“It Even Makes the Animals Laugh"

Contesting Henry Bergh and the Animal Protection Movement in Nineteenth-Century New York


  • Darcy Ingram




Henry Bergh, social movements, animal welfare, animal rights, animal protection movement, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American SPCA, ASPCA, framing, satire, media


Henry Bergh founded and became president of the first animal protection organi- zation in the United States, the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City in April 1866, the same month in which his ef- forts to secure modern animal welfare legislation at the state level—also a first—were realized. From then until his death in 1888, Bergh steered his organization and the movement through the streets, the slaughterhouses, the courts, and the halls of that city and the nation. As this article shows, his critics were never far behind. Through a combination of media reportage, annual reports, and correspondence, this article weighs the impact of satire and ridicule directed toward Bergh and the animal protec- tion movement alongside his efforts to reposition such coverage and in some cases to benefit from it. In doing so, it positions Bergh and the animal protection movement relative to issues of frame alignment, leadership, and performance in the context of a rapidly changing media landscape, the negotiation of which was central to the move- ment’s success or failure.