Throughout history there have been many legendary and influential women who have made their mark upon this world by standing up for what they believe in – Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Dolores Huerta, Rosa Parks, Alice Paul…the list could go on. We’ve all learned about these incredible women in our history books, but how many of us and heard of Caroline Earle White?
This female pioneer was the one who began the first US animal shelter in 1869 alongside a group of 30 female animal activists. White plus a small number of women began addressing the mistreatment of carriage horses in Philadelphia in the 1800s. At the time, horses were not seen as pets, but rather as a means of transportation. The women refused to stand in the background and continue to see the abuse of these gentle giants.
“Animals have certain rights, as inalienable as those of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said White.
It was through their dedication, hard work, and fundraisers, that the women were able to build 35 drinking fountains across the city of Philadelphia for both horses and small animals. In addition, the group of women built horse watering station carts, which offered free water to working horses. Many of those fountains are still in use and standing today.
Within the year that they first stood up and spoke for the carriage horses, the women also founded the first U.S. animal shelter. The Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in Philadelphia and took in both stray dogs and cats. In addition to helping the stray animals either find their original owners or new homes, the women also believed in the education of people as being the “best weapon against animal abuse”.
They established the first humane education program called “The Band Of Mercy” in order to teach children the importance of being kind to animals and to report animal abuse.
The shelter is still in operation today, however, it is under a different name: Women’s Animal Center. That is not the only change, it has also moved to a much larger facility out in Bensalem, PA. The shelter continues to uphold the legacy of their founder by providing education programs that help teach people how to humanely care for their pets. This year on April 14, 2019, it was even the 150 anniversary of the shelter’s opening. The current CEO Catherine Malkemes, as well as the president of the board of directors, Suzanne L. Bush, celebrated the historic triumph by recognizing the incredible strides made by the original founders.
Bush told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We wanted to focus on the women because of the history and the fact that these women were so courageous and innovative.”
She added, “These women never got credit for what they did. They had to be relentless and stand up for themselves and stand up for the animals.”
Unfortunately, even 150 years after the fact, our society, and the animal lovers in it are still battling the same problems. Not only are there still some that continue to abuse carriage horses, but there are still millions of stray cats and dogs waiting on forever homes. There is some hope though, thanks to White and the other female activists from years ago, there are shelters across the states who are trying to help these strays while they find homes – as well as more social awareness of the importance of being kind to animals.
As of this year, April 14th was designated by the shelter as “Animal Shelter National Day of Service.” The shelter wants to encourage animal lovers across the nation to “show support for the lifesaving work of their own local shelters through acts of kindness big or small!”
You can learn more about Caroline Earle White and how she improved lives for shelter animals in the video below: