It’s 19th century Philadelphia, and countless carriage horses are walking and trotting along in the streets.
A young girl, named Caroline Earle, tries to avoid the lanes near her home where horse owners beat their overburdened horses for not working hard enough. She can’t bear to see such animal cruelty, the images of which leave her depressed for days.
Despite her best efforts, Earle bears regular witness to horses being mistreated. To her dismay, the welfare of working horses was of little to concern to many, and animal cruelty was common place. And so, she keeps walking home and thinking of those beleaguered horses, not knowing that these sights will shape her life’s mission.
Fast forward to 1868. Now a married woman, Earle-White and her attorney husband, Richard P. White establish an organization that will act against animal cruelty. They call it Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also known as PSPCA. A year later, Earle-White establishes an all-female branch of the organization, the Woman’s PSPCA (WPSPCA).
And with it, the life of Philadelphian horses was forever changed.
A grassroots effort, the women of the WPSPCA took to the streets to address neglect and welfare issues with an educational campaign.
Today, it seems obvious that when horses are hurt they require treatment. In 19th century Philadelphia, injured horses often did not receive proper medical intervention, if treated at all. The women of WPSPCA taught horse owners how to properly bandage and care for their horses’ injuries and educated them on good horse husbandry practices.
They also worked to improve working conditions for these animals by ensuring easy access to water. By 1911, the WPSPCA had built thirty-five water fountains for horses.
In conjunction with their outreach efforts, WPSPCA members worked to establish humane transportation laws. In the 19th Century, horses and cattle were often not fed or watered for days at a time during transportation. This practice ended with the “twenty-eight hours” law in Congress, which stated that every animal being transported must be properly watered, fed, and rested every 28 hours. Furthermore, WPSPCA employed officers who checked transportation trains, and made sure that every transit company complied with the new law.
Beyond their work with horses, WPSPCA members acted for the welfare of other animals, such as dogs, cats, and birds. Earle-White was responsible for opening the first small animals shelter in the US, and founded the American Anti-Vivisection organization.
The WPSPCA organization still exists today under the name Women’s Humane Society where it continues the work of Earle-White and the original WPSPCA—fighting for the right of animals to have a better life.
About the Author
Shir Agami is an experienced horse rider and horse-riding instructor, with years of added experience in training horses. She holds a B.Sc in biology and is currently a graduate student in Neurobiology, while working as a freelance content writer, game developer, and translator for various venues, including the horse-themed game ‘Horse Isle’.