Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Beautiful Jim Key Collection now online

Available online now, the Beautiful Jim Key Collection was donated to TSLA by a relative of Dr. William Key. Dr. Key was a self-trained, African-American veterinarian (and former slave) from Bedford County, who partnered with promoter A. R. Rogers to showcase the extraordinary talents of the Arabian Hambletonian horse, Beautiful Jim Key. For nine years, Beautiful Jim Key performed around the country during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to large crowds at expositions, world’s fairs, schools, and other venues. Using an innovative training method that emphasized patience and kindness rather than the whip, Dr. Key taught this amazing horse to perform a variety of tasks. He could read, write, spell, tell time, do simple mathematics, and even sort mail.

Despite racial tensions, Dr. Key was able to impress thousands of Americans, both Southern and Northern, with his unusual gift for working with horses. His methods involved patience and kindness rather than force; he was ahead of his time in embracing restraint and gentleness in his management of equine training and Rogers’ traveling show helped to promote the growing humane movement in the United States. The message of kindness to animals was directed to all Americans, but to children in particular.

Famous Americans, including President McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and President Roosevelt’s flamboyant daughter, Alice, all personally witnessed Jim Key’s remarkable skills. And even though scientists searched in vain for evidence of fraud, no one was ever able to prove that Dr. Key was unfairly helping his horse complete the tasks he was performing. Instead, they found Jim Key to be charming, intelligent, and highly skilled.

In addition to revealing the extraordinary life of an ex-slave who traveled around the country with his gifted horse, this collection offers a unique blend of Tennessee history and turn-of-the-century popular culture. The underlying theme of kindness to animals was a cause that had recently emerged in American society not long after the Civil War with the founding of the ASPCA in 1866 by Henry Bergh in New York City, and creation of the MSPCA in 1868 by Angell in Boston. Horses were the focus of much of the early advocacy efforts. Thousands of them were ill-treated as they served as the backbone of the nation’s transportation industry. This remained the case until the development of the automobile.

Although the Jim Key Collection was previously available online, this collection has been upgraded with higher image quality and removed watermarks.

Be sure to check out this wonderful online collection, a rare look into the early period of the humane movement. Here's the link!

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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