What is the historical fact that would make most people sad if they found out?

In the 1860s, abused children in the United States were not protected by law. So animal activists had to step in to rescue an abused girl. Mary Ellen Wilson was America’s first child abuse case and started welfare rights for abused children.

If you hit and mistreated your furry animal, the newly formed ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) had the right to take it away from you. In some cases, you may be arrested.

But if you hit and neglected a child, the law allowed it because children were considered the father’s property.

Little Mary’s story begins tragically. Her father was killed in the American Civil War shortly after she was born, forcing her penniless mother to place her in the care of Martha Score while she found work. After missing some payments, Martha Score cruelly committed Mary Wilson to the New York City Department of Charities without her mother’s consent.

After her financial situation improved, Mary’s mother, Francis Wilson, returned to rescue her daughter, only to be falsely informed by Martha Score that her daughter had died. Distraught, Francis Wilson left, unaware of the horrors his daughter faced after being adopted by Mary and Thomas McCormack.

Back then, adoption was easy and unregulated. The couple entered the orphanage, Thomas claimed to be his legitimate father and they took Mary Wilson home with them. The purpose of its adoption was to have an indentured servant , basically a form of unpaid servant.

Thomas McCormack died shortly after the adoption, and Mary McCormack remarried Francis McConnell. It was during this period that Mary Wilson suffered extreme mistreatment. It was common knowledge in the neighborhood that her adoptive mother beat her a lot.

Mary Wilson was beaten, burned, whipped and locked in a closet for hours. They forced her to do heavy lifting and sleep on the floor. The girl slept on a dirty mat in a closet where she was chained like a dog.

During that time, Etta Wheeler, who was a missionary working for the poor, learned of the abuse and investigated. She expected to find an abused child, but she was still horrified by what she saw. Mary Wilson’s frail, starved body was covered in burns and cuts.

He went to the authorities to get Mary Wilson out of that abusive home, but the local authorities were unwilling to help, pointing out that corporal punishment was permitted by law and that Mary Wilson was the property of Francis McConnell.

“It will be better at home than on the street!” was the common belief.

Not knowing what to do next, she decided to appeal to the organization that fought against animal cruelty. Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, was eager to help and took legal action after Etta Wheeler gathered evidence and testimony about the mistreatment.

During the case, these were Mary Wilson’s chilling words about what she experienced:

My father and mother are dead. I don’t know how old I am. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t live with the Connollys. Mom has a habit of spanking and hitting me almost every day. He used to whip me with a twisted whip, a cattle whip. The whip always left bruises on my body. Now I have some bruises on my head that Mom made and also a cut on the left side of my forehead that I made with scissors. He hit me with the scissors and cut me; I don’t remember being kissed by anyone; Mom never kissed me. I never climbed onto my mother’s lap and stroked or hugged her. I never dared talk to anyone, because if I did they would whip me. I don’t know why they spanked me, mom never said anything to me when she spanked me. I don’t want to go back to live with Mom because she beats me up a lot.

Her stepmother was found guilty of criminal assault and sentenced to one year hard labor. It doesn’t seem like an appropriate phrase. He should have received more punishment for the mistreatment he inflicted.

Mary Wilson went on to live a happy life under the care of Etta Wheeler’s younger sister. He married and had two daughters, then adopted an orphaned girl. One of his daughters was named Etta, after the woman who rescued her.

He lived happily until his death at the age of 92. According to her children and grandchildren, she rarely spoke about her early years and always had a kind and caring nature despite her horrible past.

After the Mary Wilson case, laws against child abuse were established.

For most of history, children and women were considered the property of their father or husband. This story serves to show how backward society was.

Do you believe there was a time when animals were more protected than children? Sad but true.

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