Smith, Anna Harris

Anna Harris Smith wrote and lectured extensively on humane topics and was one of the most influential and respected humane leaders in her day. In addition to the dynamic leadership she provided in the field of animal welfare, Anna Harris Smith was also a pioneer in the promotion of humane education.

Biographical Highlights

Smith, Anna HarrisAnna Harris Smith, a devoted advocate for the kind and respectful treatment of animals and people, started the Animal Rescue League of Boston in 1899.  Distressed at seeing the many stray and abandoned cats and dogs suffering cruelty and starvation in the streets of Boston, Mrs. Smith wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Evening Transcript in January, 1899, vividly describing acts of cruelty toward animals and the need for a centrally located shelter for the rescue and care of homeless cats and dogs.  Her fervent appeal for support received over 60 enthusiastic responses, and on February 9, 1899, 110 people attended the first meeting of the newly formed Animal Rescue League of Boston. 

As President of the Animal Rescue League of Boston from 1901 to 1929, Anna Harris Smith acted upon a wide-range of animal welfare and humane issues of the time, such as abandonment of pets, work horse abuses, inhumane livestock transport methods, and the humane education of children.  The League flourished under her leadership and gained a national reputation for excellence in large and small animal rescue and health services, animal welfare advocacy, and humane education programs.   

The Animal Rescue League of Boston, to this day remains firmly committed to the humane legacy of their founder, Anna Harris Smith, and guided in all they do by her motto, “Kindness Uplifts the World.”

Historic Roots 

Anna Harris Smith was born Ann Sarah Harris on July 23, 1843, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to William Harris, a printer, and Anna Larkin Clapp, a direct descendant of Nicholas Clapp, one of the original settlers of the town of Dorchester in 1633.  (In 1870 the city of Boston annexed the town of Dorchester and it is now one of 23 urban neighborhoods within the city of Boston). 

While few details are known about her childhood, Anna Harris Smith once revealed that when she was seven, she had exclaimed, “When I’m grown-up... I’m going to turn my daddy’s big barn into a nice, warm home for all the kitties and the doggies in the world.”  Educated primarily in the public schools, Anna Harris Smith studied French and music with private teachers and became a music teacher as a young woman. 

In 1884, Anna Harris married Huntington Smith, a graduate of Dartmouth College, and the editor of The Beacon, a Boston newspaper.  (Huntington Smith became a tireless supporter of the Animal Rescue League from its very beginning and he eventually left journalism to join the League as managing director).  After their marriage, Anna worked at The Beacon alongside her husband. During this period, she also wrote a number of animal stories that were published in several popular childrens’ magazines of the time.  Her stories often told of cruel children who learned important lessons of kindness through their relationship with animals. 

Prior to founding the Animal Rescue League in 1899, Anna was President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the International Sunshine Society.  The members of this organization would visit homebound people, offering assistance to those who could not leave their homes due to illness, or other difficult circumstances. While visiting needy families throughout downtown Boston, Anna would often notice family pets abandoned in the streets due to their poor health or the inability of families to care for them. These experiences, coupled with her lifelong love of animals, seem to have impressed upon her the urgency of the need in Boston for an animal rescue and sheltering organization.  The primary animal welfare organization in Boston at the time was the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Since their primary mission was to establish and enforce anti-cruelty legislation, they were not well-equipped to rescue the significant numbers of cats and dogs in Boston who were in desperate need of care.    

Largely due to Anna Harris Smith’s vision and persistence, and with the blessing and support of George T. Angell, President of the MSPCA, and several prominent Bostonians, the Animal Rescue League of Boston was incorporated on March 13, 1899, established their headquarters in downtown Boston, and opened for “business”  in early April, 1899.


Anna Harris Smith wrote and lectured extensively on humane topics, and, was one of the most influential and respected humane leaders in her day. While President of the Animal Rescue League of Boston for nearly 30 years, the League gained a reputation nationwide for excellence, and as a result, Mrs. Smith was in great demand as a mentor to groups around the country who wished to start their own animal rescue organizations.  By 1915, she had helped to organize seven Animal Rescue Leagues in Massachusetts, and at least ten in other states, including Washington, D.C.  In the League’s Annual Report of 1907, Anna reported:

“The influence of the Animal Rescue League has been felt in all parts of this country.  Our correspondence is very large and many letters are received from other states asking advice or help, or praising the work we are doing.  The name Animal Rescue League, which originated with us and was thought out carefully, has been taken up and adopted by six or more organizations that were evidently inspired by our work.”   (Animal Rescue League of Boston, 1907)

In addition to the dynamic leadership she provided in the field of animal welfare, Anna Harris Smith was also a pioneer in the promotion of humane education.  In 1902 she created and was editor of the Animal Rescue League’s monthly educational publication, Our Fourfooted Friends and How We Treat Them.  Achieving immediate success, Our Fourfooted Friends was distributed into schools and libraries in nearly every state. It became an influential vehicle for advocating the kindness and compassion to animals and was used extensively in classrooms.

“In a number of schools in and outside our city I am told an interest in humane work has been directly traceable to our literature and lantern slide talks, and the request for these aids to humane education becoming more frequent every month.  It may seem ridiculous to some persons if I say that the existence of our League has proved a comfort to the old, the sick and afflicted, yet this is true, as many letters I have received could testify.” (Animal Rescue League of Boston, 1903).

When Anna Harris Smith died in 1929, the Animal Rescue League received an outpouring of sympathetic letters from around the country attesting to her importance.  The following was sent to the League by the American Humane Association.

“The passing of Mrs. Huntington Smith removes the outstanding woman in the history of animal protection in America.  She was the greatest because,first, she built up the finest and biggest single organization of its kind in the country; second, because her influence and the influence of that organization extended beyond the creation of any other woman since the day when Henry Bergh initiated the movement in New York City. …So long as humane history is preserved there will stand out among its records the name and fame of Mrs. Huntington Smith.”  (Our Fourfooted Friends, 1929).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

While most prominently known for her work on behalf of animal welfare, Anna Harris Smith clearly recognized that the concern for animals and their well-being is an equally humanitarian endeavor.  She was very committed to the humane education of children as the way toward a kinder, more humane society, and most of her activities were devoted to the teaching of kindness, compassion, and empathy toward animals.

“If the work of the Animal Rescue League were simply getting so many disabled and diseased cats and dogs off the streets and out of the tenement houses, its work would be well worth doing; but we have a far broader field than this. If we can teach the young the duty of thoughtful kindness, we are benefiting not only the family but the neighborhood, the city, the state, and the country.”   (Smith, 1912, iv).

Under Anna’s direction, the League developed a variety of Humane Education activities which included the forming of Kindness Clubs for boys, lecturing with lantern slides in classrooms and at the League, disseminating the monthly educational publication, Our Fourfooted Friends, and working with teachers to integrate humane lessons into their teaching.  Anna continued to write stories with humane lessons for children, and they were often distributed in leaflet form as a thank you to the neighborhood children who would bring stray cats and dogs to the Animal Rescue League of Boston’s shelter.  In her work with the American Humane Education Society, Anna developed a traveling library of books pertaining to animals that was circulated around the country.

Anna also looked to animal shelters as necessary for the public good.

“The crying need of more shelters for animals should be viewed not only from the standpoint of the humane person, who wishes the suffering of the neglected animal ended, but from that of the civic worker …the presence of neglected, diseased animals is a menace to health …and a particular danger to children who are always handling these animals.” (Tower, 1911).

On a national level, Anna actively participated in several major animal welfare organizations.  She was on the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association, the American Humane Education Society, and was a Vice-President of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and the Audubon Society.  In addition, she was a member of several international humane organizations.

Key Related Ideas

  • Animal Welfare is a general term often used to describe activities, occupations, or organizations having to do with the care and well-being of animals.  
  • Humane Education is philosophically based on the premise that if children learn to be kind and compassionate towards animals, they will develop a greater capacity for kindness, compassion, and empathy towards the environment and all living beings.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • George T. Angell (1823-1909):  George T. Angell founded the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston, Massachusetts in 1868, and was president from 1868–1909.  As an early champion of humane education, he formed the American Humane Education Society in 1889, and was instrumental in its early acceptance by schools across the country. 
  • Henry Bergh (1823 -1888):  Henry Bergh founded the first society for the prevention of cruelty to animals in the U.S., the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City in 1866, and was president from 1866-1888.  The significant anti-cruelty legislation he brought about in New York State inspired all subsequent humane legislation, and he was responsible for the creation of numerous anti-cruelty societies throughout the country.
  • John J. Bowen (1951-   ): John J. Bowen became the seventh president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston in late 2005.  Since joining the League he has led a significant strategic planning process that has included the expansion of the League’s mobile spay-neuter and adoption programs and the creation of a Center for Shelter Dogs.
  • Elizabeth Morris (birth/death dates unknown):  Elizabeth Morris founded the Morris Refuge for Homeless and Suffering Animals in Philadelphia, in 1874.
  • Carolyn Earle White (1833-1916).  Carolyn Earle White founded both the Women's Branch of the Pennsylvania SPCA (PSPCA) and the American Anti-Vivisection Society.  The Women's Branch of the PSPCA is credited with creating the first animal shelter in the US and still exists today as the Women's Humane Society in Bensalem, PA.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • American Humane:  American Humane was founded in 1877 and is the oldest organization in the U.S. dedicated to the protection of both children and animals. American Humane has assumed a leadership role nationwide in raising public awareness around issues of cruelty and abuse and are an important resource for information about “the Link” between domestic violence and animal abuse.
  • Animal Rescue League of Boston:  the Animal Rescue League of Boston, founded in 1899, is a non-profit organization with three sites dedicated to rescuing domesticated animals and wildlife from suffering, cruelty, abandonment, and neglect.  In addition to rescue and adoption services, they provide veterinary care, law enforcement, and behavioral counseling and training.
  • ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): the first humane society established in the United States in 1866.  The ASPCA was instrumental in publicizing cases of animal cruelty and helped to change people’s attitudes toward animals.  As a full service animal welfare and advocacy organization, the ASPCA offers expertise in many areas, including, rescue and adoption services, humane education programs, veterinary care, law enforcement, and equine protection.
  • Association of Professional Humane Educators (APHE):  a professional organization that supports the professional development of educators who either work in animal welfare agencies, or work elsewhere to promote humane attitudes toward people, animals, and the environment.
  • Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): the largest animal advocacy organization and the central disaster relief agency for animals.  The HSUS has taken the lead in national campaigns against dog-fighting and cockfighting, puppy mills, factory farming, the slaughter of American horses, and the clubbing of baby seals and other animals for the commercial fur trade.
  • MSPCA-Angell (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center):  a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine. Founded in 1868, it is the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement and expertise in veterinary care at their world-renowned Angell Animal Medical Center.

Related Websites

  • American Humane Association web site, at offers numerous resources such as a Compassionate Shopping Guide, guides to behavioral issues and caring for companion animals, information about the humane treatment of farm animals and animal-assisted therapy. 
  • Animal Rescue League of Boston web site, at provides information about current activities, rescue services, shelter programs, veterinary care, and behavioral services.
  • Humane Society of the United States / Youth web site, at,the youth education affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), offers resources for starting animal protection clubs, lists of best humane books and movie, and program evaluation resources for teachers.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Animal Rescue League of Boston. Eighth Annual Report, 1907, 38. 
  • Animal Rescue League of Boston. Fourth Annual Report, 1903, 29.
  • Bekoff, Marc.  Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  • Our Fourfooted Friends 27, (1929):11, 7.
  • Smith, Anna Harris.  Four-Footed Friends: Stories of Animals and Children.  Boston: Ginn and Company, 1912, iv.
  • Tower, Lillian Leslie. 1911. Haven for Lost, Sick or Abandoned Cats and Dogs. The Boston Sunday Globe.  29 January, 11.