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New center will highlight Philadelphia’s vegan roots

Lehmkuhl’s walking tours start at the Vegan Center’s future home at 17 N. Second St. and loop through Old City for about 75 minutes. There are very few existing landmarks on the cityscape that tell the story of American veganism, so Lehmkuhl relies on the walkers’ imaginations and a portfolio of his own illustrations of, for example, the Loganian Library that used to be on Sixth Street, where Lehmkuhl is convinced transcendentalist Amos Branson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott (author of “Little Women”), was converted to vegetarianism.

There is at least one physical artifact representing early vegan thinking in Philadelphia: On the south edge of Washington Square Park is a stone-carved watering trough dating to the 19th century. It was one of many troughs Caroline Earle White had installed around the city, out of concern for the health of horses and dogs.

The horse watering trough in Washington Square was a project of animal welfare activist Caroline Earl White in 1903. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

A lifelong animal welfare activist and suffragist, White co-founded the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but could not serve on its board because she was a woman. She later formed the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

Though White lived a life oriented around animal welfare, she was not a “vegan,” per se, as the term did not exist until the 1940s. Philadelphia played a major role in the modern vegan movement: It was the place where H. Jay Dinshah toured the Cross Bros. slaughterhouse in Kensington in 1957. He was so repulsed by what he saw there, he immediately set about to create the American Vegan Society.

Once the American Vegan Center opens in the fall, Lehmkuhl said, it will have a bookstore, an event space, a kitchen for cooking demonstrations ,and a gift shop, and will be an information resource to help tourists with their immediate needs, such as: “Where can I go for lunch?” Lehmkuhl is developing a brochure of area restaurants that offer vegan options, for both his center and the Visitors Center in Independence Mall.

“One of the things that I’m hoping for as we go forward is to have [vegan] history be integrated into the overall historical tourism industry in Philadelphia,” he said. “Including the tour guides. I would love to get across the concept that, maybe this could be part of your tour. Because everybody’s looking for interesting little things.”

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