With thanks to Dr Samantha Calvert for this fascinating feature – the go to woman for the history of everything vegan and vegetarian.
Elsie B. Shrigley (Sally) 1899 – 1978. * Group photo – Elsie B. Shrigley 3rd from the right top row.
Many vegetarians and vegans know that The Vegan Society was founded by Donald Watson. Watson is associated with veganism to the extent that there is a social media meme of asking ‘What would Donald Watson do?’ about tricky vegan issues.
Watson is most closely associated with The Vegan Society because he was the first secretary of The Vegan Society and the first ‘editor’ of The Vegan magazine (he wrote and produced the magazine single-handedly). It is his voice that we hear mostly clearly in those early issues.
He continued in these dual roles for the first two years of the society. Without his early commitment and hard work the society may not have survived. However, there were half a dozen people at the founding meeting at The Attic Club in London in November 1944 and the fledgling society comprised some 25 members.
Watson had a co-founder in calling that meeting, the less well-known Mrs Elsie Beatrice Shrigley known as Sally Shrigley. She is a shadowy figure in veganism and not very much is known about her. I was recently contacted by The Vegan Society who wondered whether I knew her date of birth.
I did not and it made me realise how very little information anyone knew about her. A quick search online did not turn up any more information. I knew when she died (1978) and that kick started a bit of research into Sally’s life.
Sally Shrigley and Donald Watson conceived the coalition of non-dairy vegetarians in August 1944 and arranged the meeting that was to found what Watson would later describe as the “greatest cause on earth” – The Vegan Society.
Image – Elsie B. Shrigley (Sally) 1899 – 1978
When their request for a non-dairy section of the Vegetarian Society – with its own space in the Vegetarian Messenger – was refused by the Vegetarian Society’s council they called a meeting in November 1944 in Holborn in London.
As early as 1947 Sally researched a small list of ‘vegan commodities’ – biscuits, chocolate and sweets – which was published in The Vegan. This was the very beginning of the project that became the Animal Free Shopper. In the early 1960s Sally was President of The Vegan Society and, at various times, occupied more or less every other official position. She served continuously on the Society’s committee until her death in May 1978 – an amazing thirty-three years of service. She was also the Society’s delegate to many International Vegetarian Union Congresses.
The obituaries in The Vegan show that Sally died on 13 May 1978 and that led me to find a record for her death registered in June 1978 in Tonbridge, Kent. The record of her death gives her date of birth as 30 October 1899 which answered the question I had been asked. However, by then I was interested to see how much more I could find out about Sally.
All the back copies of The Vegan can be found online at www.issuu.com. This is a great, free resource for anyone interested in the history of The Vegan movement but also for the curious vegan with time to browse. Just search for The Vegan Society and then click on ‘stacks’ to see The Vegan in date order.
There was an article about Sally published in The Vegan in summer 1967. This article confirmed that Sally lived with her parents in Hampstead until her marriage to dentist Walter Shrigley. She was born in London to Scandinavian parents and spoke Danish fluently. She had enjoyed a varied career that began with her training at the Chelsea College of Physical Training.
Her real interest was music and she gained her L.R.A.M before her marriage and taught the piano at Ilford from 1932-39. She was honorary secretary of the Ilford Music Circle and gave several lecture recitals. At the start of World War II she was living in Purley and became the fire leader for her street for the Fire Guard Service as well as working at a mobile unit at Swiss Cottage where “she kept the nurses cheerful and fit by giving them Health and Beauty jerks”.
From 1940 – 58 she was Honorary Secretary of the Croyden Vegetarian Society and she later held the same role for the East Surrey Vegetarian Society. Her services were even required by the London Vegetarian Society (this was a separate national organisation at that time comparable to the North West based Vegetarian Society) to be their joint acting secretary for three months before the appointment of a new secretary.
Mention of Sally’s husband in this article, Walter Shrigley, sent me looking for her marriage record. Walter married a ‘Salling’ in 1939. Sally would have been 40 that year which would have been a late first time marriage in that era but I looked up an Elsie Salling born in 1899, died in 1978 and married to a Walter Shrigley and … got a match.
With her maiden name and location I was able to search census records for her as a child. In the 1911 census Elsie was 11 and at school. She had a younger sister Vera who was 6 and she lived with her parents Karl and Hilda Salling at 20 Fitzroy Road, Regent Park NW1. Karl was a self-employed watchmaker. It seems likely to me that Elsie was called ‘Sally’ as an abbreviated form of ‘Salling’ her maiden name which she would likely have kept for some 40 years prior to her marriage to Walter.
So, it’s still not a lot of information about Sally Shrigley but it is certainly more than I could find previously. Sally was an important figure in the early vegan movement and she has been somewhat in Donald Watson’s shadow. Arguably, many women’s contributions to social reform movements are overshadowed in this way. As co-founder of a movement perhaps in the future we will be asking ‘What would Sally Shrigley say?’
With thanks to the IVU for the image.
 See summer 1978 of The Vegan and also autumn 1978, 16.
 Death records, Tonbridge, Kent, Vol 16 207.
 The Vegan, summer 1967, 2-5.