Elizabeth Morris & Annie Waln introduced hands-on humane work
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2009:
PHILADELPHIA–Was the American SPCA really the first U.S.
humane society, in the generally recognized sense of the word? Is
it even the oldest that still exists?
The continuing influence of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh and the
organization he created in 1867 is not to be denied, with annual
income and expenditures of about $60 million, and more than $100
million in assets. Yet other animal aid societies much like those of
today existed much earlier.
Henry David Thoreau mentioned an anti-hunting humane society
in his 1854 opus Walden, as humane movement historian Phil Arkow
noted in a May 2003 letter to ANIMAL PEOPLE. No further trace of
that humane society has been found, but Elizabeth Morris and Annie
Waln founded the Animal Rescue League of Philadelphia in 1858.
The Animal Rescue League of Philadelphia has two active
direct descendants. One is the Women’s Humane Society, incorporated
by Carolyn Earle White with the support of Morris and Waln in 1869,
a year after all three helped to form the Pennsylvania SPCA but were
excluded from leadership roles on basis of gender. The Women’s
Humane Society was the first in the U.S. to do humane education. The
other living Animal Rescue League of Philadelphia descendant is the
Morris Animal Refuge, incorporated as the Morris Refuge Association
in 1888, with the property and assets of the Animal Rescue League.
It was reincorporated in 1971.
Sydney H. Coleman in Humane Society Leaders in America,
published by the American Humane Association in 1924, traced the
origins of the U.S. humane movement back to the vegetarian teachings
and animal sheltering traditions of India. Coleman credited Morris
and Waln with operating the first U.S. animal shelter founded in the
spirit of ahimsa, to aid animals, as opposed to merely impounding
Coleman also identified Morris and Waln as the first animal
rescuers to euthanize animals with chloroform, then considered the
gentlest method, and credited them with being the first animal
advocates to take an animal control contract, to abolish the then
prevalent practices of disposing of impounded animals by clubbing
them, drowning them, or selling them for vivisection.
Morris and Waln took the Philadelphia animal control contract
in 1874 under the auspices of the Women’s Humane Society, as the
Animal Rescue League was apparently not properly incorporated. They
used the Animal Rescue League premises to house impounded animals.
Initally Morris and Waln tried to avoid killing healthy animals.
Overwhelmed by the numbers of animals impounded, they first turned
to chloroform, formerly reserved for emergency cases. Later they
turned the animal control contract over to the Pennsylvania SPCA,
which kept it for 100 years and recently reclaimed it, after a
However, after Coleman devoted the longest chapter of his
book to Bergh and the ASPCA, he gave Morris and Waln barely one
page, in a chapter covering most of the women who helped to build
the U.S. humane movement with little more than recitations of names.
Among them, only Carolyn Earle White is well-remembered today,
chiefly for founding the American Anti-Vivisection Society in 1881.
Yet these women had established Women’s Humane Societies in almost
every major U.S. city by 1900, many of which sheltered animals,
orphans, and battered women, and often did much more hands-on
animal care and rescue than the male-directed humane societies which
later absorbed the remnants of the Women’s Humane Society network as
Perhaps Coleman and others chronicling the early U.S. humane
movement dismissed the contributions and influence of Morris, Waln,
and other women just because they were women. Alternatively,
because others before Coleman had ignored Morris, Waln, et al,
relatively little information about them may have been accessible.
Yet Morris’ family had been Philadelphia community leaders
since the 17th century. The Morris family had helped to found dozens
of philanthropic and civic institutions, including the University of
Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin was kin by marriage; Richard Nixon
was a descendant. In short, Elizabeth Morris was not obscure.
The biggest issue may have been Coleman’s beliefs about what
a humane society should be, derived from the teachings of Bergh and
Massa-chusetts SPCA founder George Angell. Though Bergh and Angell
rescued animals, as did White, all three of them outspokenly
believed that the focal job of an authentic humane society should be
moral education and public advocacy. Animal rescue, they believed,
was worth doing, yet not sufficient by itself for an organization
which chiefly did animal rescue to fully meet their definition of a
According to IRS Form 990, the Morris Animal Refuge ended
2008 with assets of $3.5 million, spent $548,501 on program service,
and spent $125,559 on fundraising and management. It took in 2,884
homeless animals, rehomed 783, killed 2,101 “because of illness or
lack of adopters,” and facilitated 2,630 dog and cat sterilizations.
The Women’s Humane Society as of 2008 had assets of $8.8
million, spent $1.9 million on program service, and spent $519,947
on fundraising and management.