George Thorndike Angell

George Thorndike Angell has long been a hero of mine, both because he founded one of the premier humane societies in America and because he hails from my hometown.

I obtained most of what follows from the web site of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which Angell created in 1868. The MSPCA was formed two years after the ASPCA in New York, making it the nation's second-oldest animal-welfare organization.

Angell was born in Southbridge, Mass., in 1823, the son of a school teacher and a minister. He studied at Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, and practiced law in Boston. But it was an event in March 1868 that paved the way for his true calling as an advocate for animals.

That month, Angell either saw or read about two horses, each carrying two riders, that were run to death on a 40-mile course over rough roads. (Accounts differ as to whether he was an eyewitness to this cruel race.)

Appalled by this incident and inspired by the work of Henry Bergh, the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York, Angell wrote a letter of protest to the Boston Daily Advertiser. 

His letter caught the eye of Emily Appleton, a prominent Bostonian who was involved in protecting animals. Within a month, with Appleton's support, Angell incorporated the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Three months later, the Massachusetts Legislature, at Angell’s urging, passed the state’s first general laws against cruelty to animals.

The following month, the MSPCA published the first issue of Our Dumb Animals, the first magazine dedicated to animal welfare. More than 200,000 copies were distributed, 25,000 of them by Boston police officers.

The MSPCA eventually attracted the support of such Massachusetts luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Quincy Adams. The animal-welfare movement quickly blossomed across the country, and by 1871, several states had enacted anti-cruelty laws.

Angell was strongly committed to humane education, and in 1881, he launched the Bands of Mercy, a nationwide network of clubs for boys and girls that had attracted close to 250,000 members by 1883.

Six years later, Angell formed the American Humane Education Society, which was designed to teach people of all ages about animal welfare.

Also known for his work as a criminologist and as an advocate of public health and food safety, Angell died in Boston in 1909. There is an impressive monument honoring him in Boston’s financial district.