Henry Bergh

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Henry Bergh
From Who-When-What Book, 1900
Born Henry Bergh
(1813-08-29)August 29, 1813
New York City
Died March 12, 1888(1888-03-12) (aged 74)
New York City
Occupation Diplomat, activist for humane treatment of animals and children
Known for Founding the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, helping found the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Spouse(s) Catherine Matilda Taylor
Parent(s) Christian Bergh
Appletons' Bergh Henry signature.png

Henry Bergh (August 29, 1813 – March 12, 1888) founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April, 1866, three days after the first effective legislation against animal cruelty in the United States was passed into law by the New York State Legislature. Bergh also prompted the formation, in 1874, of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC).


Bergh was born in New York City and studied at Columbia College, after which he worked in his fathers' shipyard. After the shipyard was sold, Bergh received a share of the inheritance and set forth on a lengthy journey throughout Western Europe with his young bride, Catherine Matilda Taylor.

In 1862, Bergh was appointed secretary and acting vice-consul to the American legation in St. Petersburg, Russia by then President Abraham Lincoln. The severity of the climate obliged him to resign in 1864, and he traveled extensively in Europe and the Orient.[1]

On returning to the United States, Bergh resolved to work on behalf of animal welfare. Cruelties witnessed in Europe first suggested his mission. Alone, in the face of indifference, opposition, and ridicule, he began working as a speaker and lecturer, but most of all in the street and the courtroom, and before the legislature. His cause gained friends and rapidly increased in influence. The legislature passed the laws prepared by him, and on April 10, 1866 the ASPCA was legally organized, with Bergh as president.[1]

The association moved steadily forward, and by August was in a flourishing condition financially, having received a valuable property from Bergh and his wife. In 1871 a Parisian, Louis Bonard, who lived with extreme simplicity in New York, died and left $150,000 to the Society, which permitted a move to larger quarters, better adapted to its work, a building at the corner of 4th Avenue and 22nd Street.[1]

During 1873 Bergh made a lecturing tour in the western U.S., which resulted in the formation of several societies similar to that in New York. He spoke before the Evangelical Alliance and Episcopal convention, and was the means of having a new canon confirmed, to the effect that Protestant Episcopal clergyman should at least once a year preach a sermon on cruelty and mercy to animals.[1]

One of the outgrowths of his work was an ambulance corps for removing disabled animals from the street, and a derrick to rescue them from excavations into which they had fallen. He also originated an ingenious invention which substitutes artificial for live pigeons as marks for sportsmen's guns.[1]

When Bergh began his work, no state or territory of the United States contained any statute relating to the protection of animals from cruelty. By 1886, 39 states had adopted substantially the original laws procured by him from the legislature of New York.[1]

In 1874, Bergh was approached by a Methodist missionary named Etta Agnell Wheeler, who sought help rescuing a child named Mary Ellen Wilson from her cruel abuser, Mary Connolly. After Mary Ellen's story was heard, and she was subsequently rescued through Bergh's efforts, other complaints came in to Bergh. In response, Bergh himself, 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, such as the Massachusetts organization in 1888, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC).[2]

He died on March 12, 1888, in New York City. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow eulogized Bergh as "among the noblest in the land...friend to every friendless beast."[3][4][5] Henry Bergh is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.[6]


  • The Streets of New York, a volume of tales and sketches
  • Love's Alternative
  • The Portentous Telegram
  • The Ocean Paragon
  • Married Off, a poem (London, 1859)


In the spring of 2006 at Green-Wood Cemetery, while making preparations to honor Bergh, the ASPCA discovered that his wife was also in that mausoleum. On May 6, substantive ceremonies were held before a large audience which was allowed to bring their pets into the cemetery - including dogs, for the first time in over a century. The NYPD Emerald Society bagpipers and ASPCA HLE Agents were there also. After a walk to Bergh's tomb, the bas-relief statue was revealed that now rests in front. At the same time as these ceremonies, in the cemetery's large chapel building an exhibit was opened celebrating the history of the ASPCA and Henry Bergh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Bergh, Henry". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  2. ^ Two books on the case include Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson c1999, Dolphin Moon Publishing, Authors Eric A. Shelman & Stephen Lazoritz, M.D., and The Mary Ellen Wilson Child Abuse Case and the Beginning of Children's Rights in 19th Century America., c2005, McFarland, Authors, Eric A. Shelman & Stephen Lazoritz, M.D.
  3. ^ Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1893). "Tales of a Wayside Inn, Part Second: Interlude". In Scudder, Horace Elisha, ed. The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. New York: Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Retrieved 2015-07-12. Thus spake the Poet with a sigh;/ Then added, with impassioned cry,/ As one who feels the words he speaks,/The color flushing in his cheeks,/ The fervor burning in his eye:/ "Among the noblest in the land,/ Though he may count himself the least,/ That man I honor and revere/ Who without favor, without fear,/ In the great city dares to stand/ The friend of every friendless beast... 
  4. ^ Millspaugh, John Gibb (2011-08-01). "Henry Bergh: 'The great meddler'". UU World Magazine (Summer 2011). Retrieved 2015-07-12. 
  5. ^ O'Reilly, Edward (2012-03-21). "Henry Bergh: Angel in Top Hat or the Great Meddler?". From the Stacks. New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. Retrieved 2015-07-12. Among his supporters were a number of well-known literary figures, including Louisa May Alcott (alluding to him in her short story, Rosa’s Tale), Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who presented Bergh’s eulogy in 1888. 
  6. ^ "Death Of Henry Bergh. Helpless Animals Losing Their Protector. Career Of The Man Whose Monument Is The Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals". New York Times. March 13, 1888. Retrieved 2010-03-30. The death of Henry Bergh, who has been so long and universally known as the defender of abused animals, occurred yesterday morning at about 5 o'clock at his residence, 429 Fifth Avenue. For several months, in fact since the death of his wife in June last, Mr. Bergh has been gradually failing. He suffered from chronic bronchitis and enlargement of the heart, and although he was out last Tuesday for a ... 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend of Animals," Nancy Furstinger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • "Monsters and Miracles - Henry Bergh's America", Gary Kaskel, Infinity Publications (2013)
  • Friend of Animals: The Story of Henry Bergh, Mildred Mastin Pace, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (1942)
  • "The Child-Saving Movement", J. Riis, (1982), Childhood in America, P. Fass and M.A. Mason (eds.). New York: New York University Press, p 539-542 (2000).
  • Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson, Eric A. Shelman & Stephen Lazoritz, M.D., Lake Forest, CA, Dolphin Moon Publishing (1999) ISBN 0-9669400-0-8
  • The Mary Ellen Wilson Child Abuse Case and the Beginning of Children's Rights in 19th Century America, Eric A. Shelman & Stephen Lazoritz, M.D., New York, McFarland & Company Publishers, 2005. ISBN 0-7864-2039-1
  • Angel in Top Hat, Zulma Steele, (1942). New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

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