Philadelphian Caroline Earle White, a pioneer in the animal welfare movement, founded the Women’s Humane Society in 1869. Originally a branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA, the Pennsylvania Women’s SPCA (as it was called then) soon became a completely independent organization. In 1988, the name was changed to the Women’s Humane Society.
Under the direction of the all-female board of directors, the Society became the first organization in the United States to offer unwanted animals a chance for a new home at its adoption center. It also offered the first humane education program in Pennsylvania, offered the first animal ambulance service, and the first low-cost veterinary hospital for animals associated with an animal shelter. The Society raised public awareness about the issue of cruelty to animals and its agents sought to educate, and prosecute if necessary, those people who mistreated their pets.
The women were also very involved in improving conditions for livestock, particularly cows and horses. Horses during the late 1800s into the early 1900s were often overworked and beaten and deprived of water for long periods. Agents of the Society roamed the city, urging horse owners to take better care of their animals and prosecuted them if they did not. The women built fountains and set up horse watering stations during the hot summer months so that finding a place to water horses was never a problem. They lobbied Congress about the way in which cattle were transported by train with no food or water and were instrumental in affecting new laws regarding the treatment of livestock.
Time took a toll on the Society’s building in North Philadelphia. It was literally falling apart at the time the Society made the decision to move to a new, environmentally friendly building in Bensalem in 1993. While the Society’s location may have changed, the commitment to homeless and abused animals has remained as strong as ever.