The Yankee Archives: Christmas Dinner for Horses

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With a history as long and colorful as Yankee’s, poking through the archives can easily swallow up an hour of your day, or if you’re not careful, the whole darn thing.  During my first month at Yankee, I’ve happily thumbed through the many books that line our corridors, and peered into the contents of well-worn manila folders in the archives closet for jolts of inspiration, or the joy of unearthing a 1917 baking powder company recipe booklet titled “55 Ways to Save Eggs.”

A peek at the Yankee Archives folders.

Last week I came across a folder titled “Animal Rescue League of Boston,” and inside were copies of six black and white photographs.  The top photo was taken in 1919, and featured a horse-drawn carriage, decked out in holiday garland with banners titled “Animal Rescue League” and “Christmas for the Horses.”  The caption underneath explained that it was the sixth annual Christmas dinner for horses, when members of the League would travel throughout the city, delivering “meals of oats, carrots, and apples to the working horses of Boston.”

Christmas for the Horses.

Christmas dinner for city work horses?!  Be still my animal-loving heart.

Wanting to learn more, I called the Animal Rescue League of Boston, now celebrating its 112th year, and was connected with Jennifer Wooliscroft, the League’s Director of Communications.  Jennifer immediately knew which photograph I was referring to, and was able to fill in the gaps.

She explained that the founder of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, Anna Harris Smith, had been especially passionate about advocating for the shelter and care of the city’s many neglected and hungry animals at the end of the nineteenth century.  This differed somewhat from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), founded 31 years earlier, which focused more on establishing and enforcing animal protection laws.

Anna Harris Smith loved all animals, but had a special soft spot for horses.  It’s easy to forget how important urban work horses were in the days before the automobile, but in the late 19th century and early 20th century, horses were critical in the day-to-day workings of all US cities.  These “draft horses” not only transported all manner of goods within the city and to and from railroad stations, but also facilitated both public and private transportation and emergency services, such as ambulances and fire trucks…before they were trucks.

Anna and the ARL of Boston believed that these horses deserved treats at Christmas just like the rest of us, so the “Christmas Dinner for Horses” campaign was born, and continued into the 21st century.  As recently as 2009, the League still delivered holiday goodies to the rapidly shrinking number of working horses within the city, made even smaller that year by the loss of the Boston Police Department’s 12-member mounted police patrol due to lack of funding.

Photos from the Animal Rescue League of Boston archive folder.

You never know what you’re going to find in the Yankee Archives, or where it’s going to take you.  On this visit I found myself appreciating urban work horses like never before, wondering about what happened to all of the horse manure they must have been generating, arguing with myself about whether or not I should adopt a cat from the adoption page of the Animal Rescue League of Boston’s website (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and thinking about ways I can spread my own oat bag of Christmas cheer this season.

Until next time in the Yankee Archives…

For another take on our editorial history, this time in index form, as well as an explanation of what an authentic “Yankee Story” truly is, I urge you to read the very funny “Perusing the Yankee Index” by Justin Shatwell.

  • I have 2 rabbits and participate in an online group that sends out special treats for the rabbits in foster care at the holidays. It’s little but fun to send an extra treat to a bun waiting for a home.


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