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I have no recollection ever being on the street in my life” Mary Ellen, April 10, 1874 in Watkins, 1990)., provided for by Section 65 of the Habeas Corpus Act, to bring Mary Ellen under court control.The newspapers also provided extensive coverage of the caregiver Mary Connolly’s trial, raising public awareness and helping to inspire various agencies and organizations to advocate for the enforcement of laws that would rescue and protect abused children (Watkins, 1990).She used to whip me with a twisted whip—a raw hide.
The sufferings of the little girl, Mary Ellen, led to the founding of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the first organization of its kind, in 1874.
Some of the inaccuracies stem from colorful but erroneous journalism, others from simple misunderstanding of the facts, and still others from the complex history of the child protection movement in the United States and Great Britain and its link to the animal welfare movement.
While it is true that Henry Bergh, president of the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), was instrumental in ensuring Mary Ellen’s removal from an abusive home, it is not true that her attorney—who also worked for the ASPCA—argued that she deserved help because she was “a member of the animal kingdom.”The real story—which can be pieced together from court documents, newspaper articles, and personal accounts—is quite compelling, and it illustrates the impact that a caring and committed individual can have on the life of a child.
Mary Mc Cormack Connolly badly mistreated Mary Ellen, and neighbors in the apartment building were aware of the child’s plight.
The Connolly's soon moved to another tenement, but in 1874, one of their original neighbors asked Etta Angell Wheeler, a caring Methodist mission worker who visited the impoverished residents of the tenements regularly, to check on the child. Bergh stated that his action was “that of a human citizen,” clarifying that he was not acting in his official capacity as president of the NYSPCA.
No longer able to stay at home and care for her infant daughter, Francis boarded Mary Ellen (a common practice at the time) with a woman named Mary Score.