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Animal Rights

September 23, 2020 - Psychology Today

Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement

Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement
Henry Bergh, author of 'A Traitor to His Species'© Photabulous!

As a historian, I have spent my career exploring ways that our own values and social practices evolved out of profound changes that affected Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, years when the country experienced an industrial revolution and rapid growth of what became the modern city. So, I have written about the origin of our ideas about disability rights and free speech rights, and our love and dread of new technologies.

In A Traitor to His Species, I am using Henry Bergh’s important and colorful crusade against cruelty to show that these years also mark a turning point in how Americans live with and think about animals.

Looking at images of the American urban life in those years, you can’t help but notice that, along with men in bowler hats and women in puffy sleeves, the streets are full of horses. Dig further and you find that American cities were dense with animals—packs of stray dogs, milk cows in back alleys, pigs rooting in the abundant garbage that clogged the gutters, herds of sheep and cattle goaded into the city’s many butcher shops and slaughter houses.

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