Carolyn Verhoeff was born in Louisville in 1876. Her father, Herman Verhoeff, an immigrant from Germany, built and owned a grain elevator among his other business interests; her mother, Mary J Verhoeff, was a native Kentuckian.
Carolyn Verhoeff attended Vassar College and then studied kindergarten pedagogy with Patty Smith Hill, who founded Louisville’s first kindergarten training program. In 1964, Verhoeff remembered Hill fondly: “Her deep love for little children, her continuous interest in their individual development and progress, her determination to find and use only the best and most advanced educational principles and practices, made her so inspiring a leader that she and her students…established kindergartens that became renowned at home and abroad.” Later, Verhoeff worked as a kindergarten teacher until 1903, when kindergarten classes were incorporated into the Louisville public school system. While active as a kindergarten teacher, Verhoeff took a trip around the world and visited a kindergarten taught by another graduate of the Louisville program in Hiroshima, Japan.
For kindergarten children, Verhoeff wrote three books: All About Johnnie Jones, Four Little Sisters, and Love me, Love my Dog. These books carried a strong message to children about the humane treatment of animals—an issue about which Verhoeff, who had been a vegetarian since the age of seven, always cared passionately.
Verhoeff’s interest in suffrage arose out of her work in many civic and charitable associations. Among these was the College Club, an organization of women college graduates who provided scholarships to promising female high-school graduates, worked to improve the salaries of high-school teachers, and contributed to the support of women’s dormitories at co-educational universities.
Verhoeff was also a supporter of settlement houses, which were community centers founded by educated young people who provided services to residents of poor and immigrant neighborhoods. In 1912, she attended a reception in Louisville for Julia Lathrop, a well-known resident of Hull House in Chicago, headed by Jane Addams. Addams and Lathrop campaigned for women’s right to vote, which they saw as a means to empower women in the cause of social reform.
Verhoeff became an active suffragist. In 1914, she poured tea at a tea party given by the Louisville Woman Suffrage Association where a teacher from Frankfort, Ruth van Pelt, recounted her experiences as a suffrage organizer. In 1915, the LWSA appointed her the Chair of a Committee on Information, charged with classifying cataloguing all literature on woman suffrage in the Louisville Public Library. She served as a delegate from Louisville to the convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in Lexington in 1916, and in the same year traveled to participate in a suffrage parade in Chicago.
After suffrage was won, Verhoeff focused on the cause that had always been closest to her heart—the welfare of animals. Toward the end of her life, she recalled her first visit to the dog pound on Hancock Street. “I was never so horrified and disgusted in my life,” she said of the conditions she observed there. In 1922, she organized a committee composed of members of the Women’s City Club and the and the Humane Society to petition city government to abolish existing pounds and to establish a more modern shelter, and the petition was successful. She worked with the Animal Rescue League to install water troughs for horses and mules in the city.
Verhoeff was also concerned about the conditions under which scientists used animals as research subjects at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. When she initiated contact with researchers, she recalled, “the atmosphere was very chilly…the doctors were interested in the relief of human suffering. I was interested in relief of dog suffering. Finally, we learned to work together toward a common goal, the relief of all suffering.” The medical school opened its doors to inspectors from the Humane Society, and Verhoeff herself made these inspections for many years,
In 1957 the University of Louisville Medical School honored her for her efforts on behalf of research animals, and in 1959 she received a citation from the National Society of Medical Research for her “constructive concern for the welfare of animals serving medical science.” The Carolyn Verhoeff Animal Care Center was established in the University’s Medical-Dental Research Building in 1963.
Carolyn Verhoeff died June 27, 1975.
Ann Taylor Allen, “Gender, Professionalization, and the Child in the Progressive Era: Patty Smith Hill, 1868-1946,” Journal of Women’s History 23, no. 2 (Summer, 2011) http://muse.jhu.edu.echo.louisville.edu/article/438988
Childhood Education Association, “A Tribute to Miss Patty Smith Hill,” unpublished ms., Patty Smith Hill Papers, Filson Historical Society.
Carolyn Verhoeff, “Animal Welfare Aims and Medical Research Needs,” Bulletin of the National Society for Medical Research (May-June, 1949): 12-17.
Carolyn Verhoeff, All About Johnnie Jones (Springfield, Massachusetts: Milton Bradley Co., 1907).
Carolyn Verhoeff, Four Little Fosters (Cooperstown, NY: Crist, Scott, and Parshall, 1908).