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  • City, Legacy, and ReformThe Beginnings of the Toledo Humane Society
  • Arjun Sabharwal (bio)


The incorporation of the Toledo Humane Society on January 29, 1884, signified a pivotal moment in Toledo history. Its advantageous location in northwest Ohio had made it possible for Toledo to become a regional hub for commercial investments, railroad expansion, marine transportation, urban and population growth, and social reforms at a time of transition. This transition was set in motion after Reconstruction, and lasted approximately from 1877 to 1920, spanning almost two consecutive periods: the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. The year 1884 was when the competing ideals, politics, and economic forces of these two periods began to shape American society and its institutions. In many ways, the Toledo Humane Society was a response to the unsettling social problems associated with economic and industrial growth combined with expansion of governmental authority.

While it had benefited from the momentum of earlier humane activities across America and Europe, the Toledo society relied on local resources and solutions to bring about changes in this region.1 It brought conservative and liberal political forces, woman suffrage organizations, and anticruelty activists [End Page 47] together in the cause for children, women, and animals suffering from the effects of a socioeconomic system that lacked legal protections from rough social and working conditions and economic exploitation. The Toledo Humane Society focused on their welfare by mitigating the effects of cruelty through improvements in legislation and enforcement, working with charities, and expanding humane activities. The organization, which has survived into the present day, was a vivid symbol of the visions, aspirations, and politics of the late nineteenth century.

This article focuses on the beginnings of the Toledo Humane Society and aims to answer the following questions: (1) How did Toledo's economic, political, and social climate in 1884 contribute to the creation of the society? (2) How did the transitional period shape the society? and (3) How did the legacy of early humane movements shape the society and its activities? The ensuing analysis proceeds through four sections: the first section presents a historical overview of the humane movement from the seventeenth century to the 1880s, including the formation of the early Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty (SPCCs), Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs), and Humane Societies in America in the 1860s and 1870s. The next section focuses on the transition following the Civil War and Reconstruction with comparisons of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and their effect on anticruelty and humane societies.2 The third section turns attention to Toledo's economic, political, and social landscape, including the influence of women's reform organizations on the humane movement. The last section focuses on the creation of the Toledo Humane Society, its humane activities, legislative activity, and the regional and national humane education program with some historical background.3 This approach aims to present the contextual relationship of the Toledo Humane [End Page 48] Society to the city that it has represented, to the legacy of the humane movement, and the reforms introduced during a period of transition that redefined the entire country between the Civil War and World War I.

historical roots of anticruelty movements

Several ancient Indian Aryan, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Islamic philosophies and religions had addressed the merciful treatment of animals.4 However, in early Christianity, these thoughts were deemed to have roots in "pagan origin [and that] subhuman life was regarded soulless and to be treated only as a vehicle by which man might achieve his selfish ends."5 In contrast, the humane movements in Christian European countries of the eighteenth century demonstrated greater compassion toward animals and children as evidenced by the religious foundation of European humane societies. European countries such as Germany, England, and Russia had implemented their own anticruelty laws with more or less success. The humane movement in America had roots in colonial laws such as the legal code enacted by the Massachusetts General Court in 1641,6 which had origins in earlier English laws also marked by religious compassionate attitudes.7 During the decades following the Civil War, the movement expanded considerably on American soil during the Gilded Age...


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