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Anna Clapp Harris Smith
Anna Clapp Harris Smith
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 Smith, Anna Clapp Harris.

Residents Concern Hatched Animal League

By Anthony Sammarco

This article appeared in Dorchester Community News, in 1990?

Nearly everyone in Dorchester has heard of or used the services of The Animal Rescue League. But few of us realize that it was founded by a Dorchester woman.

Anna Clapp Harris Smith (1843-1937) was born at 65 Pleasant St. at the foot of Jones Hill, the house she lived in her entire life. She was the daughter of William and Anna Clapp Harris, two children of prominent local residents. William was the son of Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, minister of the First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill from 1793 to 1836. [Editorial note: this mention of her relationship to Thaddeus Mason Harris seems to be misinformed. Thaddeus had only one son with William as part of his name: Thaddeus William Harris who married only once to Catherine Holbrook. They did not have a daughter named Anna. For her ancestry see paragraph below] Anna Clapp was the daughter of David Clapp, the noted printer whose Pleasant Street land had been owned by his family almost since the founding of Dorchester in 1630.

The young Anna Harris, imbued with family connections and born to a world of comfort, was christened at the First Parish Church by her paternal grandfather. [As noted above, Anna was not related to the Reverend Thaddeus Mason Harris, minister of the First Parish.]

As a child, she was intelligent and developed both a flair for music and a deep abiding feeling for animals and nature. It was said that her father was a strict and religious man and that these values, instilled in his daughter, gave a deep spiritual devotion to her great cause of later years.

Living Life of Luxury

Anna Harris completed her education in Boston, after attending Miss Popes School on Meeting house Hill. She became an accomplished musician, and taught music, giving informal recitals with her brother Samuel who was a talented violinist. She also composed music for several songs. The Harris family, comfortable and well-established, were among the leaders of local society.

In 1884, Anna Harris married Huntington Smith of Boston; he was the editor of the Boston Beacon, later to become its owner and publisher. The Smiths lived in the Clapp family home, which had been built on the stone foundations of the Thomas Jones House, reputedly built in 1636.

The Clapps had purchased the original house from Jones heirs and rebuilt it after a disastrous fire in 1804. The five-bay Federal house, while not pretentious, was surrounded by lands that were not just extensive, but valuable. The Smiths subdivided their estate over the years into house lots.

Undoubtedly, Anna Smith was a compassionate person, and tried to do the right thing concerning animals. But according to her biography, she was deeply shocked when a neighbor told her that, when her cat became too old to catch mice, she would have it taken to the woods and left there. This apparently fueled her desire to form some sort of protective circle for animals.

As a member of the First Parish Church Benevolent Society, then headed by Emily Fifield, Smith visited the sick and the poor. Apart from the human misery that she was, she was overwhelmed by the conditions of animals in back alleys and beasts of burden on the main streets of Boston. This concern became a driving force for Smith, and culminated with the incorporation of the Animal Rescue League of Boston on March 13, 1899.

Smith coined the phrase Kindness Uplifts the World, which is still the motto of the Animal Rescue League. Throughout her long life, she had a great concern for all animals that she was able to combine with practical means to reduce suffering. True, her wealth and position enabled her to devote her activities to better the conditions of animals, but it was her never-ending sense of duty that sustained her when it became her life work.

Today, the rescue league takes in stray animals, most of which it spays and neuters, and tries to find them homes. In addition, the statewide group runs educational programs which teach children how to properly care for animals and has work crews which will pick up dead animals or rescue those who are caught in trees, for example.

Anthony Sammarco is a local writer and lecturer on the history of Dorchester whose articles appear regularly in the Community News.

N.B. Further research has uncovered a clearer picture of the ancestry of Anna C. H. Smith ancestry: Anna was the daughter of William Harris, a Boston printer (who died 1865) and Anna Larkin Clapp Harris (1805-1872.) Her grandparents - Samuel Clapp, a cooper (1766-1830) and Ann Capen Clapp (1770-1853) - rebuilt in 1804 the family home [now 65 Pleasant Street] on the foundation of a burned 17th century dwelling.
Annas great-grandparents were David Clapp (1720-1787) and Ruth Humphrey Clapp who had purchased the old Jonathan Jones-Thomas Kilton property in 1755.

This information was gleaned from the 1876 Clapp Memorial, Record of the Clapp Family in America excerpted at length elsewhere in this site.


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Anna Clapp Harris SmithAnna Harris Smith65 Pleasant Street Feb. 14, 200465 Pleasant Street 6-20-2011
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Created: November 26, 2005   Modified: December 12, 2012