30 Women Created the First US Animal Shelter

Did you know that way back in 1869, a group of 30 women created the very first animal shelter in the United States?

The Women’s Animal Center has changed its name over the years, from the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the Women’s Humane Society to the Women’s Animal Center, as it’s called today. It has also moved from its original location in Philadelphia to a larger, modern facility in Bensalem, Penn., about 18 miles north.

Back in the 1860s, the women, led by animal activist Caroline Earle White (who later founded the American Anti-Vivisection Society), were inspired to open a humane shelter in Philadelphia to save stray dogs and cats that were taken to the city pound and then languished there. Some of the pound dogs were subjected to cruel medical experiments by doctors.

Two years before the animal shelter opened, White joined with other women to found and raise funds for the Pennsylvania SPCA. Yet because they were women, they weren’t allowed to be on the board of directors of the humane society they themselves created!

Instead of being discouraged, the women went ahead and formed their own humane society, which they named the Women’s Branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA. (“Branch” is misleading, since this group was autonomous and completely independent from the Pennsylvania SPCA.)

Fifty years before women won the right to vote, these compassionate and visionary ladies took over the city pound. They banned doctors from access to the animals. And, for the first time in the U.S., homeless dogs and cats were adopted into loving homes. The women also established one of the first humane education programs in the country and promoted the importance of reporting animal abuse.

“Although living during an era that limited her own rights, White used what voice she had to speak on behalf of the voiceless,” the Women’s Animal Center notes in a Facebook post. “The power of her message continues to be told today through the daily work of more than 3,500 animal shelters in operation across the country.”

To find out more about the Women’s Animal Center and how to help it to continue caring for animals, visit its website.

Photo: Women’s Animal Center/YouTube

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!