Caroline Earle White: Compassion for Livestock and the 28-Hour Law (1873)

Note: This was taken from my rough book draft, so please excuse any typos.

I am much obliged for the enclosed sketch which pleasured and amused me very much. I am glad you go about in “high top boots” ferreting out abuses and attending to the wants of the often persecuted “brute creation.” I should like to see you at your work. If I were a man, I am quite sure I would follow your example, but as it has pleased the Almighty God to create me a woman, I must be satisfied with a more limited sphere of labor and do the little good that I can with my tongue.

Caroline Earle White – from The Journal of Zoophily (202)


In 1869, the first animal shelter was created in the United States by Caroline Earle White.  Just two years before, in 1867, she had founded that Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Although she had founded the PSPCA, she was not, as a woman, destined to be president of the fledgling organization. While not an ardent feminist, White showed compassion and empathy toward a multitude of humans and animals. Her work gained funding from the city of Philadelphia, who would contribute $2,500 toward her “humane work.” The animal shelter served not only as a place to take in stray or surrendered dogs, but also a place to protect such animals from being seized as research animals. She would later defend shelters against researchers who wanted to legally claim the animals and/or pay fees to buy them for their own usage. One of her fiercest enemies, W.W. Keen, was a highly praised doctor, but also a racist and misogynist, goading his students to attack those who, like the African Americans whose deceased family were being taken from their graves, protested his practices.

Of the many issues which Caroline Earle White pursued with great fervor, and an issue which remains at the forefront of many animal rights organizations today, was the humane treatment of animals destined for human consumption. Railway transportation would become a focus of attention, with the United States experiencing a surge in the number and length of railways across the nation. In the age in which ‘robber baron’ became a commonplace term, it wasn’t just investors or workers feeling the painful pinch. Abuse of animals on the railways was an urgent enough issue to cause White to personally travel to Washington in defense of a bill defending livestock, stating that “[f]earing that a fate similar to that of the preceding year might befall it in the Senate, unless some attempt was made to influence that body, I went on to Washington last May, accompanied by one of the ladies of our Society.”

 White reported that she was received courteously and, in this case, the legislature was amenable to her cause, and the law was passed on March 3, 1873. The 28-Hour Law, as it was known, was the first federal protection law for animals, and was the result of the efforts of those who witnessed the horrific suffering of the cattle and other animals that were being raised largely in the western and southern United States. It stipulated that animals being transported could not be kept without food, water or exercise for periods of time that exceeded 28 hours. However, despite the optimism of White and other allies at the time of the law’s passing, as is so often the case with legislation that threatens to cut the profits of moneyed interests, constant challenges to the law and lack of enforcement would haunt advocates for decades to come. As a matter of fact, White would return to Washington in 1900, with a Mrs. Totten of the Washington Humane Society, to again personally advocate for the cattle, successfully preventing legislation initiated by western railroad companies that intended to increase the minimum time from 28 hours to 40. Certainly not alone in questioning the motivation for this increase in time, a later request for the same adjustment caught the attention of the New York Evening Post

 In a 1903 article, the paper said of the Live-stock Association’s request: “And all this to increase the profits of an organization which boasts that it represents a capital of $600,000,000!”

 The WPSCA claimed some notable victories in respect to the law in at this time, such as 1897’s case:

Woman’s Branch of the S.P.C.A vs. the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad

Leading agent, Thomas S. Carlisle, responded to a report that a car-load of horses had arrived in perilously bad condition. Evidence collected from others, including some of the employees of the railroad (testimony which White attributed to Carlisle’s “skill and tact,”) showed that the horses had endured at least fifty-two hours without water and rest, with only a modicum of hay which had been provided at the inception of the journey.

 The complaint, which was received on November 27, 1895, which would take over two years to resolve in court, ultimately resulted in a guilty verdict in December 1897 and a fine of $200.

 In 1902, the WSPCA prided itself in its Thirty-Third Annual Report that “the year is memorable on account of our having instituted five prosecutions of the Reading Railroad Company for violation of the act of Congress preventing cruelty to animals in transit, and having obtained a conviction in all these prosecutions.”

 One of the ways in which White attempted to work with the railway companies after the passage of the law was to negotiate with transporters for better railway cars. In the WSPCA’s seventh-annual report, White spoke optimistically of the invention of cars that would provide at least the food and water demanded by the 28-Hour Law, if not the exercise or rest. Along with attempting to achieve her ends by wisely appealing to the ‘bottom-line’ interests of industry. Pitting the cattle ranchers against robber barons, White encouraged the ranchers to challenge the railway owner’s practices of delaying cattle trains in favor of higher-paying freight trains. Ultimately, according to White’s account in 1908, two of the cattle rancher associations wrote to Dr. Stillman on the subject, and as this is precisely what we want, the two so long conflicting factions are now in harmony.”

 The issue of cattle transportation, although not usually immediately associated with the popular perception of ‘humane societies,’ was always high on White’s list of concerns. In 1876, seven years before the founding of the AAVS, she spoke of its priority in the following way:”[n]ext to cattle transportation, the evil which we have felt has most demanded our attention is Vivisection.”

Her watering fountains, distributed throughout Philadelphia, supported not only horses and dogs, but also served to quench the thirst of cattle, with the WSPCA citing at least once incident of a near-stampede of cattle to one of the fountains in 1890.  

Fowls, too, received consideration from White’s quarter. In 1901, then Superintendent Thomas S. Carlisle responded to frequent reports of cruelty in the transportation of fowls; complaints that appeared to come in the greatest numbers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Not only did that year see the crowding of transported fowls addressed, but the Philadelphia legislature was persuaded to pass a law which was described as “giving many details as to the size and appointments of a building which should be used for the killing of poultry.”

Such successes were also cited internationally. In a 1902 White received a copy of an Indian publication entitled “Railway Horrors” which addressed the need to reduce suffering in the transportation of cattle in India, but also included a section entitled “American Women’s Noble Work.” The segment, which detailed the WSPCA’s recent Reading Railway prosecutions, directly discussed the “efforts of our Superintendent, and the diminution in the number of fowls picked while alive.”

 White’s concern for the treatment of cattle did not end at the end of the railway line, however. In 1890, some thirteen years before Upton Sinclair’s iconic work, The Jungle , was published, WSPCA agents Currier and Royal were involved in the prosecution and trial of a West Philadelphia abattoir. White, harboring hopes that the abattoir would be improved was disappointed to find that even prosecution did not persuade the owners to rebuild the slaughterhouse in a manner that “would allow a humane and merciful way of slaughtering the cattle” but, rather seemed to exacerbate the suffering.

Concern regarding the sheer amount of cruelty involved in mass slaughter, and the psychological effects that slaughterhouse work had on workers, was not limited to Chicago and Philadelphia. In 1901, The Journal of Zoophily, under the heading “Is This Civilization?” discussed the publication of an article, “A Glimpse of Hell,” an article which described the conditions of slaughterhouses in Kansas City. The piece described the vast number of killings (“The killing bed for hogs contains about one hundred at a time”) as well as sharing with the reader that the animals “more often than not arrives live and kicking…”

 Although White was an advocate of transparency in matters involving animal welfare, the Journal of Zoophily article also indicates the disturbing fascination that the spectacle held for some people, “The creatures who flock to the scene of carnage become so fascinated that the yard with difficulty driven from the spot…One well-dressed woman was noticed with a twelve-months old babe in her arms, taking in the picture.”

The Zoophily treatise draws particular attention to the effects which such work could have on women and children.

“What do you think of little boys, twelve to fourteen or fifteen years old, with rubber boots on reaching their thighs, wading in and scooping blood all day long, and girls of the same tender age cutting and slashing in all this bloody meat from morning until night? What kind of men and women do you think they will be when matured? What kind of progeny will they produce?”

 The detrimental effects on the workers were also discussed in the annals of Zoophily, with various issues, such as the possibility that such work resulted in ostracization and demoralization of workers. Leading member of the WSPCA and the AAVS, Mary F. Lovell poignantly asked in 1907: “And what about our brother man? What humanness is there in providing a brutalizing, degrading, disgusting, occupation which, because the pressure of necessity, some of our brother men must undertake.”

 Annie Besant’s trip to the Chicago slaughterhouses in 1903 caused her to state in an article that “these men are made a class practically apart from their fellows,” while Rev. Wilbur T. Atchison was to have reported that a Whitechapel butcher, when asked how he could handle the horrors of the slaughterhouse, replied “I’m only doing your dirty work, sir. It’s such as you makes such as us.”

Such words mirrored those of Upton Sinclair who stated that “it can be hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

Religious traditions were also challenged, with efforts to make the Jewish methods of slaughter less painful. In 1886 the WSPCA managed to enact changes which included the usage of rope rather than chains in the suspension of cattle for kosher slaughter. I also required that the rope would be placed around both of the hind legs rather than only one. Outside of the United States, laws that outright banned such methods were enacted, including one in Switzerland passed in 1894, a move which the WSPCA called “a great step for the Societies for the Protection of Animals to have gained.”

 As other issues debated during White’s time, such laws are being made and debated even today. In very recent news, an ICE raid in the United States resulted in the deportation of undocumented immigrants. The reality is that the work is so unpalatable, that companies resorted to employing such immigrants to save money and to have someone do the jobs others were not willing to do: https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/crime/2018/04/05/ice-raids-meatpacking-plant-grainger-county/490673002/

Note: All sources located in my rough draft of my Caroline Earle White book which is included on this site.

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