Obituary: Muriel Dowding

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The Independent Online
Muriel Albino, animal rights campaigner: born London 22 March 1908; author of Beauty not the Beast 1980; married 1935 Maxwell Whiting (died 1944; one son), 1951 first Lord Dowding (died 1970); died Hove, East Sussex 21 November 1993.

MURIEL DOWDING held many important positions in the animal welfare world and was the founder of Beauty Without Cruelty, which was initially set up as a charity in 1959, and became a cosmetics company in 1963.

Dedicated to the rights of animals, Dowding was aware of the cruelty involved in the production of fur coats and fur accessories, which were fashionable at the time. She helped organise fashion shows around Britain to introduce stylish simulated furs and offer leaders in society and the fashion world humane alternatives in cosmetics. Thus Dowding began a national campaign to change an industry.

Her ability to inspire was considerable. But she was never one to sit back and allow others to do the donkey work. The activity was continuous and mini-buses regularly took off for all parts of Britain, with Dowding riding with her helpers and wholeheartedly helping with the packing and unpacking as well as addressing audiences.

Widowed during the Second World War, when her first husband, Maxwell Whiting, died on a bombing mission, she married in 1951 Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, victor of the Battle of Britain. Hugh Dowding eagerly joined Muriel in her struggle to help animals.

Muriel Dowding was a warm, open-hearted, larger-than-life personality, with sometimes uncompromising opinions, and the charismatic qualities of a natural leader. She was generous in character, and nothing that might help the plight of animals escaped her attention. Her house was always a sanctuary for animals in need. She was vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society; she also had appointments in smaller animal welfare societies, where she fulfilled her role with undimmed enthusiasm.

Dowding used her prominent social position to advance animal welfare without seeking any personal gain or reward. There were regular Sunday lunch parties introducing influential people to vegetarian food. With pride she would display what she called a 'vegetarian larder' to guests.

She was shocked to discover, from a cosmetics scientist, in the early Sixties, that animal testing was taking place for cosmetics products, and that ingredients such as spermaceti from whales and musk from the musk deer were being used. She tried to persuade leaders of the cosmetics industry to change their policies. When this failed, determined as ever to provide a constructive alternative, she set up the cosmetics company Beauty without Cruelty Ltd with Kathleen Long, who formulated the first creams and lotions for a company dedicated to a non-animal testing policy, using ingredients suitable for


The cosmetics company was a cause of considerable worry for Dowding as it went from crisis to crisis, during much of the Sixties and the Seventies. She remained a director from 1963 until shortly before the charity and the cosmetics company became separate organisations in 1980.

Dowding's most gruelling period was probably in March 1979. I accompanied her to New York where Beauty Without Cruelty was organising a fashion show to counter an international fur industry exhibition. The workload was enormous for both of us, but Dowding was also inundated with press and media interviews.

We returned to England for two days then took a 27-hour flight to New Zealand to promote the work of the charity and the company. A few hours after her arrival she was interviewed for South Pacific television. This was followed by yet more interviews and meetings. We then travelled to Australia, where it was all repeated. Never once did I hear her complain. Nor would she have it any other way.

(Photograph omitted)