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More Than Just The Founder Of The ASPCA

How Henry Bergh paved the way into a cruelty-free America

By: Itzel Macias Ibarra


When I think of the ASPCA, I think of cute little kittens and puppies waiting to be adopted into their forever homes or the sad commercials that incentivizes me to donate money. But like many others, I was unaware of how the organization came to be. Known as the "The Great Meddler," Henry Bergh paved the way for an anti-cruelty America. Not an easy task to do when the means of entertainment were dog and cockfights.

Socialite turned advocate

Portrait of Henry Bergh

Bergh was born into wealth, where he enjoyed a comfortable and luxurious life. Inheriting his father's wealth meant he and his wife could travel all around Europe, indulging in the best the country could offer. Something that would soon change after he was appointed a diplomat for Russia by Abraham Lincoln. It was during this trip to Russia where he first noticed the abuse of animals. Enraging Bergh, he decided to put his wealth and status to use. Coming back to New York, Bergh drew support from business people, politicians and religious leaders. An admirable and ambitious thing to do during a time where America was not fond of animals. Although it was against the norm to leave his completely comfortable life, Bergh decided to put his money elsewhere and founded the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866. A change that would soon transform how people treat animals.

"This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues. It is a moral question in all its aspects,” Bergh said.

The Great Meddler

Bergh was fearless when it came to the stopping of animal abuse. He was not afraid to hold back and used force to prevent civilians from abusing their animals. Once dressed to the nines, Bergh was now used to having pig and fish guts thrown at him. His meddling in everyone's business got him the name of "The Great Meddler," meant as an insult but leaving Bergh unbothered. An admirable act to follow because, despite the hate, he continued to do what he felt was right.

Bergh’s Compassion

Bergh's compassion and desire to end cruelty extended to children. His first encounter

ASPCA’s original seal made by Frank Leslie

with helping children happened in 1875 when he was first introduced to a girl that was being abused by her foster home. By the name of Mary Ellen Wilson, Bergh was able to remove her from her abusive household. This sparked a new interest in Bergh, who then co-founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Henry Bergh was more than just a wealthy man who wanted to end animal cruelty. His long efforts paved the way for new societies to pop up across America and redefine animal cruelty. If it wasn't for his courageous acts and persistent behavior in doing what he believed, the animal world would look a lot different today.



About the Author

Itzel Macias Ibarra is a student at the University of North Texas, where she is majoring in journalism with a concentration in public relations and a minor in merchandising. Itzel is hoping to start a PR career once she graduates from school in December 2021.