William O. Stillman was born on September 9th, 1856 in Normansville, now known as Elsmere in the town of the Bethlehem, Albany County, NY. His parents were Rev. Stephen Lewis Stillman and Lucretia (Miller) Stillman.
Rev. Stephen Lewis Stillman was a Methodist minister at the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Adamsville (now Delmar) and a descendant of a family that had emigrated from London, England. Lucretia (Miller) Stillman was of Dutch descent. Rev. Stephen suddenly died in 1869, when William was 12 years old. After his father’s death, William and his mother moved to Albany.
William Olin Stillman was educated in the Albany Public Schools and a religious Sunday School. Although his father had been a minister, William felt that many of the church’s teachings were too rigid and intolerant with the result that his arguments got him sent home from several Sunday School classes.
William graduated from Albany Medical School with an MD degree in 1878. At 21 years old, he was the youngest member of his class but he graduated with the highest honors. He was also awarded a master’s degree from Union College in 1880. He worked as a physician at a sanitarium in Saratoga Springs from 1878 until 1883 and wrote A Guide to the Use of the Saratoga Mineral Waters (1881). The short work was read before the Albany County Medical Society in 1880 and first published in the Philadelphia Medical and Surgical Reporter that same year.
In 1880, he married Frances M. Rice of Boston and he and his wife departed for Europe where he did post-graduate medical studies in London, Berlin and Vienna. They returned in 1884, and he relocated to 287 State Street in Albany. His office was on the first floor and his home occupied the upper three floors.
During his years of practice in Albany, he authored several articles for medical publications, lectured at Albany Medical College on medical history and invented several professional surgical instruments. At that time Albany Medical College was located on Eagle Street between Lancaster and Jay Streets. Stillman also founded the Albany School for Nurses, qualifying nurses for the state registration exam and certification.
As the planned celebration for Albany’s Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of the charter of the city, approached in 1886, Stillman was appointed chairman of the Historical Committee. His efforts produced an exhibit then valued at $750,000, a considerable amount in 1886. When the bicentennial celebration ended, Stillman formed the Albany Historical Society to take possession of the historical collection and preserve and exhibit it for the residents and visitors to Albany. Later this society merged with the Albany Institute and Historical Society, and they later became the Albany Institute of History and Art.
By 1880, Stillman had become interested in archaeology and spent some time participating in an archaeological study of the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington. For a time, he was elected president of the New York State Historical Association. Stillman was a collector of antiquities, especially Native American artifacts.
In 1887 and 1888, Dr. Stillman served as physician to Albany’s Open Door Mission, a temporary shelter and food kitchen for transient adults, and also served as physician to the Albany Hospital for Incurables, a hospital that cared for terminal cases.
From 1888 to 1892, Stillman also served as the physician to the Baby’s Nursery at the Lathrop Memorial. The Lathrop Memorial was a large home on State Street previously owned by the family of Dyer Lathrop who had been a founder and treasurer of the Albany Orphanage. His daughter, Jane, married Leland Stanford who later founded the Central Pacific Railroad and served as governor and later U.S. senator from California. Leland and Jane Stanford donated the land and funds to found Stanford University. Jane had temporarily returned to Albany when her parents died and donated the family home and $100,000 in Central Pacific Railroad bonds to the Albany Orphanage to run the Lathrop Memorial to house infants.
During this time, Dr. Stillman also became active in humanitarian causes and became active in the Albany County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children which was founded in 1887. He was also a trustee of the Fairview Home for Friendless Children, one of the first orphanages in the area, located on Boght Road in today’s Town of Colonie. The Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society ran the Fairview Home.
This Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, later the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society (for children), was also the local branch of the American Humane Association, a national organization, which had been founded in 1877 for the protection, education and care of unhoused and maltreated children.
A second organization, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a national organization, was formed in 1866 with Henry Berg as president. In 1892, an Albany Branch of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals group was formed.
In 1893, the Albany Branch of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was merged with the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society (children). This was the first, and possibly only, organization founded in New York with the mission to assist both children and animals. Stillman was elected president of the new group.
The Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society (for both animals and children) acquired a building at the corner of Eagle and Howard Streets, formerly the local jail and then Albany Hospital. The building housed destitute and abandoned children and administrative offices.
Due to the building’s history, it had a very unusual design. Visitors entering the front entrance looking for the director had to walk through the Wildlife Department and out into the yard. If the director was not there, they had to exit the building and walk around the corner and re-enter the building through another entrance. Here they would walk through the Animal Trap Exhibition Hall of Fame and then up stairs to the Child Protection Department where they might find the director.
An early report also said that the society owned a valuable rest farm for horses on which it has erected a model shelter building for small animals. This facility was described as being half way between Troy and Albany and probably was the current Menands animal facility of the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society.
In 1895, at the urging of the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society, Albany passed its Dog Law. The Dog Law mandated that all dog owners in Albany must purchase a dog license from the Humane Society, and gave the Humane Society the right to seize any unlicensed dog. The income from the dog license requirement provided significant funding to the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society. The dog licensing, adoption and care of dogs, cats and horses was conducted from the Menands animal facility.
The Albany orphanage was created to accept both orphans and neglected children but so quickly became overwhelmed with several hundred children that they changed their policy and would only accept orphans. This left neglected, abandoned and destitute children, together with children that had come under court supervision due to criminal behavior or maltreatment, without a service provider. The Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society was attempting to fill this gap and provide humane care for these children.
At the same time, the Hudson & Mohawk River Humane Society was trying to mandate and provide humane treatment for animals, primarily domestic animals. Horses, dogs and cats were their primary clients, but other types of pets and poultry also came under their mandate.
Dr. Stillman personally investigated some complaints of abuse to both children and animals and frequently appeared in court to give testimony in abuse cases. Stillman personally supervised the agents investigating charges of abuse and at one point discharged most of them when he found that they were spending too much time in the office and not enough time investigating cases. Stillman established a training school to train Humane Society agents.
The 1900 census showed Dr. Stillman still living at 287 State Street with his wife and two female servants: Mary Sweeney, cook, single, 36 years of age and born in Ireland and Margaret Farrington, waitress, single and 21, born in New York. By 1920, Stillman’s home also included Bertha Bond, secretary, 35 and single. By 1923, Stillman also owned a beautiful country home along the Hudson River where he kept his horses, dogs and poultry. An historical review magazine said that he was an ardent motorist although he never took long trips and loved history, his library and studying painting.
In 1901, Albany’s Dog Law was contested. A suit was filed by Albany residents and dog owners Frederick Fox and Melvin L. Evans in Supreme Court contesting the city’s right to mandate purchase of dog licenses from the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society. The court upheld the law but on review the Court of Appeals overturned the decision stating that “the court comes to the conclusion, however, that the statute is unconstitutional so far as it requires the owner of a dog to pay a license fee to the society for its own use that being an unauthorized appropriation of public moneys.”
Thus, the mandated source of income for the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society ended and financial support for humane animal treatment fell back to voluntary contributions. The Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society did however continue to receive public support for housing court supervised children.
In 1904, Silliman was elected president of the national American Humane Association (children).
It had been the practice of the American Humane Association (now known as American Humane) to operate out of the office of its president since it had no employees. After Stillman took over in 1905, he moved the operation of the national organization to Albany. It seems that the functions of the American Humane Association (children) and the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) were merged at this time.
In 1913, Dr. Stillman created the National Humane Review, a periodical presenting the viewpoint and efforts of the American Humane Association. The periodical, edited by Stillman, was over 25 pages long. The National Humane Review carried articles on neglected children, seeing-eye dogs, regional meetings of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and also articles about the efforts of SPCA officers. Within a short time, the Review was distributed internationally. The National Humane Review became the principal mouthpiece of the humane movement throughout the United States. During Dr. Stillman’s tenure as president, the anti-cruelty societies in America grew from 280 to 565 and had branches in almost every state.
In 1915, the American Humane Association (originally children) was instrumental in getting Congress to proclaim the first “Be Kind to Animals Week.” “Be Kind to Animals Week” became an extremely popular annual event throughout the United States for over 50 years. The American Humane Association opposed certain types of animal traps, opposed cutting the ears of dogs or the tails of dogs or horses.
In 1916, as the First World War was in progress, the U.S. Army utilized a large number of horses and mules to transport weapons and equipment. Some officers still traveled on horseback. Together with their human teamsters and soldiers, many animals were being wounded or injured. The Red Cross was evacuating and treating soldiers but their animals did not come under their care. To try to remedy this, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker contacted Stillman and commissioned the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to assist. A new organization, the American Red Star Animal Relief was founded in Switzerland in 1914.
Stillman was appointed Director-General of the organization in the United States and helped raise a large amount of supplies and medical materials to treat horses. The Red Star Animal Relief purchased eleven large motor ambulances at a cost of over $60,000. Each ambulance was large enough to carry two horses. Veterinary drugs, medicines, bandages and instruments were purchased and rushed to the war front to supply government employed veterinarians. Seven other ambulances were furnished to American troops in the United States. The Red Star also purchased four automobiles and ten motorcycles for use by the veterinarians.
In 1923, Dr. Stillman was recognized as the principal leader causing the American Humane Association to become the effective national champion of the humane cause in the United States. During Dr. Stillman’s term the association’s budget increased from $700 to $40,000 annually. The organization went from no furniture, no equipment, no facilities and no employees to over 30 employees. Its first furniture and typewriter came on loan from Dr. Stillman’s home.
Dr. Stillman died at his home in Albany on March 15th, 1924 at the age of 67. His wife Frances died in October 1927 at her apartment at the City Club at 1 Elk Street. Funeral services for each of them were held at All Saints Cathedral and they were buried at the Stillman Family plot at Albany Rural Cemetery, Lot 107, Section 109.
In 1936, the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society reported investigating 1,483 cases involving the welfare of 1,940 children. Five hundred and forty-six children were cared for in their shelters. Also 2,487 cases of cruel treatment of animals were investigated involving 4,539 animals. Fourteen thousand three hundred sixty-four small animals were cared for at the society farm.
On September 13th, 1938, the first permanent home of the American Humane Association opened in a beautiful Florentine residence on the corners of Dove and Washington Avenue in Albany. The building was the previous home of William Goram Rice, who had reduced the price of his home to allow the Humane Association to afford to purchase it.
In 1939, the society began the formation of an ASPCA police force in Hollywood to protect animals used in the production of motion pictures from “gross cruelties.”
In 1940, the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society was moved to the Stillman Memorial (former Rice Building). In 1941, they moved again, this time to 7 Elk Street. By 1941, the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society seemed to be only housing transient children. They had the children divided into two categories: dependents and delinquents. The two groups were kept separated.
Dependents were described as children between four and sixteen years old who came to them through no fault of their own who needed temporary housing. The average stay was given as 13 days. The delinquents were described as those who have broken the law and were housed at the shelter until the court disposed of their cases and placed them elsewhere.
An early report listed 24 children at the shelter, “3 boys are being held pending transfer to a State Institution, 3 are runaway girls, 7 are dependent children being cared for until domestic situations are straightened out, 4 are held for truancy, 3 disorderly boys, 4 delinquent boys held pending investigation of charges of petit larceny.”
In 1941, the organization stated that about 60% of their expense was covered by taxes and 40% comes from gifts, memberships and contributions. By 1944, the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society opened a Farm & Kennel at Irving Place in Menands where they housed animals. In 1948, they added a pet cemetery at the Menands facility and in 1952 they added the Stillman Memorial Animal Hospital in Menands.
In 1953, the Headquarters of the American Humane Association moved to Denver, Colorado from its previous home at 135 Washington Ave., the Rice House. The building was taken over by Blue Cross-Blue Shield and later by the Albany Institute of History and Art.
American Humane offers the William O. Stillman Award to an individual or an animal “for recognition of a humane act of rescuing animals at personal risk or of the rescue by an animal of human life by virtue of extreme intelligence in an emergency.” Among the winners of the award are a Priscilla, pig who rescued an 11-year-old girl in 1984 and Prissy, a cat who woke her human to warn her of a fire.
In 1953, the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society sheltered 503 children. In 1955, they provided shelter to 527. In early 1957, Albany County authorities began opposing private organizations providing detention facilities and a new youth detention center was constructed at the Albany County Jail. In 1957, the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society stopped sheltering children.
Today the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society, now known as the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, is located at their facility in Menands where they still house and treat domestic animals.
Stillman’s papers are now part of the New York State Library, a gift from William C. Ketchum in 2009.
Illustrations, from above: The Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society’s building on Fourth Street in Troy, NY; the entrance of Congress Spring Park, Saratoga Springs, 1881, from William O. Stillman’s book on the mineral springs Guide to the Use of the Saratoga Mineral Waters; the Humane Association building at the corner of Eagle and Howard Streets; William O. Stillman in 1896; “Be Kind To Animals” poster from Syracuse, NY; an American Red Star Animal Relief poster from World War One; and William O. Stillman with his dog Laddie shortly before his death.