Margaret Marshall Saunders and Beautiful Joe

This blog tracks the origin & evolution of Jo Napier’s June 2011 art exhibit/portrait series honoring “The Nova Scotia Nine- Great Women of N.S.

The next woman I came across that really attracted me  – that moved me to paint her, large scale and lovingly – was Margaret Marshall Saunders.

Ever hear of her? Me neither. But turns out she was quite cool – independent, talented, a hard worker, a beautiful soul and a major animal lover. Right around the time when the book Black Beauty was published, MMS – who lived in Milton, N.S. – traveled to visit a relative in Ontario and encountered a dog who had been terribly abused. 

 It horrified her. It moved her. It moved her so much in fact, she wrote a book about the experience and  named it Beautiful Joe. And that book, about a damaged dog, was the first book by a Canadian author to sell more than a million copies.

I think it’s still in print today, and I’m going to check at my favorite bookstore to see if I can find a copy to include in the art show in June.

Here’s a photo of the author herself, with her dog. I don’t know the dog’s name, but something tells me by the end of this show, I will! (She, by the way, wrote under her second name – Marshall – because the times were such that she was pretty sure no one would buy a book written by a woman.)

The impact of Beautiful Joe was obvious: barrier-breaking sales. And not-so-obvious; Beautiful Joe was the catalyst for a shift in consciousness among Canadians.

It started them thinking about how animals should be treated. And it ended in what today is the SPCA, animal protection laws and an increasing respect for animals and debate over how we should relate to them.


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