The woman who set the tone for animal rights in Philadelphia

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To mark Women’s History Month, it’s worth taking a step back into 19th-century Philadelphia to look at the life and work of an often passed-over woman critical to the city’s history: Caroline Earle White.

Founder of the Women’s Humane Society, Earle White was a leading voice for animal rights and fought publicly for her cause some fifty years before women won the right to vote in the United States.

“I don’t think she was revered at the start,” said Cathy Malkemes, CEO of the Women’s Humane Society. “Because it was not an easy place to be saying to folks, you’re not treating that animal the way it should be treated.”

At the start, Earle White focused her efforts on overworked carriage horses and stray dogs. She spearheaded the construction of drinking fountains and troughs throughout the city, many of which remain today.

Earle White’s efforts also extended to education. She created the Band of Mercy, which provided educational programs for children on how to be kind to animals and then deputized groups of those children to be the “eyes and ears” of the Women’s Humane Society, reporting instances of animal cruelty across Philadelphia.

“I love the fact that she was a woman,” added Malkemes. “And I love the fact that, at a time where it was not very popular to have your voice be heard or speak about a sensitive topic, she did it along with her friends,” she added.

One hundred forty-five years after its inception, the Women’s Humane Society is still going strong. It operates a shelter for dogs and other small animals, provides adoption and training services for pet owners in the region, and continues to fight against animal abuse through education.

And on top of all of that, the Women’s Humane Society still boasts an all-female board of directors.

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