It came as a surprise to everyone when The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which dedicated itself to animal protection, saved a child that was a victim of abuse. With the lack of a proper child protection agency, an organization was finally established to answer the needs of the vulnerable.
The rescuing of the child Mary Ellen from her abusive household became an evident indicator that child protective services needed to be widespread to save other children in cruel situations.
Mary Ellen and the Unique Animal Society
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, was established by Henry Bergh in 1866. Henry Bergh was an affluent New York citizen that ambitioned the ASPCA to mirror the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals situated in England.
When Henry founded the APSCA, it became the first organization in the United States of America that dedicated itself to the protection and rescue of animals. Years passed, and in the early 1870s, Mary Ellen Wilson, who was a wee child, was saved by the APSCA from an abusive situation in her house.
The rescuing of Mary Ellen Wilson became a catalyst that sparked Henry Bergh and Elbridge Gerry to establish the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the SPCC, becoming the first organization in the entire world to serve that purpose.
As seen in the New York Herald, written by Jacob Riis, Henry Bergh stated that the least they could’ve done to Mary Ellen was giving her the same rights as an animal that needed saving since she had acquired no justice from her situation. (Source: The Organization of American Historians)
The Development of the ASPCA
Organizations made to protect children and animals became widespread subsequent to Mary Ellen’s rescue. When 1908 came, there were already 185 societies dedicated to rescuing children and animals called humane societies. Additionally, there were also 149 more organizations that either specialized in the protection of children or animals. This cluster of organizations eventually led to the building of the American Humane Association in 1877, serving as the national organization that centered on child and animal protection.
The intention of Henry Bergh for the ASPCA wasn’t only to teach the individuals of communities to treat animals nicely; Bergh also saw the ASPCA as a platform to be in the position to produce laws that gave animals security and to participate in law enforcement.
Bergh was successful in his objective to produce a law that deemed animal cruelty as an offense and to give authority to the ASPCA to seek compliance with the terms of the law. The rules set by Bergh proved to be different from the laws in England as it didn’t deem the animal abuse as destruction to owned property or obstruction of peace; it saw animal abuse with regard to the violated rights of the animals themselves.
This unique and positive theme of legislation spread to 47 other states having a similar law, and soon, the people put their trust heavily in the anti-cruelty societies to encourage peace. (Source: The Organization of American Historians)