Henry Bergh was born August 29, 1813 in New York City.
His father owned a shipyard, where Henry went to work after dropping out of Columbia College.
When his father sold the shipyard, Henry married Catherine Matilda Taylor and with his share of the inheritance left for a lengthy honeymoon traveling throughout Europe.
Then in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Henry secretary and acting vice-consul to the American delegation in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Russian climate did not agree with Henry, so he resigned in 1864, once more setting out to travel extensively in Europe as well as the Orient.
On these travels, he witnessed first-hand cruelties to animals all over the world. He met and became friends with the Earl of Harrowby, who happened to be the President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
As a result, when Henry Bergh finally returned to the United States in 1864, he resolved to work on behalf of animal welfare.
Henry’s new cause began to increase in influence as more like minded people also began to push for the more humane treatment of animals.
As a direct result of Henry’s efforts, on April 7, 1866 the first effective legislation against animal cruelty in the United States was passed into law by the New York State Legislature.
Then on April 10, 1866, Henry Bergh created the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) with himself as the organizations first president.
By August of 1866, Henry and his wife Catherine had donated to the ASPCA a valuable property that allowed the organization to flourish.
The organization once again was able to grow and expand in 1871 as a result of a donation from Louis Bonard. When Bonard passed away, he left $150,000 to the ASPCA which allowed them to move into larger quarters at the corner of 4th Avenue and 22nd Street in New York City.
In 1873, Henry Bergh went on a lecturing tour of the western United States.
This resulted in the formation of several regional ASPCA societies.
One of the outgrowths of Henry’s work with the ASPCA was an ambulance corps for removing disabled animals from the street, and a derrick to rescue them from excavations into which they had fallen.
Then in 1874, Henry 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 Henry’s efforts, other complaints came in to the ASPCA.
In response, Henry Bergh, 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 Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) in 1888.
Henry lost his wife Catherine in June of 1887 just as his own health began to fail.
He suffered from chronic bronchitis and died at his Fifth Avenue home on March 12, 1888.
Henry was buried next to his wife at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
At the time of his death, 39 states had adopted animal protection laws similar to the original laws Henry had procured from the legislature of New York.
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