Michael and Susan Douge: Albany’s African American Power Couple

We’ve been taking a deep dive into the African American population in Albany in the 1800s, to try to get a sense of what their lives were like before the Civil War -the defining event of the century., and after.
One couple, Michael and Susan Douge, stands out for their dedication for decades – to their community and to the causes of abolition before the Civil War and equal rights after the War. They were perhaps the most influential couple in Albany’s African American community during the 19th century.
Michael was born in New Yok City in 1804, son of a freeman. There is some evidence that his father had been enslaved in Haiti, but made his way New York after the slave revolt in the 1790s. Susan was born in Albany; we know little of her origin story. Census data indicate her mother, Mercy Franks, was born in Dutchess County in the 1780s; she’s identified as a free woman in the 1820 Albany census.
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In 1827 the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper in America (published in New York City) carried the wedding announcement of Michael Douge (New York City) and Susan Ames (Albany) on April 25, 1827 . The ceremony was performed by Rev. John Chester of Albany’s Second Presbyterian Church.
In 1830 Michael is identified as a hair dresser, living and working at 14. South Pearl, close to State St.
By the time Michael was in his late 20s he became publicly involved in Albany’s African American community. In 1831 the Albany African Clarkson Society (Thomas Clarkson was an Englishman who campaigned vehemently against the slave trade) held a major event, including a procession, accompanied by music through the streets celebrating the 4th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in New York State; Michael Douge gave the major address.
Throughout the 1830s he continued his involvement. He writes letters to  The Liberator the anti-slavery newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison. He was one of the founders of the Philomethean Society, a Black literary association in 1835, (modeled after a similar society in New York City); an officer in the “Colored Person Union” of Capital District (est. 1837) dedicated to moral improvement and education of the Black population, and active in a group vehemently opposed to African American colonization in Liberia and elsewhere, outside of the United States.
Both Michael and Susan were active in establishing the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Albany.
In 1833 Susan was one of the founding members of the Female Lundy Society. (The Society was named after Benjamin Lundy, a white abolitionist who published the newspaper “The Genius of Universal Emancipation”);it was dedicated to charitable works in the African community and anti-slavery activities.) In 1837 she was also part of the group of Black women that established Albany’s Female Lovejoy Society. (Elijah Lovejoy was a white abolitionist and newspaper publisher murdered in Ohio in 1837 for his anti-slavery views. His murder shocked the nation.)
In 1840 Michael was an attendee of first New York State Convention of Colored Citizens , which happened to be held in Albany. The same year he was part of a group of men who lobbied to establish a publicly-funded school for Black children as the city had done for white children. Ultimately they was successful and by the mid-1840s the Douge’s daughter Catherine Mary was a teaching assistant at the segregated Wilberforce School for African American children. (Although records indicate that the Douge children, along with children of some other African families may have been allowed to attend white schools.)
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In 1843 he was part of a group of men, including, Rev. Benjamin Paul (one of the founders of the Black Wilberforce Colony in Canada), Thomas Paul (the noted teacher in Albany and Boston and one time William Lloyd Garrison printing apprentice),  and Benjamin Lattimore and William Topp (active members of the Underground Railroad in Albany) who presented an address to Governor William Seward, thanking him for what he had done for the Black community. (Seward would go on to be a U.S. Senator from New York State and Lincoln’s Secretary of State.)
During the 1830s and 1840s the Douges were busy raising their children – (Catherine) Mary, (Susan) Cornelia, Francis, Julius , and John. Michael’s barbershop seems to have thrived. In early Albany city directories they’re listed various as living at 14 South Pearl St., just in from State St. Through the 1830s and early 1840s they remain in the South End, living in in various locations on South Pearl St.
At one point in the mid-1830s the Douges lived at 9 Plain St,, owned by Benjamin Lattimore, Jr. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality for African Americans). He was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, and anyone of consequence in the early days of the anti-slavery and political equality movements in the 1830s. It’s safe to assume that through him and others the Douge family shared similar linkages to the world outside Albany. These would come to include Frederick Douglass, who had close ties to many white and Black abolitionists in the city.
By the mid-1840s the Douges moved to 100 Franklin St,. where they remained for a number of years.
While teaching the Wilberforce School Mary married the principal Henry Hicks. Sadly Henry died only a few years after the marriage; in 1855 Mary is identified as living with her parents and her two small children, along with her younger brothers.
Abolition is a Douge family affair. When Mary was just 17 she became a subscriber to Frederick Douglass’ Northstar newspaper. (In 1853 Michael and other local prominent African American abolitionists gathered at the A.M.E church to endorse the Frederick Douglass Paper\ the successor to the Northstar.)
By the mid-1850s the Douge sons had assumed the role held by their father. and were participating in the Colored Conventions and delegate selection for Frederick Douglass’ nascent National Council for Colored People.
After the Civil War Mary went south to teach freed Blacks under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau while her parents raised her children. Susan continued her activities with the Female Lundy and Lovejoy Societies.
Michael appears to have been slowing down, but he did play a role, along with his sons Julius and John in Black Republican politics in the city. Julius was also one of a about a dozen prominent African American men in the city who lobbied the Board of Education to permit Black children to attend local (white) public schools, and to admit Black children to the Free Academy (High School) over a number of years (In 1873 they were successful.)
Julius was cut from the same mold as his father, and was soon a member of the African American Masonic Lodge and the Black chapter of the Oddfellows The Douge men were members of the Charles Sumner Association – a mutual aid society for African Americans in Albany (its motto was “ We care for our sick and bury our dead”), as well as the Burdett-Couts Benevolent Association.
But the battle for equal rights was not over. Mary Douge Williams stepped up for women’s suffrage, and became a vice president of the newly formed Albany Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1880. There is a wonderful description in a suffrage newspaper of very dignified Mary leading a contingent of African American women, including her mother Susan, then in her late 70s, to register in Arbor Hill (where the Douges were now living at 25 Lark St.) and vote in the School election of 1880. (This was the first time New York State allowed women to vote.) We know that Mary and Susan voted in subsequent years.
Then tragedy struck. Michael died at the age of 79 in late 1883 and Mary, at age 51, less than six months later in 1884. (Their children Cornelia and Francis had both passed in 1859.)
But Susan continued to play an active role in her community as a member and sometimes officer of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies until she died in 1897 at the age of 92. She would live to see her grandson Robert Douge become only the second Black man to graduate from Albany Law School in 1890.

Michael and Susan Douge and other family members are buried in Lot 3 Section 99 of Albany Rural Cemetery.

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Julie O’Connor

Erastus Dow Palmer

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Palmer was born in 1817. He was a self-taught artist who showed early talent by carving wooden animals on his father’s farm in Pompey, N.Y.
As a young man, he moved to East Aurora (near Buffalo) to work as a carpenter.  While living in East Aurora, he married, but illness claimed both his wife and infant son.  Shortly after this double loss, he relocated to Utica where he continued as a carpenter and woodcarver.  In 1843, he married Mary Jane Seaman.
Having seen illustrations of cameos in the home of a client, Palmer was inspired to cut a cameo of his wife using an oyster shell and the smallest of his carpentry tools.  He showed the finished piece to a local lawyer for whom Palmer had done work.  The lawyer was very impressed by Palmer’s work and immediately lent him books with engravings of famous artwork, provided him with letters of recommendation to a number of prominent artists of the era, and strongly encouraged Palmer to pursue a career as a sculptor.
That career began with a series of portrait cameos, mainly of prominent Utica residents.  However, Palmer found that working on such a small scale was straining his eyesight.  He began producing larger reliefs in marble.  One early work is the allegory of Faith which hangs in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in downtown Albany. He then progressed to
 larger marble works and, later, some bronzes sculptures such as the figure of Robert Livingston which represents New York State in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.
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Palmer relocated to Albany early in his artistic career, maintaining a home and studio first on Columbia Place and, later, on Lafeyette Street. He also kept a farm in Glenmont.
There is a curious tale told about Palmer’s passing and a final visit to his closest friend, the painter Asa Twitchell. The following was written by Anna Parker Pruyn on the reverse of a ca. 1900 photo of Palmer and Twitchell seated in the gallery of Lawson Annesley:
“Mr. Palmer died first. Mr. Twitchell lived out on N. Scotland Rd. and had no telephone. Mr. Annesley drove out to break the news to him, but Mr. Twitchell said he already knew it. ‘He came out 9 this morning – stood by his bedside and said “I- I’m going – I have come to say goodbye to you.'”
Palmer died at the age of eighty-six on March 9, 1904 and was buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Lot 15, Section 34. His monument was the work of Marcus T. Reynolds and the sides incorporate the marble reliefs of “Dawn” and “Evening” by Palmer. Palmer had a long history with the Cemetery. Not only did he create some of its finest monuments (including the Angel At The Sepulchre).  He also served as one of its Trustees.
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Paula Lemire

James Gardner: The first African American Graduate of the Albany College of Pharmacy

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James Gardner was born in 1864 just before the end of the Civil War to William and Elizabeth Gardiner.
His father William was a barber. By the early 1850s he been active  for some time in Albany African equal rights politics, and attended several New York State Colored Conventions.
In the 1850s he was the Vice President of the Albany Vigilance Committee, tasked with financing Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) to help fugitive slaves escape from South.
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After the Civil War he was very active in the Republican Party, and a member of the group of men who lobbied the Albany Board of Public Instruction to desegregate Albany Schools. Elizabeth was active in Albany’s African American female charitable organizations – the Female Lundy Society and the Female Lovejoy Society. Mr. Gardiner was trustee of the African Baptist church.
The family lived for several decades on Second St. (first at #49 and then #67) in Arbor Hill in the close knit community bounded by Hall Place, Third St., Lark St. and Livingston Ave.
William Gardiner was fast friends and a business partner of Dr. Thomas Elkins. They were both officers of the Vigilance Committee, and involved in other political and community affairs. Elkins was the only black druggist in Albany in the 1800s, and during James’ childhood Elkins lived with the family. We think that it was the influence of Elkins that led Gardner to attend the Pharmacy College.
Gardner graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1888 when it was co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St. between Lancaster and Jay Streets. He was vice president of his class and won a cash prize of $20 from the Alumni Association for the best graduation thesis on “Percolation”.
Albany College of Pharmacy co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St.
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The same year he married Caroline Deyo from Jefferson St.; after their marriage they lived with his parents. His best friend, Robert Douge, served as his best man. In 1890 Douge would be only the second African American graduate of Albany Law School. In the late 1890s the couple moved to Livingston Ave.
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After graduation Gardner worked for the drugstore owned by Clement & Rice at the corner of Broadway and Clinton Ave., Huested’s Pharmacy at the corner of State and Eagle Streets, and for Thomas Pennington at his drugstore in Saratoga Springs (he was the only black druggist in the city at the time).*
State St., just below Eagle St.
It appears Gardner also had a love of music, spent some time working for a music store at 46 North Pearl St., and listed himself in several city directories as a music teacher But it’s also quite possible that it was difficult for Gardner to find employment as a druggist because of his race. (Thomas Pennington recounted the serious problems he encountered in Saratoga Springs because of racial prejudice.)
Sadly James died in late 1901 at the age of 37. He was found drowned in the river off New York City. We have been unable to discover the details. Why was he in New York City? How did he drown?
Caroline outlived James by another 18 years; never re-marrying and working at various jobs, including seamstress.
*Thomas Pennington apprenticed with Dr. Elkins in the mid-1850s, and they remained lifelong friends. The presence of Pennington in Albany speaks to the relationships in Albany and the larger world ante-bellum world of African American activism against slavery and for equal rights. Pennington’s father, the Rev. James Pennington was the president of the National Colored Convention in Rochester in 1853, attended by two Albany men – Stephen Myers who ran the Albany UGRR and William Topp, a member of the UGRR and of its Vigilance Committee. Pennington’s association with Elkins again demonstrates the outsize role and political importance of Albany, in both African American politics and the anti-slavery movement in the ante-bellum period.
Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Empire Theater

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The Empire Theatre on State St., above South Pearl St. in the early part of the 20th century.
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It was the biggest and most popular burlesque and vaudeville (but mostly burlesque) theater in Albany, from about 1900 to the early 1920s.
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And it was one of the two theaters where you could see Yiddish Theatre. (The other was Harmanus Bleecker Hall – Albany Public Library is in that location today.) Albany had one of the largest Jewish populations in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some estimates put it between 15% – 20% of the total population of the city.

By 1900 this large immigrant population came from eastern Europe (Poland, Rumania, Czechlosovakia) and Russia. But the immigrants shared a common cultural language – Yiddish. Large Yiddish theatre and opera companies came up to Albany from New York City at least once a month.
The early 20th century burlesque shows included beautiful girls, scantily clad, but mostly, like vaudeville, they were broad farce. (Not strippers.) You could still laugh at the slapstick and admire the beauty and dancing even if your ability to speak English was limited. And if you spoke English, so much the better.
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The Empire hosted huge stars. Before Fannie Brice became a Ziegfield Girl she came to Albany in “The College Girls”  And this is where she met and married her first husband, Frank White, an Albany barber.
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Another favorite was Mollie Williams, one of the most enterprising of all the stars of burlesque. She was one of few Jewish stars of burlesque. By 1912, when she was in her early 30s, she owned her own company, and produced her own shows, touring all of the Northeastern U.S. Even the women in the audience seemed to love her.
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(After the Empire closed Mollie starred at the Capitol Theatre on Chapel St. In 1924 she became an American sweetheart. She included a skit in her act that championed raises for US. Post Office workers. They got the raise and when Mollie came to town they hosted parties in her honor. Mollie’s other dubious claim to fame – a very young vaudevillian, Milton Berle lost his virginity to her.)
The Empire closed in 1922.
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Julie O’Connor

John Swinburne, MD – Quarantine Pioneer

John Swinburne is mostly forgotten today, except for the Albany park named after him.
But he was medical pioneer whose worked had major impact on our city, New York State and our country.
An 1888 biography, “A Typical American,” made it clear that he was anything but — it calls him an eminent patriot, surgeon and philanthropist, “The Fighting Doctor,” and “one of Nature’s noblemen.”
John Swinburne was born in Lewis County in 1820; his father died when he was but 12. Despite having to work to support his mother and sisters, Swinburne was educated in local public schools and attended Albany Medical College, where he was first in his class (1846) and was appointed “demonstrator” in anatomy after graduation. He even started a private anatomy school, but soon entered private practice.
When the Civil War came he was made a commander in the New York National Guard, and as chief medical officer was put in charge of the sick at the Albany recruiting depot. He offered his services to Gen. McClellan as a volunteer battlefield surgeon, and was soon sent to Savage’s Station in Virginia .
As the Army of the Potomac retreated from that post on June 29, 1862, Swinburne was one of the few surgeons who remained behind to care for the sick and wounded, and he was noted for treating Union and Confederate soldiers alike. It was a month before all the wounded were removed to other hospitals, and Swinburne applied to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson for permission to visit the wounded Federal prisoners. Jackson’s pass made it clear that Swinburne was not to be treated as a prisoner of war.
He returned to New York, and remained in New York City, where his work on use of quarantines in a cholera epidemic brought him to the attention of the Mayor and the Governor. In 1864, he was made health officer of the Port of New York and immediately put to the task of establishing an effective quarantine facility, which he placed on islands, one of which, Swinburne Island, bears his name to this day. (It’s now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.)
As we find today with other infectious diseases the cholera epidemic was spread through international travel. In 1865 he was credited with stopping a major outbreak in New York City from the ship “Virginia” from Liverpool and on another ship, “The England” through the use of quarantine.
“Doctor Swinburne … visited the steamers and hospitals at quarantine yesterday and reports them in excellent condition. There have been no cases of cholera on the Virginia for the past week. On the England none of the passenger have been attacked. There are ninety-eight in hospital, of which fifty-eight are convalescent”.
He retired from the Port and went to France, just in time for the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. With the support of the American expatriate community, he created the first ambulance corps in Paris to tend to the wounded, and for his efforts he was decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and  worked with the Red Cross of Geneva.
Swinburne returned to Albany, where he re-established his private practice and, in 1876, became Professor of Fractures and Clinical Surgery at Albany Medical College, and became one of the first to provide forensic testimony at trials involving medical evidence. He also found time to be elected Mayor (1880) and then to Congress (1884). While doing that he established the Swinburne Dispensary (clinic), which provided free medical services to as many as 10,000 patients a year.
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His anonymous biographer wrote:
“His quiet benevolence, yet bold aggressiveness in fighting error and corruption in high places, both in professional and official stations, has given his life a charm unequaled in the past, and has won for him the admiration of the masses of the people.”
He died in Albany on March 28, 1889, and is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery, Section 30, Lot 11.
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Carl Johnson from his blog Hoxsie.org .

The National Training School for Certified Nurses

The School was established circa 1890 as the Eastern New York School for Certified Nurses. Its founder was Dr. William Stillman, a graduate of Albany Medical College. At that time there was no other nursing school in the city; Albany Hospital’s nursing school didn’t open until 1897.
The role of nurses came to the forefront in the Civil War. But for a number of reasons it still wasn’t consider a totally respectable position for a woman in the late Victorian Gilded Age (unlike being a school teacher). But times changed, as they do, and progress marched on.
By 1901 the New York State Nurses Association was founded, the first state nurses association.
The National School was not-for-profit, and trained women in all aspects of nursing, including public health. By the second decade of the 20th century the importance, and value of school nurses and nurses in county and city health departments and “well-baby” clinics was firmly entrenched.
It was also a school open to all women. Reports from the early 1900s tell us that in 1905 at least 3 African American women were graduates.
The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 drove home the importance of nurses, as did the thousands of nurses who volunteered in Europe during World War II. Women of all ages flocked to the front. Albany Hospital established and staffed a hospital for recuperating soldiers in Portsmouth, England.
By the 1920 the World War had not only proven that it was acceptable for “nice” girls work, but they got the job done.
In the mid 1920s the School was located at in a brownstone at 285-287 Lark St. Each 6 month course was packed with young women, who learned all aspects of nursing according to standardized scientific principles. The curriculum included didactic and clinical components.
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Julie O’Connor

Hampton Hotel Roof Garden

Roof garden restaurants began to be a thing in the 1880s. They were a way of beating summer heat, and creating small oasis in a crowded city.
The roof garden atop the Hampton Hotel on State St. just above Broadway was constructed in the early 1900s.
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There was music and dancing at the Hampton Hotel roof garden. You would have a spectacular view, Hudson River breezes, and there is a description of hundreds of tiny electric lights at night that made it seem like a fairyland.
It was designed to attract the middle and upper classes of Albany, and well-heeled hotel guests.
But I can imagine a young clerk or factory worker saving up to take his girl, maybe she was a store clerk, for a special night. She would be dressed in her best- maybe he gave her a small flower corsage. It might have been a romantic, magical night. A once in a life time experience, never to be forgotten.
Julie O’Connor

The Washington Park Refectory

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The Washington Park Refectory was the place in the Park where you could get light refreshments. Delicate sandwiches, ice cream, ices, lemonade and soda in the Summer, and cocoa, coffee, tea and pastries in the Winter.
It was built to look like a Swiss chalet, using the “stick motif” style of the original Lake House, east of Englewood Place. It was said that as you sat on the broad piazza (veranda) there was an unobstructed view, looking the Great Meadow, to Willett St.
The Refectory was in use until about the late 1930s, but had begun to deteriorate. During World War II it was closed, since much of the Park was given over to Victory Gardens.
It was demolished in the 1950s. By then a small snack bar had been added to the Lake House.
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Albany Medical Center Hospital

Albany Med has played a key role in the City for about 170 years. Today, its mission is more critical than ever.

The Hospital was established in 1849. One of the founding physicians was Alden March, a farm boy from Worcester, Mass, who came to Albany after getting his MD from Brown University in 1820.

In 1834 he’s said to have established a first for New York State a practical school of anatomy and surgery, in this city. Several years later the Medical College (the fifth in the U.S.) was founded; it located on Eagle St.
Over time the need for a public hospital became apparent to Dr.March and several other local physicians.
Some histories say the first hospital was established in 1849 on Madison Ave. (then Lydius St.) on the corner of Dove St. (The building is still there.)

 

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First Hospital Building on Madison
By 1851 a new site was located on the corner of Eagle and Howard Streets, in the abandoned county jail. (The previous building became the site of the cholera hospital, a deadly infectious disease.)  The Albany Convention Center is on the Howard St. site today.
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Hospital on Eagle and Howard
In the late 1880s and early 1890s it became clear larger facilities were needed. By 1898 Albany Hospital moved to New Scotland Ave., where it has remained for over 120 years.
(That building on Howard St. subsequently housed the American Humane Association, the precursor to the American Humane Society. It originated the “Be kind to animals” slogan.)  The building was finally demolished around 1940.)
The new Hospital was a sprawling complex when it was built, with a nursing school and nurses dormitories. As we know, it dominates the landscape today, and is perhaps the largest employer in the City.
Hospital on New Scotland Rd. – circa 1900
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Hospital circa 1930
Hospital circa 1950

So thank to Dr. March, who understood the need to provide medical care to all Albanians, rich and poor, and a space where generations of doctors, (and then nurses), could obtain the needed clinical training.

Julie O’Connor

Albany and the American Humane Association

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The nationwide American Humane Association was founded in 1877 as an organization devoted to the protection of children and animals. In 1905, when the president was William Stillman, MD, a local doctor, the national headquarters moved to Albany.
The Humane Association located in the empty Albany Hospital building on the corner of Eagle St. and Howard St.
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In 1911 it came up with the slogan and campaign “Be Kind to Animals” we all know so well, and is still used today.
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In the early days World War I it brought to the attention of public the plight of animals, especially horses, during the War, and founded the Red Star Relief organization. It has continued the campaign throughout the years to address needs of animals affected in military conflicts and disasters.
Over the years the Humane Association tackled such diverse subjects as treatment of child AND animal actors, slaughterhouses, and pet therapy for World War II veterans.
In 1938 the Association moved to the old Rice mansion on the corner of Dove St. and Washington Ave. (The Albany Institute of History and Art is in that location today.)
In 1954 the Association HQ moved out of Albany to Denver, Colorado, and is still very active. A most recent effort of the Association’s Red Star teams was the rescue of animals in the California wildfires.
Julie O’Connor