THE 1903 STAMFORD CAT SHOW MOUSE-KILLING CONTEST
Back in the early late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the American public had little problem with displays of terriers killing rats, with Passenger Pigeons (now extinct) being released from boxes for shooting contests or with displaying chicks and ducklings at poultry shows where these baby animals died and were replaced daily. It was considered educational to show children live mice being fed to snakes or ferrets. Early cat shelters even asked for donations of mice or sparrows (presumably dead) to feed the occupants. But in 1903, news reports of a proposed “mouse-baiting” contest, where young cats would demonstrate their killing skills in a pen of live mice, caused uproar and outrage.
The proposed “mouse-baiting” contest caught the interest of the public and the local humane society. The Mayor of Stamford, a relatively young man wanting to make his mark in office, condemned the proposed feline field trials. According to The Evening World, 13th January, 1903 “SOCIETY WOMAN WHO TELLS MAYOR MOUSE-KILLING CONTEST WILL GO ON. Stamford, Conn.. Jan. 13 —Will Mayor Charles H. Leeds order out the police force to prevent the mouse-catching exhibition under the auspices of the Connecticut Cat Club at the annual show in the armory next week? That is the question every one is asking to day. Some think he will. Others express the belief that he will retire as gracefully as possible. Still others declare that the police would not be so ungallant as to interfere in the sport under the direction of leading society women, even at the risk of suspension.
The Mayor received to-day the reply of Mrs. Homer S. Cummings, the President of the club, who is the wife of ex-Mayor Cummings and the daughter of commodore James D. Smith, of Wall Street and Linden Lodge, Stamford. Here is what the Mayor wrote to Mrs. Cummings: [To] Mrs. Homer B. Cummings, Stamford, Conn:. "Dear Madam: It seems to me that a mouse-catching contest, as a feature of the Cat Show, would tend to promote cruelty in the community. Please do not have any such contest in the program. Very truly, Charles H. Leeds, Mayor.”
Here is the reply of Mrs. Cummings: “[To] Hon. Chas. H. Leeds, Stamford. Conn. Dear Sir: It seems to me that a mouse-protecting Mayor as a feature of the Cat Show would tend to promote levity in the community. Please do not fail to have the police on the grounds. Very truly, Mrs. Homer S. Cummings, President."
To some the funniest phrase of the whole affair is the seriousness with which Mayor Leeds regards the intention to have a mouse-killing contest, That he really means to use the authority of his office to prevent it no one who converses with him can doubt. The officers of the Cat Club say they have not the slightest intention of changing the programme, and some might interpret the letter of Mrs. Cummings as a challenge to him to do his worst.
The officers of the club are all well- known people, they being: President, Mrs. Homer S. Cummings; Vice-Presidents, Miss Anna A. Marks, Mrs. L. H. Norton, Miss I. A. Youngs; Secretary, Dr. Frank A. Abbott; Treasurer, E. C. Hoyt; Executive Committee, Miss Lucy M. Marks, Mrs. William N. Travis and Miss E. D Ferguson. Every one of these owns one or more cats of the best breeds and will have them at the show. The owners of the kittens which are to enter the mouse- catching contest for a trophy presented by Mrs. Cummlngs are not yet made public.
The husband of the President of the Cat Club retired from the Mayor's chair when Mr. Leeds assumed it last November. The present Mayor had been for two years the chief contributor to the campaign funds of the Stamford Democracy, and his run as Mayor cost him a lot of money. He has a fortune inherited from his father. Mrs. Cummings, who is a daughter of James D. Smith, formerly Commodore of the Ne« York Yacht Club, thinks it will be fun to have what she terms a "field trial" for kittens. The idea is to release a mouse or several mice in a pen in which the kittens are to be placed and to allow the mousers to dispose of their prey in the good old-fashioned way. The kitten that exhibits the greatest skill is to receive a prize of silver.
The two protagonists, Mrs Cummings and Mayor Leeds, conducted their own spat in the form of letters published in newspapers. Leeds threatened to involve the police. Cummings welcomed that proposal since they were not actually breaking any laws of the time.
The St Louis Dispatch of 13th January, 1903 tells us: MAYOR STOPS MOUSE CATCHING CONTEST - SOCIETY WOMEN PLANNED IT FOR CAT SHOW Wanted To Try Out Tabbies But Young Executive Forbade It On Ground That It Would Lower Town's Moral Tone. Mayor Tells Why He Stopped Contest. To the Editor of the Post-Dispatch. STAMFORD, Conn.. Jan. 13. -I objected to the mouse-catching contest because I believe that public sentiment is opposed to such exhibitions. I do not attach any great importance to the incident. – Charles H. Leeds, Mayor.
To the Editor of the Post-Dispatch. STAMFORD, Conn.. Jan. 13. Officers of the Connecticut Cat Club still believe that the agile cat should be encouraged to develop its powers as an exterminator of mice. We are not aware that it is a crime for a cat to kill a mouse. Therefore, if any mice can be found that have escaped the claws of the local cats, they will be made to suffer in the cause of the vindication of tabby. Mrs. Homer S. Cummings.
To the Editor of the Post-Dispatch. STAMFORD, Conn.. Jan. 13. - CharIes H. Leeds, the young mayor of this city, has spoiled the well-laid plans of the Connecticut Cat Club, an organization which includes In its membership many prominent society women here, and scores of others all over the Nutmeg State. The Connecticut Cat Club is to have a show in the arm[or]y next week, and it occurred to Mrs Homer S. Cummings, president of the club, that it would be fun to have what she termed a “field trial” for kittens.
The idea was to release a mouse or several mice in a pen in which the kittens were to be placed, and allow the mousers to dispose of their prey in the good old- fashioned way. The kitten that exhibited the greatest skill was to receive a prize of silver. “It will be lots of fun,” said Mrs Cummings to her friends. “I have a couple of mousers that can beat anything I have ever seen. I want to satisfy myself that they are the best kittens in Connecticut.”
So it was decided to have the “field trial” and the notice was published. Among those who read it was Mayor Leeds. Straightway he wrote to Mrs. Cummings telling her she must abandon that feature of the show. Mrs. Cummings turned the letter over to her husband and he called up Mayor Leeds on the telephone. “I am agent for the humane society, and l don’t see anything repulsive or unlawful In this proposed field trial.”
“I am mayor of Stamford,” replied Mayor Leeds, “and I think the exhibition is both illegal and demoralizing. I shall stop it.”
“There will be no field trial at the cat show,” said Mayor Leeds today. “Why do I object to a field trial of kittens as proposed? Well, for one thing it would not be an elevating spectacle for children. Then, the entire affair would have a tendency to lower the tone of Stamford, and probably I would be asked to approve of rat baiting next.”
A MOUSE-PROTECTING MAYOR – Richmond Dispatch, 16th January, 1903<:
The Connecticut Cat Club, of Stamford. Conn., put forth Its retractile claws a few days ago and administered a figurative scratch to the town's Mayor, Charles H. Leeds, which that individual will not soon forget The membership of the organization, as might be supposed, is composed of ladies Men do not take to cats - leastwise not the men who have once been boys. But Stamford's club is enthusiastic over the whiskered milk-stealers and almost goes so far as to put kittens on a parity with babies. Some time ago the good women decided to have a cat show and to make a “field trial of kittens” the prime feature of the exhibition. The plan was to release live mice in a pen with the incipient tabbies, and to award prizes to those kitties which displayed the greatest skill in slaying the despised little rodents. We are not informed what sort of costumes the members of the club intended to wear at the time the mice appeared, or whether it was their purpose to view the “trials” on stilts, but this much is certain - the idea originated with Mrs. Homer S. Cummings, daughter of James D. Smith, former commodore of -the New York Yacht Club, and wife of Mayor Leeds's predecessor in office.
Had Mayor Leeds been a prudent man he would have let the ladies, cats and mice run things as they pleased, but the demon of indiscretion got the better of him. While in this condition, he penned the following letter:
January 10. 1903. Mrs. Homer S. Cummings, Stamford, Conn : Dear Madam,—It seems to me that a mouse catching contest, as a feature of the cat show, would tend to promote cruelty in the community. Please do not have any such contest on the programme. Very truly, Charles H. Leeds.
That Mrs. Cummings knows how to manipulate a stub pen, (no woman uses any other kind in these degenerate days), and that she possesses the unusual feminine accomplishment of being both brief and forcible, is evidenced by her reply. Here is the canister she shot at the Mayor:
January 11, 1903. Hon. Charles H. Leeds, Stamford,- Conn.: Dear Sir, - It seems to me that a mouse- protecting Mayor as a feature of the cat show would tend to promote levity in the community. Please do not fail to have the police force on the grounds. Very truly , Mrs. Homer S. Cummings. “President.”
To say that the “mouse-protecting Mayor” was crestfallen, but half expresses it. He has thrown up the sponge - yea, surrendered almost without a murmur. The poor, subdued wretch now announces that he has not the slightest idea of interfering with the “field trials.” Mrs. Cummings has also “consented to talk for publication.” She said that the ladies were hopping mad at first, but that they ultimately calmed down to a realization of the humor of the thing. And then the good woman of the virile pen added:
“There was a time in the good old Puritan days when they hanged a cat on Monday for killing a mouse on Sunday. Now, this is the only way I can account for the Mayor’s position. Perhaps he traces his ancestry back to the Puritan fathers, and this Puritan blood is cropping out in his administration. I don't consider that I am any more bloodthirsty than Mayor Leeds in this matter. It is the cat's legitimate business to kill mice, and I am very sure that if it were not for these two cats that I am entering for the field trials, we would be overrun with mice here.”
In justice to Stamford’s Mayor, it should be stated that he is young. He is only 30. When he gets older he will be wiser - that is to say he will be more careful how he undertakes to reform a woman’s club. And. by the way, it should be stated that there is no accounting for the eccentricities of people who love cats.
By now, the matter had been picked up by a number of newspapers around the USA which printed identical columns, for example:
A MOUSE BAITING TIME – The Minneapolis Journal, 16th January, 1903
SOCIETY WOMEN MAY BE ARRESTED FOR ALLEGED CRUELTY TO MICE – The Butte Journal, 16th January, 1903
Cat Show Ladies in Collision With the Cruelty to Animals’ Society.
New York, Jan. 15. - Referring to the proposed mouse-killing contest in Stamford, Conn., which the ladies propose to make a feature of a cat show, John P. Haines, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: "This proposed exhibition of cruelty, if it is seriously proposed to bring it off, will be stopped. I have communicated with President William Deloss Love of the Connecticut Humane society at Hartford, advising that the affair be prevented. If a body of New York women should propose such an exhibition I would warn them that the law would be enforced and if they persisted in holding the mouse-baiting contest I would arrest on the spot every promoter and witness of the affair. The Connecticut law on the subject is clear and women who promote such an affair render themselves liable to arrest.”
MICE KILLING PROJECT HAVING ITS TROUBLES – The Marion Star, 17th January, 1903
Stamford, Conn., Jan. 17. - A new factor appeared in the Stamford cat show case today. Adam Saul owns the armory building where the mouse abating content exhibition is to be held next week. He owns several houses in the vicinity of the armory. These are free from mice and are tenanted by well-to-do families. Mr. Saul today consulted a business friend about the advisability of stopping the show upon the ground that the releasing of 2,000 mice in the hall would result in some hundreds of them escaping to his buildings. A story is current today that the bating-contest has been called off because of the thousands of protests from all over the country. This could not be verified.
CAT SHOW FEATURE – The Cincinnati Enquirer, 17th January, 1903
New York. January 16. - Despite the objection of the Mayor and the local S. P. C. A. the women of Stamford, Conn., are decided to have a mouse killing contest at their fashionable cat show, that is to be opened on Tuesday next. The mice of Stamford have all fled in terror, and it will be necessary to apply to New York to get the 2,000 mice necessary. A few unfortunate victims will come from Stamford. Mrs. Homer Cummings said to-day: “The mouse-killing content, which we have counted on for the cat show, will be held on Tuesday morning next. We haven’t thought for an instant of doing away with it on account of the interference of some sentimental women. We expect to have a thousand or two of mice there, and the pretty exhibition of cats catching them will be given.”
The New York Times was ahead of the field in stating the mouse-killing contest would not go ahead, but was it an advertising stunt or had it been withdrawn due to protests?
NO SLAUGHTER OF MICE.; Connecticut Cat Club Scratches Field Event for Kittens -- Only a Joke Anyway, Members Say. - The New York Times, January 17, 1903
STAMFORD, Conn., Jan. 16 - The Connecticut Cat Club will have its first annual show in the armory here next week, as planned, but there will be no slaughter of mice. The field event for kittens and rodents has been scratched owing to the opposition to such a demonstration that developed. It was at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Cat Club over a week ago that the President, Mrs Homer S. Cummings, said she would offer a cup for the kitten which killed a mouse quickest. A member of the club had a notice of the proposed event printed in a local paper. Then there was considerable adverse criticism.
Mayor Charles Henry Leeds sent a communication to Mrs. Cummmings, saying he considered the poroposed field even cruel, and would suggest that it be dropped. Mrs. Cummings sent a characteristic reply, inviting the Mayor to come along and try to stop it. Then several prominent persons in Stamford and elsewhere took steps to stop the affair. John P. Haines of New York, President of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, wrote to President Love of the Connecticut Humane Society to endeavor to stop it. Mr Love wrote to Mrs. Cummings to-day making formal objections to the field trial. A score or more of Stamford people also wrote Mayor Leeds that they indorsed his action, and some rather sharp criticisms were made of the promoters of the affair. The decision to drop the mouse feature followed. Members of the Cat Club are saying tonight that the entire affair was an advertising dodge on their part. This, however, is not so, as originally the suggestion for a field trial was made in all seriousness, and it was dropped as soon as it was ascertained that there was objection to it.
A CRUEL CAT CLUB – The Times Democrat, 19th January, 1903
There is serious trouble brewing in the heart of the pie belt. An excess of rhubarb pastry has so wrought upon the nerves of the inhabitants of the placid confines of the State of Wooden Nutmegs that an outbreak may occur at any moment. There came a few days ago a dulcet note of triumph from a woman, or a set of women rather, represented by the Connecticut Cat Club. The victorious note marked the defeat of the mayor of Stamford, but since then another champion has appeared in the field, followed by a Felon Knight who has been making incredible threats. The trouble had this origin:
The Connecticut Cat Club recently made known its intention to have a “field trial” of kittens at the cat show this week. Live mice were to be released in a sort of rat pit with the kittens, who were to dispose of them in the shortest order possible to kittens, the liveliest tabby securing the prize. One thousand lively mice had been ordered from New York for the tournament. Mayor Leeds of Stamford took exceptions to the programme on humanitarian grounds, and wrote to the president of the Cat Club that in his opinion the mouse- catching feature of the show would tend to promote cruelty in the community. He asked that this feature of the show be eliminated.
The answer came not from the president, but from the club as a whole, being signed “C. C. C.” The mayor was informed that a mouse-protecting mayor, in the opinion of the club, was calculated to produce levity in the community, and that the club would be obliged if he would have the entire police force of the city present at the contest. The mayor promptly subsided, but President Haines of the S. P. C. A. came to the front and declared he would have every woman at the show arrested if the cruel contest came off. The club went right along making arrangements to “pull off” the contest, though the threat had the effect of putting an end to the persiflage.
Then it was that the Felon Knight appeared and made a threat which sent a thrill of horror through the community. He declared that the contest was cruel, and that if the club persisted in its inhumanity he and certain villeins he had retained would spring into the pit and turn the frightened mice loose among the club members in the auditorium. To this incredible threat the club members have not responded, but the indications are that they are “dead game sports.” They are horror-stricken naturally, but the assertion is made that in Stamford there has in the past few days been an unusual sale of gaudy and high-priced hosiery. This, by the Sherlock Holmes system of deduction, would indicate that the club intends to face the danger and “pull the match off.”
The Indianapolis News, 19th January, 1903 reported the mouse-catching contest:
Stamford (Conn.) women will have a mouse-catching contest at the field-day exercises of their cat show. The idea originated with Mrs. Homer Cummins, president of the Connecticut Cat Society, and wife of the Stamford representative of the Connecticut Humane Society, so it must be all right. The mayor of the town wrote a letter of protest against the contest, Mrs. Cummings replied sarcastically, calling him a "mouse-protesting mayor.” Then the mayor decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and announced that he would do nothing more in the premises. So the slaughter of the mice will go on unrestrained on the cat show field day, and Stamford's dainty feminine cat lovers will watch the spectacle with sparkling eyes and encouraging aliments; and at its close, acclaim the victor. Of course, it isn’t so much fun for the mouse, but then a mouse is so small that it hardly counts anyway; Now, if it were rats - which are somewhat larger - which brutal men were turning into a fin I to be killed by terriers, these ladies would be shocked; or if it were roosters which brutal men were egging on to gaff each other to death, they would be horrified; or if bulls were being harassed into fury before a crowd of spectators only to be killed by brutal men, no doubt the very blood of these ladies would run cold at the thought. But a mouse! What’s a mouse but a pestiferous little thing that sometimes probably frightens these same lades into shrieks and onto chairs with skirts wrapped tight about them! And the cats are such dears! Why should not they and these sympathetic and tender-hearted ladies have their sport? The mouse's side of the story has not been heard. If it were the little animal could probably demonstrate that it is just as painful and disagreeable for a mouse to be killed by the tearing teeth of a cat as it is for a rat or a rooster or a bull, aye, for a woman to die by brutal violence.
The Oregon Daily Journal adopted a satirical approach, imagining the meeting where the mouse-baiting contest was proposed.
WOMEN AS MOUSE BAITERS – The Oregon Daily Journal, 23rd January, 1903.
When the modern woman attempts to do anything she generally does It well, although the methods and means may be severely criticised by her more staid and conventional sisters. The best illustration of the great strides that women have made during the past few years in sports of various degrees, has been exemplified at the big cat show recently opened at Stamford, Conn. The members of the Connecticut Cat Club spent many months of tireless endeavor arranging and planning for their annual exhibition of felines. To have something out of the regular routine was their scheme, their ambition.
Different things were suggested, but voted down on account of their kittenish tameness. What they really wanted was a show that would shock the religious sensibilities of the citizens of that hitherto semi-comatose town. Finally it was proposed to have a “mouse baiting” contest, and reports say that when a motion was made to adopt that form of a display, the women got so excited in their endeavor to vote for the resolution that they actually stood in their chairs and passed the proposition unanimously, and with a volcanic hurrah. There was one old lady, however, that dissented from the prevailing sentiment of the meeting, and when she arose to register her voice and argument against the measure, she was violently seized and carried hurriedly to the cloak room. Thus gagged, the “mouse baiting” contest was on. The scene that followed the adoption of the report was so animated that it was an hour before the victorious women stepped from their perches, and resumed business.
The next question in order was the purchasing of mice. This nearly caused a riot, as every woman had mice in her cellar that she was anxious to dispose of, providing some one captured them. An order for 10,000 mice was so quickly amended so as to read ten million, that the lady who was previously ejected for making objections, fainted upon hearing the news. Fearful that some members would change their minds before the meeting got through Its business, a motion to adjourn was made and carried with a whooping “me’ow.“
Now the serious part comes. When it became known what the women had done, the officers in the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, in a thousand different cities and towns, voiced their protests and characterized the plan as brutal in every manner, and stated that if the club persisted in carrying out their agreement that every member would be arrested. The members of the Connecticut Cat Club promptly resented the uninvited interference of the S. P. C..A., and hinted that anyone who did not approve of the scheme was unworthy the principles and prerogatives of American citizenship. The fight is on and the climax is awaited with interest, especially by the cats and trembling mice.
The revelation that only candy mice were to be used sparked columns discussing the women’s sense of humour. Women were often accused of lacking a sense of humour. It was considered unseemly for women to play such jokes. Once again, a number of papers carried the same column.
WOMAN AS A HUMORIST – Pittsburgh Daily Post, 25th January, 1903
GOTHAM CITY GOSSIP – The Morning Post, 25th January, 1903
Mr. John P. Haines. president of the Now York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is one man who will probably hesitate to say in the future that women have no sense of humor. A number of New York editors will doubtless add several more to the list. It is women members of the Connecticut Cat club at Stamford who have forever freed their sex from the old stigma of lack of humor. These women created a National sensation a week or two ago by announcing that they would have a cat-and-mouse tourney at their next cat show; that 2,000 mice and a choice assortment of cats had been engaged for the occasion, and the elite of Stamford was invited on engraved cards to come and see. Apparently the point was to see which cat could kill the most mice, and humane people were shocked, and papers said so in loud capitals. So, after arousing press and people - Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by the dozen and protesting humanitarians by the hundreds - the president of the Connecticut Cat club calms the troubled emotions by announcing that “the 2.000 mice have been ordered – true - but they are candy ones, and will be given away as souvenirs to the visitors to the cat show!” So it is that Mrs Homer S. Cummins, the president of the Connecticut Cat club, plays a joke that fools the entire Nation.
STAMFORD’S CAT HOAX – The Lima News, 27th January, 1903
Only Candy Mice to B« Devoured at Mouse Baiting Contest.
Stamford, Conn., makes its bow to the army of press agents the country over and points to the famous "mouse killing field trials" as a standard for their emulation, says the Philadelphia Press. That is all the episode amounts to - a press agent plot, pure, but not simple, in which an imaginative young man, aided and abetted by a group of clever women, hoaxed the country for a week, caused endless perturbation to societies and individuals, even started the wheels of justice revolving and incidentally obtained column upon column of advertising for the poultry and cat show which recently opened at Stamford.
The only cat ever designed to appear at the field trial, it is now known, is an automatic affair bought at a toy store. The only mice are of chocolate, manufactured by a New York confectioner. That the scheme was successful was evidenced from the outset. Less than a day later John P. Haines of New York, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, wrote Mrs. Homer Cummings a letter, and newspapers, both local and at a distance, began to attack the proposed trial editorially. The Connecticut society immediately held a meeting and appointed committees to see that the law was not violated. Ministers from the pulpit denounced it as an outrage. The Rev. De Loss Love, head of the Connecticut Humane society, announced that he would leave no stone unturned to prevent the sanguinary carnival Mayor Leeds took up cudgels and declared he would see that it was stopped. The W.C.T.U. interfered of course.
Fuel was added to the flames daily by Frank Abbott, secretary of the poultry show. He announced the other day that be had been promised 2,000 mice for the contest. He spoke truthfully. They were ordered of the confectioner that day.
WHEN LOVELY WOMAN STOOPS TO FAKING – The Evening World, 19th January, 1903
(“The Man Higher Up” column) “That was a painful sting those women In the Cat Club up at Hartford handed out to the Mayor and the S. P. C. A.,” remarked The Cigar-Store Man.
"It goes to prove." replied The Man Higher Up, "that when wise men say that women have no sense of humor they are like a policeman up against Sanscrit. They are spieling in a game that is over their heads. It also goes to prove that when a woman wants to fake she can make the achievements of the late P. T. Barnum look like coarse performances.
“Far he it from me to say that the Stamford women discovered that they were up against it and framed up the order for the candy mice for their cat show as a graceful getaway. Some people may think that they really did intend to turn their kittens into the ring for the purpose of slaying a given number of mice in a given number of minutes, or deeds to that effect. For me, I am of the belief that they had no idea of putting up a public reduction of the mice population, and that as they say, they were misunderstood from the drop of the flag.
"Look at the advertising they got out of it! Tody Hamilton, the press agent of the big circus, looks like a sandwich man when compared with those women showmen of Stamford. Even Press Agent Maitee Miller, who wrote the mash-note personal to Aubrey Boucicault having disguised himself as a winsome maiden with a warm heart, must sit in the family circle when he comes to line himself up with the Cat Show promoters of Stamford.
"On the other hand, we have numerous instances at women who have gone into the show business and made their bank rolls look like the remains of a planked shad. Mrs. Osborn started the Play House and made it an assets crematory. The Professional Woman’s League ran a show at Madison Square Garden and you could hold the net profits in your closed eye. They might take a lesson from the women of Stamford who are running a woman’s show in a woman’s way. The trouble with Mrs. Osborn and the Professional Woman’s League was that they tried to run their shows in the way men would have run them.
"A man gets his money by main force; a woman gets hers by strategy. When it comes to going after anything, from money to advantage, the woman has got a straight flush and the last bet as against a man's three aces - when she depends upon the qualities of mind that nature has passed up to her.
"When a boy comes to the age of discretion you can spot him in anything he does, because it takes him many, many years to learn the art of hiding what he feels. With a girl it is different. She is equipped with a deceit factory behind her alabaster brow that is bound by no union rules. It works while she sleeps, and when she is awake it works double time. After she grows up to the stage when she accumulates attractiveness, the deceit factory has a force on that presses the machinery to capacity.
"When she concludes that she wants to get married she picks out the man she wants, and she lands him not by the strong-arm method but by the exercise of her arts as a fakir. After she gets him she may find out that she has not gathered a prize; in that case she take all the pleasure in the world in making him wish he was in a hearse about half the time, and the rest of the time she exerts herself in the way of filling him with pride because he has made such an excellent match. If she doesn’t like him and he is a good provider, she will want to keep him; and the way she can make him think is he is the real thing when he is nothing more than a standing rent receipt is seldom exposed.
"Women’s ways are like the North Pole - beyond discovery. If all women would pattern by the Stamford Cat Club directors when they get into business affairs they would find that a man - all men, in fact - is as soft a mark in business as he is In love.”
After all the free publicity and hyperbole created by the supposed mouse-killing contest, the actual show could only be an anti-climax. No-one was arrested. Some papers reported that the show was not as well-attended as expected and was more of a local affair. Some reports seemed disappointed that the cats were so tame and well-behaved.
MOUSE-BAITING NOT SUCH A HIT – The Evening World 20th January, 1903
Stamford’s Cat Show Opens but Contest Between Fake Felines and Rodents Fail to Stir.
STAMFORD. Conn., Jan. 20 – The much-heralded show of the Connecticut Cat Club opened to-day, and up to a late hour this afternoon Mrs Homer T, Cummings, the President of the club, and none of the fair members had been arrested for cruelty to animals either by Mayor Leeds or John P. Haines, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Every visitor to the show was given a chocolate-coated candy mouse, and this afternoon a pantomime mouse-catching contest was carried off with fake cats and mice. It did not make as much of a hit as expected. In fact there has not been as much interest shown in the Cat Show opening as the promoters looked for owing to the wide publicity given it. It occupies only a small section of the general exhibit of the Stamford Poultry Show. The latter is really an important affair, being the largest ever held in Connecticut and said to be next to the greatest ever held in New England. [. . . ] Miss Dorothy Champeron, of New York, is judge of the cats.
CATS VERY TAME AT ARMORY SHOW – The Evening World, 21st January, 1903
There Are Only Sixty, and They Are Merely an Adjunct to Poultry.
(Photo, The Professional World, 30th January, 1903) MRS. HOMER S. CUMMINGS, the society woman of Stamford, Conn., who aroused the ire of the mayor of the city, Chas. H. Leeds, by proposing a mouse-killing contest in connection with the cat show now being held, and then, when the storm of protest was at its height, caused the shafts of ridicule to fall heavily upon his honor by announcing that chocolate mice were to be used.
Other reports mused on what might have happened – the mouse would freeze, so it didn’t attract the cat’s attention, and the cat would fail to do its appointed duty in such a strange environment. That would depend on how prey-driven the cat was. I remember carrying a grumbling black cat of feral origin, called Sapphire, from his home into a neighbour’s house where a mouse had been trapped in the bedroom. Sapphire was deposited on the bedroom carpet. The bed was moved slightly and the mouse broke cover. The action was too quick for the eye to follow, but almost instantly Sapphire was standing at the closed bedroom door with a dead mouse in his jaws. He took his prey home, but for days afterwards he visited the neighbour’s house to check for further mice. So some cats have a strong enough hunting instinct to overcome the fear of strange surroundings, but they would almost certainly be put off by excited crowds cheering them on.
CATS AND MICE - The New York Times, January 25, 1903
Now that the incident of the proposed mouse-killing contest for pet cats at Stamford is closed to the satisfaction of all in interest, the cats and mice included, there remains just a suspicion that the estimable women who were credited with the purpose of putting the vermicidal [this actually means worm-killing, not vermin-killing!] capacity of their pets to the test were perpetrating a joke upon those who took them quite seriously. Assuming that they know as much about cats as the average small boy has learned from experience, especially as to their temperamental idiosyncrasies, they must have known that cats have at least one distinctly and characteristically feminine trait, in that when they will they will, and when they won't they won't.
Any one who has ever taken a cat to a strange place and "put it up to her" to do something peculiarly in her own line of business has invariably found that the cat had something else to think about just then and could not be induced to do what, in other circumstances, she could not be restrained from doing. The lad who has corralled a rat or mouse in some place from which it could not escape, and brought the family cat with a well-established reputation as a valiant and puissant mouse to slay it, hoping to have one ecstatic moment of making believe that he was a spectator at a Roman arena ever so long ago, has had the disappointment of his life. The cat has squatted in one corner like a brooding Buddha and the mouse in another. If dislodged with a stick the mouse's safest refuge at the moment was under the cat. No doubt if left together long enough the cat's instinct as a hunter would triumph over her nervousness, closely corresponding to stage fright, and she would stalk the mouse in good style; but rather than gratify a morbid curiosity to see her perform she would let the mouse die of the complaint which killed the fox the day after a Meadow Brook hunt - fatty degeneration of the tissues due to lack of exercise. It is safe to say that the Happy Family of childish memory, with its congregation of normally antipathetic animals, was less free from sanguinary conflict about feeding time than would be a pit in which mice and cats were reluctantly foregathered under observation.
The Stamford ladies are playful, or else they have so much to learn about cats that a local cat club is a necessity.
STAMFORD’S FAIR JOKER – The Portsmouth Herald, 30th January, 1903.
Mrs. Homer S. Cummings of Stamford. president of the Connecticut Cat club, who recently aroused a storm of protest from all over the country by advertising that 2,000 mice were to be slaughtered at the annual show of the society, is now regarded as one of the greatest of practical jokers. When she made the announcement, Mayor Leeds of Stamford protested and wrote a letter to her and the press. John P. Haines, president of the New York S. P. C. A., denounced Mrs. Cummings and her compatriots as barbarians, and clergyman, statesmen and scholars lifted up their voices against the mice baiting exhibition. Then Mrs. Cummings calmly announced that the mice were candy mice and were to be given as souvenirs of the cat show. Then everybody laughed.
CHAS. H. LEEDS – Davenport Daily Republican, 1st February, 1903
Chas H. Leeds of Stanford, Conn., whose ire was aroused by Mrs Homer S. Cummings proposing a mouse-killing contest in connection with the cat show now being held, and then when the storm of protest was at its height, caused the shafts of ridicule to fall heavily upon his honor by announcing that chocolate mice were to be used.
Commentary eventually changed from the ethics of mouse-baiting to the character of women. Did men really think women had no sense of humour?
THE PRACTICAL JOKING WOMAN – The San Bernardino County Sun, 2nd February, 1903
Chicago Tribune: From time immemorial it has been charged against women that they are lacking in, if not entirely destitute of, a sense of humor. The charge has been disputed over and over, but it is repeated persistently, even though a woman has set herself up for a humorist and has vindicated at least one of her sex from the reproach. A recent occurrence at Stamford Conn., now demonstrates that a large number of women in that town have not only a sense of humor, but are successful practical jokers.
There is a cat club at Stamford, and a cat club presupposes women, for no man would dare to avow himself a member of such an organization. The club in question recently announced its annual cat show. In connection with the show it was given out that the members had arranged a mouse baiting contest as one of its features, and, indeed, that they had gone so far as to order 2,000 mice from New York to be slaughtered for a feline holiday. As soon as the announcement was made there was a commotion all over Connecticut. The Rev. Delos Love, president of the State Humane Society, made an eloquent protest to Mrs. Cunningham president of the club, who replied in a good natured way, and insisted upon their right to kill off the 2,000 mice because the mouse is the natural prey of the cat, and, besides, is a pest in every house. The Rev. Mr. Love then replied to the mayor of Stamford, and that functionary, who is the husband of one of the officers of the club, promised to use all his authority to prevent the massacre. At last accounts he was still striving with the mayoress and had got no farther than that. Meanwhile the president did not agree to use his authority and forbid the mouse baiting, whereupon several of the members of the humane society tendered their resignations.
After the matter had been discussed in the public press and the pulpiteers had dwelt upon the cruelty of woman and the Governor himself had been invoked to use his authority to prevent their proposed savagery, and when nearly the entire population had worked itself up into a high state of indignation, the president of the club quietly announced that it had never been intended to have a mouse baiting contest, but that such a proposition was made as a joke at one of the meetings, but was never considered seriously, and that the 2,000 mice ordered from New York were chocolate mice. The newspapers, as usual, had made all the trouble by wrong statements, but when the club observed what a tempest was raging over the matter it decided to help it on a little which it did most successfully. Now that the show is in readiness Mrs. Cummings has let the cat out of the bag, and “begs to calm the feelings of all those who may have supposed that the officers and members of the cat club are inhuman or would cater to a depraved taste.”
The members of the club have enjoyed the joke greatly, and if any of the chocolate mice survive the onslaught of the cats they will be sent as souvenirs to the members of the Connecticut Humane Society.
The story rumbled its way across the nation into February and March 1903 before dying out.
MRS. HOMER S. CUMMINGS – The Topeka Daily Capital, 17th February, 1903
All Connecticut has been talking of the great controversy between the Mayor of Stamford and the President of the Connecticut Cat club. The women who are members of the cat association announced their intention to make a big mouse killing exhibition a feature of the cat show. Mayor Leeds of Stamford forbid [forbade] the show in the name of humanity. It now appears that the women never intended to hold the cruel contest. The story was on a clever advertising scheme of Mrs. Cummings, president of the Cat show.
This little report accompanying a parody of Robert Burns’ verse, also credited the SPCA with stopping the contest, despite the fact that live mice were never in any real danger.
BOBBY BURNS REVERSED – Altoona Tribune, 12th March, 1903
Stamford (Conn.) women have been having a cat show and planned a mouse-killing contest, which was stopped by the humane society. The New York Evening Sun turns the incident into the following jingle:
O’ mice and men
The plans, we see,
Says Bobby Burns,
Gang aft aglee;
But now the text
More truly fits
The Stanford women
And their kits;
For horrid men
Unite, ’tis said,
To save the wee
Sma’ mouse’s head,
Whilst gory woman
And her cats
Would eat ’em up
And cry: “Oh, Rats!"
The following item credits the SPCA with stopping the contest, overlooking the fact it was a publicity stunt and that no live mice were in any real danger.
REFINEMENT OF FEELING – Cameron County Press, 5th March, 1903
Some showmen of Brooklyn lately found it necessary to kill an elephant which, by her viciousness, had become a menace to the lives of her keepers and the public. With the true showman’s instinct, they planned to make the execution a spectacle. Death was to be attempted simultaneously by poison, by shooting, and if these methods were not effective, by drowning and strangulation. The affair, duly advertised, was to take place on an island in an artificial lake the shores of which would make an amphitheater for the crowd who were willing to pay the price of admission. The spectacle had already been advertised when the “society with the long name” stepped in. There the matter ended. “Topsy” was killed, but not in the presence of any crowd who paid to see the sight.
More recently still an association in Connecticut announced a public mouse-killing contest as one of the attractions of an approaching cat show. A thousand live mice were to be released in a ring about which the patrons of the show would gather, and prizes were to be awarded to the cats which made the quickest and most numerous “kills.” Here again the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals interfered. Its action was vigorously opposed, but public opinion sustained it and it won. Without that intervention there would have been no added cruelty.
It was necessary that “Topsy” die, and in the economy of domestic life it is often necessary that mice shall die; but it is not necessary, as the Youth's Companion points out, that the death of either be made a public entertainment. Death, even that of an animal, is at best a pathetic mystery. The finer feelings revolt against making an exhibition of it, and in these two instances, as in countless others, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals performed a service for decency and civilization.
Meanwhile, for Charles Leeds, former Mayor of Stamford, it would become part of his curriculum vitae when his life was reviewed in the media. He decided to move away from the small affairs of Stamford and into major politics.
STAMFORD’S ORIGINAL MAYOR – The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15th September, 1903:
Charles Henry Leeds is a young man, still under 30 we believe. He was elected Mayor of Stamford, Conn., a year ago. He is a graduate of Princeton, where they teach theology of the most orthodox brand, but where the influence of a Calvinistic atmosphere was not sufficiently strong to prevent him from attacking the Presbyterian Confession of Faith in a very vigorous pamphlet. After leaving college Leeds sought Wall Street. He bought a seat on the Exchange for $16,000 and sold it three years later for $19,00, explaining his withdrawal from stock speculation by saying that as his own success was predicated upon the misfortunes of others, he “couldn’t see that there was any very general gain to society by such actions.” This attitude, while decidedly altruistic, was certainly peculiar and the logical application of it to all business would be absolutely ridiculous. Mr. Leeds further made himself conspicuous by polling a record vote as a Democratic candidate for the Stamford mayoralty and by threatening to raid a local cat show if a mouse killing contest for kittens were “pulled off” according to schedule. It will thus be seen that Leeds has been more or less in the public eye ever since he left college. And now he again gets himself talked about by announcing that he will return to college, not to Princeton, but to Yale, where they will tell him things he wants to know in the realm of political science.
According to the St Louis Dispatch, 24th April, 1904, “When the little storm subsided, it turned out that a clever hoax had been perpetrated by Mrs. Cummings. Only mechanical cats and mice appeared in the widely advertised “field trials,” while candy mice were given away as souvenirs. Mayor Leeds enjoyed the joke on himself so thoroughly that he joined the Cat Club. He is now its treasurer.”
A CURIOUS SEQUEL
In 1906, there was a curious sequel to the mouse-killing contest when a rat-killing contest was proposed as part of a Chicago cat show.
SLAUGHTER OF RATS BY TABBIES WHO KNOW HOW IS BLOCKED BY A WOMAN – The Inter-Ocean, 13th December, 1906
A scientific exhibition of what a real life cat does to a rat when she gets it where the wants it, and the probable massacre of a large number of nimble rodents, was blocked yesterday by Mrs. Copeland-Schumann, acting in the dual capacity of a director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and vice president of the National Cat club, under whose auspices the cat show is being held at Brooke's casino.
Deciding that the true merits of tradesmen’s and policemen's cats lie not in their length of hair and tails and intelligent countenances, but in their respective abilities as seekers after and destroyers of the rodent family, the Judges arranged to have a large consignment of fat and saucy cellar rats brought last night to the casino. It was planned to time each cat and see how long it took to dispose of s certain number of its deadly enemies. Fortunately for the rodents, Mrs. Copeland-Schumann stepped in and said: "As a director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, I must forbid the contest.” She insisted that if the plan were not abandoned she would withdraw from the Cat club, and the committee in charge deferred to her wishes.
OBJECTS TO RAT HUNT IN SHOW – Chicago Daily Tribune, 13th December, 1906
An Interference by the Anti-Cruelty society prevented the judges at the national cat show from delivering their decision on the merits of two felines yesterday. The judges, Mrs. C. E. De Blinn of Elgin, Ill; Mrs. Helen M. Sloggy of St. Paul, Minn.; and Mrs. Copeland-Schumann of Chicago, in order to determine the merits of tradesmen’s and policemen's cats, decided to loose a number of rats that they might judge of their physical prowess.
Mrs. Copeland-Schumann, vice president of the National Cat club and one of the members of the committee objected as being a director for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelly to Animals. The contest was postponed by the statement of Mrs. Copeland-Schumann that she would withdraw if the plan was carried out. Twenty cats won first prizes in their classes, Mrs. Josiah Cratty winning first in the class for white cats with orange eyes.
WOMEN STOP RAT KILLING – St Louis Post Dispatch, 13th December, 1906
CHICAGO. Dec. 13. — The Anti-cruelty Society broke up a good cat show at the exhibition of the Cat Club. The Judges had arranged to decide the merits of the cats upon their ability to destroy rats. The rats were to be turned loose and each cat timed in the contest. Many women exhibitors objected, but they were overruled. The women left the floor when the rat killing was to begin and took to the galleries. Several of them complained to the Anti-cruelty Society, and just as the slaughter was to begin the law stepped in and saved the rats. Two judges resigned with the comment, “What in the dickens is a cat for if not to catch rats?
CAT SHOW COMES TO GRIEF – The Washington herald, 14 December, 1906
Chicago, Dec. 13.—The Anti-Cruelty So¬ciety broke up a good cat show at the exhibition of the Cat Club, yesterday. The judges had arranged to decide the merits of the cats upon their ability to destroy rats. The rats were to be turned loose and each cat timed in the contest.
Many women exhibitors objected, but they were overruled. The women left the floor when the rat killing was to begin and took to the galleries. Several of them complained to the Anti-Cruelty So-ciety, and just as the slaughter was to begin the law stepped in and saved the rats. Two judges resigned with the com¬ment: “What in the dickens is a cat for if not to catch rats?”