Caroline Earle White was a powerful woman with a heart for helping animals. She was destined to be a change-maker and a change-maker she was. Born and raised in a wealthy Quaker family, she was the daughter of an attorney who was an influential advocate for the abolition of slavery. Her mom also worked for suffrage and abolition.
A Burning Passion Since Childhood Sparked Nationwide Change
Horses and mules were used for working purposes when Caroline was growing up in the 1800s. She witnessed these helpless creatures become exhausted from being overworked and then beaten for their slow pace or pausing. It broke Caroline’s heart and inspired her to create change.
Her passion and persistence led to the development of the first animal shelter in the United States. The first American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, was started by Henry Bergh in 1866. Caroline’s husband at the time was an attorney who encouraged his wife to meet with Mr. Bergh. The meeting was the spark that Caroline needed.
She returned home from her meeting in New York and began raising funds and support in 1867. Her campaign efforts led her to cross paths with Colonel M. Richards Muckle who shared similar ideas. The two joined forces and launched the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
A True Advocate For The Oppressed And Abused
In addition to animal welfare, she also advocated for women’s rights. Women were not viewed as equal citizens to men at the time. Because of this, Caroline wasn’t even allowed to sit as a member of the board for her own organization. The ASPCA gained 600 members in its first 18 months but Caroline dreamed of a place where women could be more involved. And viola- the Women’s PSPCA was born in 1869. This later became known as the Women’s Humane Society.
According to American Comes Alive, the third meeting of the Women’s PSPCA resulted in a motion that stated the following:
“…one of the objects of this Society shall be to provide as soon as possible, a Refuge for lost and homeless dogs, where they could be kept until homes could be found for them, or they be otherwise disposed of.”
Funds were raised for the facility to be built. It became the first animal shelter in the nation and was the model for all others that came after it. The shelter was called the “refuge” and was located about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia in a small town called Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
In addition to tackling the issue of stray cats and dogs, the WPSPCA confronted the issues of rooster fighting, dog fighting, and animal baiting.
Getting To The Source Of Animal Abuse
Women at that time blamed many of society’s problems on alcohol consumption. The WPSPCA wanted to get to the root of animal abuse and they too blamed alcohol. Ambitiously, the group raised funds to have water fountains installed- not just around the city, but the entire country. The thought was that if people had more access to free, clean drinking water, then they may drink less alcohol and be kinder to animals. It also gave animals access to clean water so it was a win-win.
Caroline also started the American Anti-Vivisection Society once she discovered that there was medical testing being done on animals. The society handed out pamphlets at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago in order to bring awareness to the atrocities that were being done to living, homeless animals for medical testing.
Caroline continued her crusade for animal rights by fighting for legislation to ensure proper transport of animals on the Reading Railroad. It’s no surprise that she succeeded in this endeavor as well.
Children Were Given A Voice Too!
Caroline’s progressive thinking was lightyears ahead of her time. The Humane Society and ASPCA were started before any kind of welfare agency existed for children! Children were being abandoned daily in the United States. They relied on only a handful of orphanages nationwide that were run by religious groups. It was decided to start the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1875 once citizens started seeing the positive change that had been done in the lives of animals.
An agent of change, an advocate, and a visionary. Caroline Earle White once summed up her passions as this:
“There are many people who when we ask them to join us say that they prefer to work for human beings. But are we not working for human beings? Are we not constantly striving to make men and women more humane and disposed to all kindly feelings and to teach children to become gentle and merciful? Is not everything which tends to elevate man in the mortal scale a benefit to him?” -Caroline Earle White
h/t: America Comes Alive
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