March 6, 2020
From the very beginning, women have played a critical role in shaping AHS. To mark Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the work of four of the incredible women whose leadership and passion helped to make the world a better place for animals.
A look back in time
The Minneapolis and St. Paul Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — Animal Humane Society’s early predecessors — were founded in 1878. In a time where few women had careers outside of the home, these pioneering women defied expectations, tirelessly working for reform in the world of animal welfare.
Florence Barton Loring
While her husband, Charles, was known as “father of the park system” in Minneapolis, Florence Barton Loring was a philanthropist in her own right. She donated to many causes, but animals held a special place in her heart. Her generous bequest helped AHS (known then as the Animal Rescue League) purchase five acres of land in Golden Valley, where an animal shelter would eventually be built.
Completed in 1926, the Florence Barton Loring Animal Shelter included 60 separate compartments for dogs, each with its own 30-foot outdoor run. This shelter cared for more than 8,000 animals each year until we opened our current facility in 1967.
After the death of her parents, Myrtle Dickson applied for a temporary position with the Animal Rescue League. That led to a four-decade career as the organization’s secretary, during which she handled day-to-day management. She served in that role from 1916 to 1955. It was her first and only job.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Dickson began going to classrooms to teach children about love and respect for animals — something AHS still does today. She was keenly aware of the importance of educating youth on issues related to animal welfare.
During her almost 40 years with the League, Myrtle helped lead the organization to a position of prominence — both in the local community and throughout the country.
Beulah Beatrice Bartlett
Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1890, Beulah served as executive secretary of the St. Paul Humane Society for nearly 40 years. She retired in 1963 at the age of 73.
When our current St. Paul shelter was built in 1953, the city street leading to it was named Beulah Lane in honor of Bartlett’s many years of service. Though she worked for the St. Paul Humane Society for almost four decades, she never had a pet of her own. “All the pets at the shelter are mine,” she said.
Described in the St. Paul Dispatch as “small, [but] energetic,” Beulah once took over driving a Society dog ambulance for two weeks when a driver quit unexpectedly. She was truly a dynamic hero for animals in need.
Wilma Mae (Willie) Wakefield
During the 1950s, Willie Wakefield developed a completely new education curriculum, including quarterly newsletters for adults and children. She also hosted pet shows and poster contests. Under Willie’s guidance as public relations director, League representatives started making regular visits to schools, nursing homes, and church groups. Education programs expanded significantly in 1967 with the opening of our current Golden Valley shelter and its auditorium. By 1971, Animal Humane Society was able to regularly visit 120 Minneapolis schools.
In 1961 she partnered with local children’s TV personality Carmen the Nurse (Mary Davies) to present a weekly feature on WCCO focused on pet care and kindness to animals.
Wakefield was also an Animal Humane Society board member on and off for three decades and served as Board president several times.
Our legacy of strong women leaders continues today with an all-female senior leadership team. It’s led by our President & CEO, Janelle Dixon, who celebrates her 28th year with AHS next September. “AHS has a long history of passionate, innovative leaders,” says Dixon. “I am proud to follow in the footsteps of these incredible women.”