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Mary Ellen Wilson

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Name  Mary Wilson

Mary Ellen Wilson Mary Ellen Wilson Woods Amarillo GlobeNews

Born  March 1864 (age 92), Hell's Kitchen, New York, United States

Died  30 October 1956 (aged 92), Monroe County, New York, United States

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Mary Ellen Wilson (March, 1864 – October 30, 1956) or sometimes Mary Ellen McCormack was an American whose case of child abuse led to the creation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. As an eight-year-old, she was severely abused by her foster parents, Francis and Mary Connolly. Laws preventing cruelty to animals were used to remove her from the home, as laws preventing cruelty to children were yet to be created then. Hers was the first recorded child abuse case in the United States.


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Mary Ellen was born March, 1864 to Frances and Thomas Wilson of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. Upon Thomas' death, Frances had to take a job and was no longer able to stay at home to raise her infant daughter. She boarded her daughter, a common practice at the time, with a woman named Mary Score. When Frances Wilson's financial situation worsened, she began to miss her visitation dates with her daughter and was no longer able to make child care payments to Score. Score turned Mary Ellen, now almost two, in to the New York City Department of Charities.

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The Department placed Mary Ellen under the care of Thomas and Mary McCormack. (Mary went on to marry Francis Connolly following Thomas' death.) According to Mary Connolly's court testimony, Thomas McCormack, Mary Connolly's first husband, claimed to be Mary Ellen Wilson's biological father. The Department of Charities placed Mary Ellen into the McCormacks' care illegally, without the proper papers or receipts served. Thomas McCormack signed an "indenture" agreement upon retrieving Mary Ellen from the Department of Charities' care, but did not explain his or his wife's relationship with the child to the Commissioner of Charities and Correction. The McCormacks were required to report the child's condition annually to the Department, but, according to Mary Connolly's later court testimony, this only occurred once or twice during Mary Ellen's stay.

Investigation into abuse

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After Mary Ellen came into the McCormacks' care, Thomas McCormack died. Mary McCormack married Francis Connolly, moving together with Mary Ellen to an apartment on West 41st Street. It was at this address that neighbors first became aware of young Mary Ellen's mistreatment. Her foster mother forced her to do heavy labor, repeatedly beat, burned and cut the child, and locked her in a closet. When the Connollys moved to a new address, one of the concerned neighbors from their 41st Street apartment asked Etta Angell Wheeler, a Methodist missionary who worked in the area, to check in on the child. Wheeler, under the pretext of asking Mrs. Connolly's help in caring for Connolly's new neighbor, the chronically ill and home-bound Mary Smitt, gained access to the Connollys' apartment to see Mary Ellen's state for herself. When Ms. Wheeler saw evidence of severe physical abuse, malnourishment, and neglect in Mary Ellen's condition - she was seen barefoot in December for example - Wheeler began to research legal options to redress the abuse and protect the young girl. After finding the local authorities reluctant to act upon the child cruelty laws currently in place, Wheeler turned to a local advocate for the animal humane movement and the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Henry Bergh. With the help of neighbors' testimony, Wheeler and Bergh successfully removed Mary Ellen from the Connolly home and took Mary Connolly to trial.

New York State Supreme Court

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Elbridge Thomas Gerry of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took her case to the New York State Supreme Court in 1874. At the time of the trial Mary Ellen was 10 years of age.

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The deliberate cruelties and deprivations inflicted on Mary Ellen Wilson by her adopted parents included the following:

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  • regular and severe beatings
  • insufficient food
  • being forced to sleep on the floor
  • having no warm clothes to wear in cold weather
  • being frequently left alone inside a darkened, locked room
  • being forbidden to go outdoors, except at night in her own yard

  • Mary Ellen Wilson Mary Ellen Wilson 18641956 or sometimes Mary Ellen McCormack was

    The child testified in court regarding the abuse she had suffered, and afterward – on April 10, 1874 – she said:

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    My father and mother are both dead. I don’t know how old I am. I have no recollection of a time when I did not live with the Connollys. Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day. She used to whip me with a twisted whip—a rawhide. The whip always left a black and blue mark on my body. I have now the black and blue marks on my head which were made by mamma, and also a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors. She struck me with the scissors and cut me; I have no recollection of ever having been kissed by any one—have never been kissed by mamma. I have never been taken on my mamma's lap and caressed or petted. I never dared to speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped. I do not know for what I was whipped—mamma never said anything to me when she whipped me. I do not want to go back to live with mamma, because she beats me so. I have no recollection ever being on the street in my life.

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    Mrs. Connolly was sentenced to jail for one year. That year the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded, the first organization of its kind.

    Later life and death

    Following the conviction of Mary Connolly, Mary Ellen was initially placed in a juvenile home, before Etta Wheeler and her relatives successfully obtained custody of her. Mary Ellen named her daughter, Etta, after Etta Wheeler.

    In 1888 at age 24, Mary Ellen married Lewis Schutt. They had two children together. Schutt had three children from his previous marriage, and they later adopted an orphaned girl. Mary Ellen died in 1956, at 92.


    Mary Ellen Wilson Wikipedia