The First US Animal Shelter Was Founded By Women 150 Years Ago

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There are many influential women in history that stood up for what they believed in and made the world a better place. Women like Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton and thousands more, but have you heard of Caroline Earle White?

Caroline Earl White started the first US animal shelter in 1869 along with a group of 30 female animal activists. White and a small group of women started by addressing the mistreatment of carriage horses in Philadelphia in the 1800’s. Horses were not seen as pets, but as a means of transportation. The women could not stand by any longer and see the gentle animals mistreated.

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Women’s Humane Society


“Animals have certain rights, as inalienable as those of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said White.

Through fundraisers and hard work, the women were able to build 35 drinking fountains throughout Philadelphia for horses and small animals. In addition, they created horse watering station carts that offered free water to working horses. Many of the fountains are still standing and in use today.

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Women’s Humane Society

Within a year of first speaking up for carriage horses, the women 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 stray dogs and cats. In addition to helping the stray animals find their owners or new homes, the women believed that educating people was the “best weapon against animal abuse”.

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Women’s Humane Society


They established the first humane education program, “The Band Of Mercy”, that taught children to be kind to animals and report abuse.

The shelter is still operating today but under a different name, Women’s Animal Center, and moved to a larger facility in Bensalem, PA. The shelter continues the legacy of their founder by providing education programs to teach people how to humanely care for pets. April 14, 2019 marks 150 years that the first shelter opened its doors. Current CEO Catherine Malkemes and Suzanne L. Bush, president of the board of directors, are celebrating by recognizing the amazing work of the original founders.

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Women’s Humane Society

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 went on to say, “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.”

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Women’s Humane Society

Sadly, 150 years later we are still battling the same issues. Carriage horses are still mistreated by some and there are millions of stray dogs and cats looking for loving homes. However, thanks to the compassionate and inspiring White and the other female activists there are shelters across the nation providing for the strays until they find homes.

April 14 is being designated by the shelter as “Animal Shelter National Day of Service.” They are encouraging animal lovers around the country to “show support for the lifesaving work of their own local shelters through acts of kindness big or small!”

Learn how Caroline Earle White improved the lives of animals and started the first shelter in the video below.

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Andrea Powell is an animal enthusiast that resides in West Michigan. When not writing, she is exploring the great outdoors with her dogs and horses. She strives to be the change she wishes to see in the world and encourages others to do the same.
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