Quiet personality long set an example, yet did not emerge as a leader of causes
Anna Catherine Briggs, 101, died on February 15, 2011 in Berryville, Virginia, 21 years after publishing her autobiography, For the Love of Animals.
For the Love of Animals, a 122-page paperback, was written essentially as a fundraising device, distributed chiefly to donors to the National Humane Education Society, which Briggs had cofounded in 1948 and relatively quietly headed until her death, 63 years later.
Probably because For the Love of Animals was distributed as a fundraising premium, and because Anna Briggs was quiet, rarely if ever a conference speaker, never a television personality or online presence, both the book and Briggs herself went largely unnoticed by people who did not already know her and her organization.
Joined protests but skipped conferences
This is unfortunate, because Anna Briggs’ long life was a microcosm of the entire history of the humane movement, from the early years in which more humane societies operated orphanages than ran animal shelters, through the rise of the animal rights and no-kill movements of recent times.
Had Anna Briggs been a more outgoing, voluble personality, she might have emerged as a leader and living icon of the animal rights and no-kill movements.
A memorial video on the National Humane Education Society web site shows Anna Briggs participating in an anti-vivisection demonstration in Washington D.C., possibly one organized by the National Catholic Animal Welfare Society in support of the passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act in 1966; possibly a demonstration led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in support of the Animal Welfare Act amendments adopted in 1985.
But Anna Briggs is known to have attended only one No Kill Conference, the third in the series, at age 88 in 1997, and none of the annual national conferences that were focal to the growth of the animal rights movement between 1981 and 1990.
Youngest of proto-animal rights faction
The paradox that Anna Briggs was only peripherally involved in expanding the movements in which she actively participated all her long life may be partly explained by her often having been surrounded by people who made a lot more noise; partly by her focus on hands-on work, rather than campaigning; and partly by her having often represented ideas that were well ahead of the times.
Anna Briggs was by far the youngest and last living representative of a minority faction within early 20th century humane work who demonstrated an “animal rights” philosophy more than 50 years before the emergence of the animal rights movement.
Leaders of the proto-animal rights faction, who were acquaintances and allies, included David and Diana Belais, who founded the Humane Society of New York in 1893, the New York Anti-Vivisection Society in 1908, and the short-lived First Church of Animal Rights in 1921; Florence Kibbe, who founded the Bide-A-Wee Home in 1903; and James J. Briggs, prominent within the animal cause in the Washington D.C. area long before he met Anna, who was then Anna Reynolds.
Conflicted with mainstream humane movement
James J. Briggs traveled to New York City to attend the one public meeting of the First Church of Animal Rights.
The proto-animal rights activists often found themselves in conflict with the views of the American Humane Association, the American SPCA, and other mainstream humane societies.
Longtime AHA and ASPCA executive Sydney H. Coleman (1886-1955), in his 1924 book Humane Society Leaders in America, deemed David and Diana Belais, Kibbe, and James Briggs to all be worthy of transient mention, among many others, for “excellent work,” but conspicuously omitted any discussion of their many ideas that contradicted then-conventional belief.
Born in 1909, Anna Reynolds lost her father, Robert Reynolds, “when I was four,” she remembered in For the Love of Animals. This left her mother, Marie Hahn Reynolds, “with four children to support. She struggled to keep the family together,” Anna wrote, “but finally took the advice of relatives and placed us in orphanages. My sister Margaret and I were sent to St. Vincent’s in Washington D.C.,” opened by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in 1901.
At age eight Anna left St. Vincent’s to work for four harsh years as a domestic servant to an aunt and uncle. The first animal in her life, and the light of her life at the time, she recalled, was their caged canary, whose cage she cleaned.
Her sister Margaret was given a puppy named Tut after the Reynolds family was reunited at Christmas 1922, but within a year Anna was obliged by their mother to find a new home for Tut because she was female and might have puppies.
Grieving for Tut, Anna in February 1924 became a shelter volunteer for the Washington Animal Rescue League.
On Palm Sunday 1924 Anna adopted her own first dog, Sport, from the Washington Animal Rescue League. In January 1925, however, her mother compelled her to find a new home for Sport because he refused to hunt rats.
James P. Briggs
Knowing that Sport would almost certainly be killed if returned to the Washington Animal Rescue League, Anna wrote to James P. Briggs. An attorney, Briggs had founded an early no-kill shelter, the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm, at Potomac, Maryland, in 1920.
James P. Briggs did not respond, and later said he never received the letter, but Anna met him anyway in a chance encounter when both noticed a lost collie on a busy street. James P. Briggs took and rehomed Sport.
Elected to the Washington Humane Society board of directors in 1919, James P. Briggs had begun the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm to demonstrate an alternative to killing homeless animals, under the auspices of the Washington Humane Education Society, a parallel organization for which he was president.
Maintaining a downtown office as well as the rural shelter, for about 10 years the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm raised funds by hosting card parties. Participants included presidential wives Grace Coolidge and Helen Taft, and actress Minnie Maddern Fiske, a longtime patron of many humane organizations.
Tried in 1927 to arrange merger achieved in 2016
James P. Briggs remained on the Washington Humane Society board for at least another dozen years. Anticipating that larger, stronger humane organizations would have more political influence, James P. Briggs in July 1927 sought unsuccessfully to broker a merger of the Washington Humane Society, founded in 1870, with the Washington Animal Rescue League, founded in 1914.
The merger finally came about in 2016.
The combined organizations, renamed the Humane Rescue Alliance, were in July 2019 further merged with the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center of Madison, New Jersey. St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center was descended from the St. Hubert’s Giralda shelter founded in 1939 when Geraldine Dodge Rockefeller converted the family hunting dog and breeding kennel into a dog rescue facility.
After a year of volunteering for the Washington Animal Rescue League, Anna Briggs became a driver for the Washington Humane Education Society in 1925, putting her into closer contact with James P. Briggs.
Became vegetarian in 1926
James P. Briggs “inspired me, nurturing my childlike love for animals into an adult commitment, encouraging me to be a vegetarian, as he was,” Anna wrote in 1990. “Until then, I had never heard of a vegetarian, but in practice I had just about become one. For Mr. Briggs, being a vegetarian followed out of his commitment to animals. He told how cattle and sheep on trains and in slaughterhouses suffered miserably,” and later took Anna to personally witness cattle slaughter.
“From that day on, I have never eaten flesh, and I have never missed it,” Anna recounted. “Nor did my children eat meat or fish. Yet, contrary to popular belief, we were all healthy, able to out-work many of our meat-eating counterparts!”
James P. Briggs, then 52, married Anna on December 9, 1927, her 18th birthday. They had four children together during the next 10 years, whom Anna raised while running a candy store to try to fund the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm.
Fined for “maintaining a nuisance”
James P. Briggs vigorously lobbied for animals, achieving the repeated introduction into Congress of unsuccessful bills seeking to prohibit Washington D.C. from selling pound dogs to the Edgewood Arsenal for use in experiments. He also wrote frequent letters to newspapers on behalf of animals and human victims of biomedical research.
The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 brought trouble on multiple fronts. James P. Briggs and three other members of the Washington Humane Society board were charged in early 1931 with violating an injunction against conveying funds to the Humane Education Society, which had become the Humane Education Society of Maryland.
The charges were dropped, but in July 1931 James P. Briggs was fined $50 because the Be Kind to Animals Farm Rest Home was deemed to be “maintaining a nuisance,” according to the Washington Post.
The Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm property was foreclosed in 1932, “for want of $6,500,” Anna wrote. But before it closed in October 1933, she remembered––and the Washington Post archives confirm––Anna and James P. Briggs found new homes for all of the more than 250 animals who had been in their care.
Bide-A-Wee Home founder Florence Kibbe took 150 of the displaced animals to the shelters she operated in New York City, Wantagh, and Westhampton, on Long Island, for successful rehoming. This appears to have been the first major transport of animals from the South for adoption in the Northeast, a modus operandi popularized more than 50 years later by the North Shore Animal League.
[Kibbe died in 1943. Apparently inspired by her example, Marianne H. Sanders formed the North Shore Animal League in 1944 in the Town of West Hempstead, just beyond the area that Bide-A-Wee then served.]
Virginia Sargent & Ann Cottrell Free
With all the Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm animals placed, Anna Briggs closed the candy store and took a government job.
She remained involved in humane work as a volunteer for the Animal Relief & Humane Education League, later known as the Animal Protective Association.
This organization was headed for at least 20 years, 1934-1954, by Virginia W. Sargent.
Volunteering for Sargent during some of the same years, pioneering humane journalist Ann Cottrell Free (1916-2004) remembered Sargent in a 2003 oral memoir as one of the people who most inspired her work many years later.
In honor of Sargent, Anna Briggs named her youngest child Virginia. Virginia and her husband Earl Dungan followed Anna into humane work.
Death of James P. Briggs
Because James P. and Anna Briggs both worked six-day weeks, they hired nanny Ruby Brown to help with their children. That was the start of a 50-year association.
First came another crisis. “Briggsie,” as Anna called her husband, “was working harder than ever to spare dogs from vivisection, pushing for the passage of the Dog Exemption Bill by
Congress,” Anna recalled. “On September 8, 1945, he traveled to Philadelphia to talk with colleagues there about the proposed legislation. I picked him up upon his return, noticing how very tired he looked and how slowly he walked toward the car. He did not say much and I did not press him for details of his visit. We had gone only a few blocks when he asked me to stop. I wanted to take him to a doctor, but he said no. I soon realized that he was going into a coma. I rushed him to a hospital, but the shot of adrenalin he was given did not revive him.”
Apparently through Sargent, Anna became acquainted with Alice Morgan Wright, originally of Albany, New York, and her lifelong companion, Edith J. Goode, a native Virginian. Both are remembered today for the animal foundations that bear their names, formed after their deaths in 1975 and 1971, respectively. Both were vegetarians, dedicated to animal welfare since childhood, but were best known for other reasons.
Wright was a senior at Smith College in Massachusetts when she met Goode, then a freshman. Both inherited considerable estates. While Goode worked quietly in the background, Wright rose to prominence with the Collegiate Equal Sufferage League, and by 1909 was also recognized as a sculptor. Sent to Paris to study, as recipient of two major art awards, Wright became involved in both the French and British suffrage movements.
Most notably, Wright arranged speaking appearances in Paris, the U.S., and London for suffragist orator Emmeline Pankhurst in 1910-1912. After the London appearance erupted into the riot remembered in the 1964 film Mary Poppins, Wright and Pankhurst served two months together in the Holloway Gaol.
Wright went on to become recording secretary for the New York State Women’s Suffrage Party, one of the organizations most influential in winning passage of the 19h Amendment in 1920. Goode and her mother Jane McKnight Goode meanwhile became founding members of the National Women’s Party. Begun in 1913, it promoted legislation until 1997, and still exists as an educational foundation and museum.
Wright resumed sculpting, winning enduring distinction, until 1945, when she and Goode participated in forming the United Nations. Attempting to promote a proposed global charter on animal welfare which was initially presented to the League of Nations in 1922, and was later advanced for decades by the World Society for the Protection of Animals as the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare, Wright and Goode in 1945 cofounded the National Humane Education Association.
This morphed into the National Humane Education Society when Anna Briggs became involved in 1948.
Funded by Wright, Anna Briggs and her sons built the first of the National Humane Education Society’s Peace Plantation no-kill sanctuaries at Sterling, Virginia. It opened on July 1, 1950.
Briggs hired Ruby Brown as full-time live-in shelter manager. This made Brown apparently the first African-American shelter manager in U.S. humane history. Brown remained in that capacity until her death on September 8, 1984.
Morgan in 1963 drafted the National Humane Education Society statement of “12 Guiding Principles,” which call for opposing “cruelty in all its forms.”
Specific goals included:
- To strive for an end to bullfighting, rodeo, and all cruel sports wherever performed and wherever represented as art or as entertainment;
- To strive to abolish cruel trapping;
- To discourage hunting, especially as a sport;
- To oppose all poisoning of wildlife;
- To protect and conserve wildlife for its own sake and not as a resource for exploitation;
- To aid or initiate programs for slaughter reform;
- To teach humane handling and care of work animals and food animals;
- To advance programs for the humane sterilization of cats and dogs in order to reduce their overpopulation;
- To provide for the rescue, housing and feeding of lost, stray or abandoned animals, until suitable homes are found;
- To urge that when it is necessary to put any tame animal to death, unless some better method of euthanasia is available, it be so arranged that the animal be held in the arms of some human friend while it is being given a painless, preliminary anesthetic, to be stroked and comforted with reassuring words until it loses consciousness, after which the lethal agent should be quickly administered;
- To recognize in animals their capacity for friendship and their need of friends. To befriend all Earth’s creatures, of the land, the sea and the air;
- To defend them against ravages by mankind; and
- To inspire in human beings compassion for all.
Wright & Goode foundations
The original Peace Plantation moved from Sterling, Virginia, to Leesburg, also in Virginia, in 1965. Anna Briggs’ daughter Virginia Dungan opened the second Peace Plantation at Walton, New York in 1983, eight years after the National Humane Education Society inherited and sold Wright’s Albany home to fund the expansion.
The Edith J. Goode Residuary Trust for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals meanwhile funded the National Humane Education Center, built and briefly operated by the Humane Society of the U.S. at Waterford, Virginia. Soon after Wright’s death in 1970 the facility was transferred to Loudoin County Animal Control.
The Goode Trust continues to make grants to other humane projects.
National Humane Education Society projects while Goode and Wright were alive included rescuing about 50 animals who were left in Willard, Virginia, after the town was expropriated and demolished to make way for Dulles Airport, opened in 1960.
Wright also lived to see Briggs evacuate more than 300 cats from the railway tunnels beneath Grand Central Station, beginning in 1972. Long fed by two New York City subway workers, the subterranean cat colony was featured in the September 1953 edition of the National Humane Review, published by the American Humane Association, but when the workers retired, other humane societies were unwilling to offer the cats more than a quick death.
Exactly when the National Humane Education Society began sterilizing all animals on arrival, not just when adopted, is unclear, but Anna Briggs in For The Love of Animals acknowledged the example of Friends of Animals’ original low-cost sterilization clinic in Neptune, New Jersey, opened in 1957.
The first humane society known by ANIMALS 24-7 to have sterilized all dogs and cats before adoption was the Humane Education League of Long Beach, California, in 1958.
News coverage mentioned in 1974 that all National Humane Education Society animals were sterilized, then still a rarity, but this had apparently already long been Briggs’ practice.
Near-universal sterilization of dogs and cats before adoption was still more than 20 years away.
In For The Love of Animals Briggs outlined a vision for the future of animal sheltering that centered on partnerships of no-kill nonprofit adoption centers with tax-funded animal control agencies and subsidized dog and cat sterilization programs. Her ideas were essentially the core philosophy of the no-kill movement, offered five years before the first No Kill Conference, held in 1995.
Briggs attended the third No Kill Conference in 1997, with her grandson James Taylor, who is now the National Humane Education Society chief executive, yet her organization did not emerge as a leader of the no-kill movement.
Partly this was because National Humane Education Society direct mailings, begun in 1986, antagonized much of the humane community.
The typical National Humane Education Society appeal format for many years opened, “The National Humane Education Society is now conducting its (year and name of city) Annual Fund Drive.”
Prevailing belief among executives of other humane organizations was, and is, that such a format, also often used by the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and the Humane Society of the U.S., is often misidentified by recipients as requests for money which will be used to assist local shelters.
In addition, the National Humane Education Society for more than 15 years had an unusually high ratio of direct mail to program expense. This later subsided into the normal range.
The National Humane Education Society in 2000 closed the Leesburg shelter and opened the Briggs Animal Adoption Center in Charles Town, West Virginia, where it formerly operated a small satellite shelter. It also operates Spay Today, a sterilization program which performs about 5,000 surgeries per year, and makes grants to other humane organizations.