A “community organizer” before the term was even coined, Kate Harrison Friend of Waco truly lived up to the label of “tireless crusader.”
Her interests were myriad, her reach vast. And for more than 60 years of Waco’s history there were few causes in which she did not invest her time, talent or treasure.
The tireless town activist — like many modern residents — was not born in Waco, but got here as quick as she could. Born in Boligee, Ala., around 1856 to Dr. Nathaniel and Araminta (Harrison) Friend, the lass known to all as “Miss Kate” was a descendant of famed Indian princess Pocahontas on her father’s side, and on her mother’s side she was related to President William Henry Harrison.
Her parents moved to Cuero, Texas, shortly after her birth. After her father died in 1877, Friend and her widowed mother visited friends in Waco about 1885, and found the city so much to their liking they stayed and opened a private school here. Years later, Miss Kate was able to find work as a principal for Waco Independent schools.
Starting in 1902, Friend made waves in town through her agitation for animal rights. Her fans recalled that during the horse-and-buggy days of Waco, if she would encounter a starving or mistreated horse or mule, she would command the driver release the beast from harness.
“Maybe its back would be raw, or its bones sticking almost out of the skin,” reported the Times-Herald, in its obituary of the grande dame. “And if that driver didn’t do as Miss Kate said, she’d get a policeman and force him to obey her. She put many a horse in a shelter and fed it and had it cared for.”
The 1949 president of the Waco Humane Society, James R. Jenkins, recalled that she “had a will of iron” behind her sweet-spirited demeanor, especially when battling for the helpless or hopeless.
And her kindness and quest for social justice didn’t end with the four-legged unfortunates of her adopted home.
“Down in Waco, Texas, there is no more sincere friend of homeless and friendless children — both black and white — than Miss Kate Friend,” lauded The National Humane Review in a 1919 issue. “Miss Friend is doing all she can to encourage humane education among the youth of her city and county.”
Indeed, in the early 20th century, “humane” organizations weren’t solely concerned with animal welfare, but also the treatment of abused women and neglected children.
Societies of do-gooders, such as the Texas Humane Society, founded in the 1890s in Waco and lead by folks like Miss Kate, concerned themselves with trying to preserve families or rescuing the most oppressed from their tormentors.
For several years in the 1920s, Miss Kate and her colleagues published The Texas Humane Review, a monthly periodical, for annual subscriptions of $1. Friend also lectured extensively throughout Texas and around the nation through the years for her “pet” causes.
In 1909, the National Humane Alliance honored Kate Friend with a fountain in the center of Waco, cleverly designed to give free-flowing water to cart animals on one level and small, free-roaming dogs and cats on the lower tier.
The pink granite base, decorated with lion spouts, had a large ring trough and four diminutive basins at the base.
The fountain was a fixture of the old downtown until 1930, when it was moved to the primitive animal shelter on Circle Road when city fathers decided to raze City Hall. It remained at that location for more than 50 years until it was rediscovered and restored in 1981 through the efforts of William Darden of Darden Building Materials.
With restoration by Dietz Memorial Co. and the finesse of Frances Sturgis of Waco Beautification fame, the Kate Friend Animal Fountain was returned to a place of honor on the lawn of Waco City Hall in March 1982.
Meanwhile, Miss Kate’s fame grew in animal welfare circles: a 1935 speech she gave in Washington, D.C., urging the establishments of shelters for homeless companion animals led to a $6,000 gift from a California matron, Marguerite Ravenscroft of Santa Barbara.
The grant (worth about $93,000 in modern dollars) resulted in the construction of the community’s first proper animal shelter.
She worked with the Waco Humane Society for more than four decades and was its secretary from 1924 until her death on May 14, 1949.
Survived by only two cousins — Nat and Norman Smith of Waco — Miss Kate left her estate instead to the Waco Humane Society, which recently became the Humane Society of Central Texas. Her admirers erected a grand tombstone to her at Oakwood Cemetery (and trimmed a decade off her years to boot), next to the far humbler stone she erected for her mother (1841-1931).
Some family trees offered by online genealogists give differing birth dates as well, such as 1870 (on a passport application) and 1872 and as late as 1874. But the Times-Herald maintained she was 93 when she died.
This year, Brazos Past will periodically revisit the life of Miss Kate Harrison Friend, who was also a nationally known club woman, famed Shakespeare scholar, educator, journalist and civic leader.
Additional sources included The Handbook of Texas On-Line, A Spirit So Rare: A History of the Women of Waco, by Patricia Ward Wallace (1984); The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas (Texian, 1972)