This year is a big anniversary year for the Richmond SPCA and I bet that many people will be surprised at how old this organization is. We are 120 years old this year. That means we were founded in the year that Cole Porter was born and that the game of basketball was invented. We are going to celebrate our 120th Anniversary with a gala event on June 9.
As we have worked on the event and on a video about our 120 years of history, I have spent quite a lot of time researching our history with Liz Bryant, our manager of major gifts. I will be writing posts for this blog every few weeks over the coming months to share with you the remarkable history of our organization. I hope that you find it as fascinating as I have.
Shortly after the Civil War, people in this country became increasingly concerned about the ways in which animals, especially horses, were being abused. The humane movement can be said to have truly begun with the founding of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City in 1866. In the years that followed, the humane movement took hold and organizations around the country began to form for the protection of animals. Most of them, although not connected in any way, used “society for the prevention of cruelty to animals” as their name with the city identifier at the beginning. This, of course, has lead to the inaccurate belief of many people that organizations bearing this name are somehow all connected or related, which they are not.
So, here in Richmond, a woman named Nellie Nalle Palmer had become aware of this growing national humane movement and was passionate about establishing a society for the protection of animals in our community. Nellie was a socially well-connected former debutante who had married W. Ben Palmer, one of Mosby’s Raiders in the Civil War. In 1883, she gathered a group of people at their home at 315 E. Main Street for the purpose of starting a Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (An interesting tidbit is that this house, now demolished, was located where the Richmond Times-Dispatch building now stands.) Sadly, they were not able to inspire enough enthusiasm or support to get it off the ground in 1883 but Nellie did not give up.
Nellie worked with dedication for eight more years. She raised money and convinced some of the most prominent men in Richmond that this was an important cause. Note I say “men” – Nellie was the only woman involved. In October of 1891, she and her husband again hosted a group in their Main Street home and, this time, they successfully founded the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They had recruited for the initial group of officers some very influential and respected Richmonders including Joseph Bryan, Dr. Jud Wood and Captain Alexander Guigon along with Nellie’s husband, Ben Palmer.
Nellie, while an initial Board member, was not among the officers. Nonetheless, she continued to be the source of energy and inspiration for the organization for decades to come. Next, I will write about what the Richmond SPCA accomplished for the protection of animals in Virginia during the first decades of the twentieth century. Stay tuned.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.