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Henry Bergh

Photo: New York Historical Society

Henry Bergh (August 29, 1813-March 12, 1888), a diplomat born in New York City, founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April, 1866; three days prior, the first effective legislation against animal cruelty in the United States was passed into law by the New York State Legislature. He began lecturing in the streets, courtrooms, and before legislature, and his cause gained friends and influence; the legislature passed laws prepared by him, and on April 10, the ASPCA was legally organized, with Henry Bergh as president.

During 1873, Bergh made a lecturing tour across the western United States. When he began his work, no state or territory of the United States had any statute relating to protecting animals from cruelty. By 1886, 39 states had adopted laws procured by the New York State Legislature.

In 1874, he was approached by a Methodist missionary named Etta Agnell Wheeler. Wheeler sought his help in rescuing a child, Mary Ellen Wilson from her abuser, Mary Connolly. Mary Ellen Wilson was rescued through Bergh’s efforts. Bergh, along with Elbridge T. Gerry and John D. Wright formed the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) in 1875. Over the coming years, other SPCC organizations were formed.

Henry Bergh died on March, 12 1888 in New York City, and was eulogized by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who said Bergh was “among the noblest in the land…friend to every friendless beast.”