The National Humane Education Society (NHES) was founded in 1948 by Anna C. Briggs, but the story of NHES begins long before—and is still being written today.
Anna’s Early Years
Anna. C. Briggs was born on December 9, 1909, in Washington D.C. After the death of Anna’s father, her mother struggled to provide for 3-year-old Anna and her three siblings. To keep her children fed, Anna’s mother made the difficult decision to send Anna and her older sister, Margaret, to St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Washington D.C.
Of that time in her life Anna wrote:
“…Like many a lost puppy or homesick kitten, all we wanted in the world was to go home. But we could not. And when the Sisters put Margaret in a separate dormitory for older girls, I screamed so loud and so long that the Sister in charge finally had to allow my sister to come and keep me company for the night. It was the only way anyone could hope to get some sleep!”
After spending years at the orphanage, Anna went to live with an aunt for four years, finally returning home to her mother a decade after she left home for St. Vincent’s.
Anna and James P. Briggs
In the years at the orphanage and her aunt’s home, Anna had limited exposure to animals. That changed one lucky day when she was thirteen, when a dog named “Cy” changed her life. Cy was a terribly abused German Shepherd who lived at a neighbor’s home where he was beaten regularly when he failed to perform tricks. Anna was pained to see such a beautiful animal cower in shame and fear, and eventually managed to convince the owner to turn Cy over to her. Under Anna’s care, Cy blossomed into a dedicated (and clever!) companion. Anna adored Cy, and wanted to become a friend to every animal she met.
One winter day in 1925, sixteen-year-old Anna found a large collie dog roaming the neighborhood, so frozen that icicles hung from his fur. As Anna pondered what to do, a man stopped and offered to bring the dog to his rest farm for animals. That man was James P. Briggs, a lawyer by trade who also owned and operated The Be Kind to Animals Rest Farm (Rest Farm).
The Rest Farm provided care and adoption services to 150 dogs, 65 cats, and 10 horses. That year, Anna earned her driver’s license—an unusual accomplishment for a teenage girl at that time. She became the regular driver of the Rest Farm’s Model A sedan. Despite their considerable age difference, Anna and James, affectionately known to her as “Briggsie,” fell in love. James and Anna were married on December 9, 1927, Anna’s 18th birthday. James Briggs was 50 years of age. Of him, Anna writes:
“For the next 18 years, I knew the great happiness of being married to the kindest man I have ever met – a man who would do anything to help people or animals in need. Today I like to think that, through our love, Briggsie and I were able to help the innocent creatures he loved so much. And it is in his memory that I continue the work we started together.”
The Rest Farm was forced to close in the midst of the Great Depression in 1932, but Anna and James worked tirelessly to ensure every animal found refuge at surviving rescues or adoptive homes before the gates closed for the last time.
After the closure of the Rest Farm, James Briggs worked diligently to bring about new animal welfare legislation, while Anna studied to achieve her diploma. By that time, Anna and James were the parents of three children: Jimmy, Virginia (“Ginger”) and Jack. One of Anna’s oldest friends – a young woman named Ruby Brown, came to the Briggs residence to care for the children while James was at work and while Anna was at school.
On September 8, 1945, James visited Philadelphia to push for passage of the Dog Exemption Bill by Congress to spare dogs from vivisection. On his return, Anna picked him up at Union Station, noticing that he looked especially tired. Anna pressed him to visit a doctor, but James said, no. Just as they reached the car, Anna realized he was losing consciousness. Though Anna rushed her husband to the nearest hospital, he did not regain consciousness. James Briggs was 68 years of age. He had devoted his life to helping animals in need, right up to the moment of his death. Like her mother before her, Anna found herself a young widow with children, and without the advantage of gainful employment. Though Anna was devastated by her husband’s death, she was determined to keep the family together and continue with their life’s work of saving animals.
Alice Morgan Wright and Virginia Sargent
Anna’s love of animals, combined with her personality which was both warm and resolute, had attracted the admiration of many people; two women in particular who would prove over the years to be a tremendous allies and treasured friends. The first was Virginia Sargent (for whom Anna’s daughter is named). Virginia operated an animal shelter where Anna became the bookkeeper following James’ death.
The second was woman was Alice Morgan Wright, a benefactress to NHES, animal rights activist, suffragist, and UNESCO organizer and remains well-known to this day as accomplished artist and sculptor. Alice Morgan Wright also authored NHES’ 12 Guiding Principles which continue to help guide NHES today.
In 1948, Anna Briggs founded NHES. And, in 1950, with Alice Morgan Wright’s help, NHES created its first animal care facility, Peace Plantation Animal Sanctuary (Peace Plantation). Peace Plantation was constructed on land that was once Virginia countryside outside of our nation’s capital. Built largely by Anna’s two sons, Peace Plantation operated as a safe-haven for dogs, cats, and farm animals for over 30 years before rising land costs forced NHES to seek a more affordable location in Delaware County, New York. NHES operated Peace Plantation in upstate New York until 2015 when, due to operating constraints, NHES was forced to close Peace Plantation.
In her book, “For the Love of Animals,” Anna Briggs describes Ruby Brown as “her right arm and half of her left.” Long after her children were grown, Anna and Ruby remained close friends. Although Alice Morgan Wright and Anna had the land, buildings—and animals to comprise Peace Plantation, they needed a strong, capable, and compassionate leader to implement and oversee daily operations. Anna knew that Ruby would be perfect for the job. Ruby agreed to move from her apartment in Washington D.C. to Peace Plantation in 1950 to oversee the care of hundreds of dogs, cats, and other animals. Frustratingly, in those early years, and even the years beyond, Anna received criticism for granting a black woman such a position, but Anna recognized that Ruby was undoubtedly a gem—in name and in her loving care of her animal friends. Ruby worked at Peace Plantation for 34 years. No animal rescue effort was too strenuous for her. She loved the animals so much that she would go out of her way to prepare treats for them—stopping along the roadside to pick watercress to add to their meals, making corn on the cob with margarine for the cats, fixing up any little delicacy that might add pleasure to their lives. When Ruby Brown died in 1984, it was said by many that, “Ruby was Peace Plantation.”
The Briggs Animal Adoption Center est. 2000
In 2000, Anna Briggs saw the construction and opening of The Briggs Animal Adoption Center (BAAC) in Charles Town, WV. Located on the 24-acre NHES Campus, today BAAC is one of the finest animal care facilities in the nation. With a maximum capacity of 80 dogs and over 100 cats, BAAC provides the highest standard of care for pets who have been lost, abandoned, abused, and neglected. An on-site veterinary team heads a clinic exclusively for the homeless pets where each animal is evaluated, treated, and spayed or neutered prior to adoption. In 2001, Spay Today was added, which helps pet owners afford the spay/neuter of over 5,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs each year. Meanwhile, NHES’ Humane Education and Advocacy department travels across the nation to teach school children the urgent need for pet adoption and the truth that every animal deserves to be treated with kindness.
Anna C. Briggs died in 2011 at the age of 101 years. Today, we cherish her memory as we strive to carry on her legacy of love for animals through the programs provided by NHES.
To see an interview with Anna C. Briggs, watch the video below, A Lifetime of Compassion.