East End. The widespread incidence of unattended sick and injured domestic and work animals made her “indescribably miserable”. She also recognised that “to many thousands of poor people an animal is essential”, highlighting working animals and making the point that many “would have their poverty-stricken homes overrun with vermin if they did not keep a cat.”

Dickin sought premises in the East End, with a view to establishing a clinic to offer free treatment for sick and injured animals. A sympathetic clergyman gave her the use of a Whitechapel basement and on 17 November 1917 the first ‘People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals of the Poor’ was opened. It was an immediate success: within four years a further seven clinics were opened across London and by Dickin’s death in 1951, PDSA provided a regular service in 207 communities in Britain, and additionally ran animal ambulances, animal hospitals and five homes for stray dogs.

Maria Dickin’s PDSA is now the UK’s leading veterinary charity; each year it provides 2.7 million treatments to more than 470,000 pets at a cost of some £60 million. Dickin’s original objective – to offer treatment to sick animals whose owners were unable to pay for it – remains at PDSA’s heart.

Maria’s legacy of raising the status of animals in society also continues to this day. The PDSA Dickin Medal’s roll of honour now runs to 66 animals: 32 pigeons, 29 dogs, four horses and a cat – the most recent medal being awarded posthumously to the First World War Cavalry Horse, Warrior, who led the charge at some of the bloodiest and most infamous battles of the Great War.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.

History of London Blue Plaques scheme – The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for nearly 150 years. The idea of erecting 'memorial tablets' was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded an official plaques scheme. The Society erected its first plaque – to poet, Lord Byron – in 1867. The blue plaques scheme was subsequently administered by the London County Council (1901-65) and by the Greater London Council (1965-86), before being taken on by English Heritage in 1986.

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