Humane Society of the United States Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Humane Society of the United States was created to serve as a leading animal rights organization promoting protection against cruelty to animals.

Summary of Event

Founded to address the inhumane treatment of animals, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has developed into the country’s largest privately funded animal protection agency. Employing lobbyists, scientists, attorneys, investigators, educators, and fund-raisers, the HSUS deals with institutionalized forms of inhumane exploitation of animals. [kw]Humane Society of the United States Is Established (Nov. 22, 1954) [kw]United States Is Established, Humane Society of the (Nov. 22, 1954) Humane Society of the United States Animal rights Cruelty to animals, prevention of Humane Society of the United States Animal rights Cruelty to animals, prevention of [g]North America;Nov. 22, 1954: Humane Society of the United States Is Established[04650] [g]United States;Nov. 22, 1954: Humane Society of the United States Is Established[04650] [c]Organizations and institutions;Nov. 22, 1954: Humane Society of the United States Is Established[04650] [c]Social issues and reform;Nov. 22, 1954: Humane Society of the United States Is Established[04650] Andrews, Larry Chenoweth, Robert J. Myers, Fred Glaser, Marcia Hoyt, John A. Jones, Helen McMahon, Frank

Attention to animal welfare started in the 1860’s, with concerns over the treatment of animals bound for slaughterhouses. That attention culminated in the founding, by Henry Bergh, of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1865. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, numerous groups were formed to protect animals. These groups worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of animals. One of them, the American Humane Association American Humane Association (AHA), was instrumental in revising the film industry code in 1940 to allow animal group representatives to monitor the use of animals in film production. It would be from the AHA that the HSUS would emerge.

Within the membership of the AHA, a new organizational idea was forming to bring the treatment of animals to the forefront on a national scale. Several members of the AHA wanted to see the group’s focus turn to eliminating obvious cruelties in slaughterhouses and decreasing the ever-increasing dog and cat population. At the October, 1954, AHA annual conference, a group of forward-thinking members sought radical changes in the AHA bylaws to fulfill their goals. The major issue at hand was fund use. The splinter group wanted donations to go directly to the care of animals—the intended purpose—while the AHA policy was to use donations to fund special endowment trusts. Despite approval by the general membership, the AHA board refused to ratify changes and subsequently retaliated by firing several staff members who had supported the changes. On November 22, 1954, those staff members—Fred Myers, Larry Andrews, Helen Jones, and Marcia Glaser—incorporated the National Humane Society (NHS) in Delaware for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The NHS had a nine-member board of directors under the direction of its president, Robert J. Chenoweth.

During the first years, the organization suffered from low funding such that three of the founders borrowed against their life insurance policies to help support the group’s effort. Despite the financial struggle, the National Humane Society established major campaigns promoting the spaying and neutering of domestic animals and the regulation of slaughterhouses and medical research. The first NHS publication, They Preach Cruelty, They Preach Cruelty (National Humane Society) was directed toward domestic animal-breeding problems and drew attention to the horrid conditions imposed on monkeys shipped into the United States. This publication led directly to an embargo on monkeys imported from India.

The founding staff and board of directors of the NHS worked diligently to establish clear goals for the organization. Committed to the prevention of cruelty to animals, organization members strove to reduce the domestic animal population, to eliminate abuse in the entertainment industry and in the food supply, and to monitor the general state of the animal world. To accomplish these goals, the NHS made assisting local humane groups and monitoring federal legislation a top priority. NHS staff members gathered information and published articles about medical research, hunting practices, and animal populations. Another main goal for the NHS was education, specifically education emphasizing respect for all creatures. Seeing a connection between the treatment of animals and the morality of humanity, the NHS sought means to redefine teaching methods to focus on humane education.

In December, 1956, the American Humane Association filed suit against the National Humane Society over the group’s name. Rather than spend the already small budget on litigation, the NHS board of directors voted to change the organization’s name. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was then incorporated.


Using the slogan “It’s Their World Too,” the HSUS worked to make the world safer for animals through educational, investigative, and legislative means. One of the major educational pushes centered on the growing domestic animal population. The HSUS believed that, if the public knew about the vast number of animals “put to sleep” as a result of overpopulation, pet owners would spay or neuter their animals. The organization launched several campaigns, including “Be a P.A.L.—Prevent A Litter,” which proved successful throughout the 1980’s in decreasing the incidence of euthanasia of shelter animals and domestic animal births. The HSUS also opposed no-kill shelters as potentially cruel because of the possibility of overcrowding. Efforts across the country realized legislative success, as several states started working on resolutions to limit pet breeding.

Other educational campaigns involved hunting. Opposing sport hunting from its founding, the HSUS encountered heavy opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) when the HSUS spearheaded efforts to close national wildlife refuges Wildlife sanctuaries to hunting and trapping. Beginning in 1960, the HSUS also opposed the slaughter of fur seals. The society continued to demand an end of the fur trade, joined by other groups such as Fund for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The ivory trade also came under fire from animal welfare groups including the HSUS.

Zoo and aquarium conditions came to the forefront of the animal welfare issue in the 1970’s. The HSUS and other animal protection groups worked to upgrade standards to include strict humane guidelines. Efforts were initiated to inspire zoo and aquarium directors to espouse educational policies rather than focus on entertainment purposes. These efforts proved successful, as zoos across the country developed strong educational ties.

The HSUS also worked to educate the public on the effects of natural disasters on animals. Starting in 1976, the organization spearheaded efforts to remind people to consider their animals when faced with natural disasters. Teaching preparedness, the HSUS provided resources to help local animal shelters deal with floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

The HSUS spread its educational message via its agencies, the media, and curriculum development. In October, 1957, the HSUS started a program to open self-supporting branches of the organization in every state. By 1970, however, a reorganization of the HSUS resulted in the establishment of eight regional offices which geographically divided the country and pooled resources. After several moves, the HSUS national office in Washington, D.C., was built in 1975. The HSUS amended its bylaws in 1960 to allow local agencies to affiliate with the national office if the agencies met minimum standards and passed annual inspections. Annual inspection, however, proved to be cost-prohibitive, and in 1970, a new program was instituted that allowed local societies and animal-control agencies to receive accreditation from the HSUS but ended any formal affiliations between the groups.

Media also played an important role for the HSUS. Publications, beginning with HSUS News HSUS News (periodical) in April, 1955, promoted the group’s educational goals. Other magazines, such as Close-Up Reports, Close-Up Reports (periodical)[Close Up Reports] which covers special animal welfare issues, brought the plight of animals in the United States to the public’s attention. Shelter Sense Shelter Sense (periodical) provided local humane societies and animal-control agencies coverage on HSUS activities and the latest information on day-to-day operations. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the HSUS coproduced a national television series, Pet Action Line, Pet Action Line (periodical) designed to educate the public on animal rights and other humane issues.

The HSUS met with tremendous success in curriculum development. Committed to educating children on animal welfare, the HSUS produced its first filmstrip, People and Pets, People and Pets (Humane Society of the United States) in April, 1959, to teach children the basic principles of pet care. In 1963, founder Fred Myers was appointed director of education. That same year, the HSUS received a 140-acre Virginia farm and converted it into the National Humane Education Center National Humane Education Center . Operating until 1970, when resources were moved to the national office, the Humane Education Center served as the hub for humane curriculum development. In 1974, the HSUS formally established the National Association for the Advancement of Humane Education. This division worked to promote humane-centered education through teacher support for curriculum development and publications such as Kind (for children) and Humane Education (for teachers).

Although it did not open a legal department until 1975, the HSUS investigated several aspects of animal treatment and worked to move legislative initiatives through the U.S. legislature. Prompted by HSUS efforts, Congresswoman Martha Griffiths Griffiths, Martha from Michigan introduced the first humane slaughter bill in 1956. As debate ensued, the HSUS emerged as the leading spokesgroup for reform. Over the next year, support mounted for a bill introduced by Richard L. Neuberger Neuberger, Richard L. from Oregon and Hubert H. Humphrey Humphrey, Hubert H. [p]Humphrey, Hubert H.;Humane Slaughter Law from Minnesota, which required humane slaughter for animals in slaughterhouses and trapped animals on federal land. The bill became the Humane Slaughter Law Humane Slaughter Law (1958) of 1958.

The HSUS next turned its attention to medical research. Speaking at congressional hearings in 1962, HSUS investigators revealed the horrors of the Blalock press Blalock press , a device that was used to crush a dog’s leg to study the effects of shock. Throughout the early 1960’s, HSUS undercover investigators gathered information on medical research facilities and animal suppliers. These efforts culminated in a January, 1966, raid on a dog dealer in White Hall, Maryland. Led by Frank McMahon, the HSUS chief investigator, several HSUS staff and police officials raided the compound of Lester Brown, who sold dogs to medical research facilities. Numerous sick, dead, or abused dogs were found. HSUS officials removed twenty-eight of the worst cases, taking them to a nearby shelter.

Life magazine followed McMahon’s efforts and produced the February 4, 1966, cover story, “Concentration Camp for Dogs.” "Concentration Camp for Dogs" (magazine article)[Concentration Camp for Dogs] This article produced a phenomenal flood of publicity and public outcry, as additional information surfaced about crated animals being sold in large quantities without proof of ownership. Public demands for reform intensified after a pet dog was stolen in April, 1966, and was sold to a laboratory where it was operated on and destroyed. This incident prompted Congressman Joseph Y. Resnick Resnick, Joseph Y. of New York to introduce a dog-stealing bill. This and other measures led to the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (1966) of 1966.

Designed to help prevent pet thefts, the act, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, guaranteed minimum-care standards for animals used in medical research and the licensing and inspection of dog and cat suppliers. Subsequent amendments added protection for exotic species in zoos and circuses (1970), made animal fighting a federal offense (1976), and improved transportation standards (1976). Once again, the HSUS celebrated a legislative victory. The HSUS also worked for passage of the Rare and Endangered Species Act (1966) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972).

Investigations into medical research continued to play a major role in HSUS activities. Recognizing that research in some cases is necessary, the HSUS nevertheless contended that there were countless cases of animal cruelty in the name of science. HSUS members believed that research practices should be humane and that strict guidelines should be followed. The Draize eye test and the toxicity test were of particular concern. The Draize eye test involved putting chemicals on the eyes of animals, especially rabbits, to test the effect of the chemicals. The toxicity test was a lethal-dose test, wherein researchers fully expected 50 percent of the test subjects to die. The HSUS supported the replacement of other research methods, a reduction in the number of animals used, and a refinement of experimental procedures.

The HSUS underwent an ideological shift in the 1970’s. Founded to prevent cruelty to animals, the HSUS followed a trend in animal welfare groups to promote animal rights. Animal-rights ideology contended that animals have the same feelings, sense of community, and right to develop their potential as human beings. This represented a radical shift from simply protecting animals to giving them equality with humans. Closely tied to morality, animal welfare ideology moved to a new level, as animal-rights activists sought to make people conscious of the interrelatedness of all life. Animal welfare groups, including the HSUS, had sought to bring church support to the animal cause for years. This included the HSUS’s founding and support of the National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare in 1959, under the direction of HSUS founder Helen Jones. Biblical references were also present in the 1977 HSUS animal rights book, On the Fifth Day.

The HSUS also wanted to call attention to the connection between animal abuse and abusive behavior toward other humans. Characterizing the problem as the “tangled web of violence,” HSUS members hoped that attempts to educate children to respect animals would carry over into respect for all life. While this ideological shift resulted in a dramatic increase in membership, the HSUS also drew more criticism. Animal welfare groups contended that animal-rights groups were diverting attention from the problems of animal cruelty. Critics called for humane care, not equality, for animals.

The HSUS has affected the condition of animals across the world. Its efforts to reduce pet populations, improve and reduce medical researchers’ use of animals, and educate children to be more humane have been extremely successful. Many animal-rights groups have received negative reactions from the general public, but the HSUS continues to be an effective organization that improves the general state of life for animals. Humane Society of the United States Animal rights Cruelty to animals, prevention of

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Achor, Amy Blount. Animal Rights: A Beginner’s Guide. Yellow Springs, Ohio: WriteWare, 1992. A detailed listing of groups and issues that includes sections on pets, vegetarianism, factory farms, research, wildlife, and entertainment. Also covers ways in which consumers can become actively involved.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dewar, James. The Rape of Noah’s Ark. London: William Kimber, 1969. Early animal-rights book covering the condition of animals in Great Britain. Detailed information on medical research and the exploitation of animals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dickinson, Lynda. Victims of Vanity: Animal Testing of Cosmetics and Household Products and How to Stop It. Toronto, Ont.: Summerhill Press, 1989. Detailed listing of companies that use animal testing and those that use alternative methods of product testing. Gives explicit descriptions of effects of toxicity and eye-testing procedures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fox, Michael W. Between Animal and Man: The Key to the Kingdom. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976. Powerful book covering the animal-rights ideologies. Speaks to the harsh living conditions of animals and how humanity’s exploitation harms everyone. Fox followed this work with Returning to Eden in 1980.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jasper, James M., and Dorothy Nelkin. The Animal Rights Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest. New York: Free Press, 1992. Covers the ideological shift that occurred in the 1970’s concerning the development of animal rights. Handles the limitations and the history of the movement with sections on research, zoos, and clothing and food sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    Making a Difference for Animals: A Look at The Humane Society of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1996. Self-published history of the Humane Society, to be read in combination with more objective documents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morse, Mel. Ordeal of the Animals. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A social commentary that describes how the treatment of animals reflects a general lack of respect for life. Contains elaborate stories of cruelty from experiments, hunting, and sports.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Salem, Deborah J., and Andrew N. Rowan, eds. The State of the Animals, 2001. Washington, D.C.: Humane Society Press, 2001. Compilation of essays meant to assess the overall state of animal welfare and animal rights at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Bibliographic references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Silva, Michel. “Concentration Camp for Dogs.” Life 60 (February 4, 1966): 22-29. Coverage of the 1966 raid by the HSUS on a dog dealer’s compound in Maryland. Pictured the horrible living conditions for dogs destined for medical research.

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Categories: History