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Mary Ellen Wilson: America's First Recognized Child Abuse Case

I am a creative writer with a passion for bringing injustice to light. In that regard, I search out and write about true crimes.

When a little girl named Mary Ellen was abused, the courts would not help because there were no laws to prevent child abuse. Thankfully, animal abuse laws existed. The dedication of several kindhearted people saved Mary Ellen and led to the founding of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The New York SPCC, along with activists from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, worked together to form the American Humane Society. Together they would work to prevent this type of abuse from happening again. This is Mary Ellen’s story.

Mary Ellen was born in New York City in 1864 to Thomas and Fanny Wilson. Shortly thereafter, her father died in service during the Civil War. Her mother was forced to seek employment to care for herself and her daughter. She boarded her child with a woman and made payments for the baby’s care. This situation was common at the time. Mrs. Wilson became delinquent after failing to make her payments. Soon, she began missing visits to Mary Ellen due to poverty. In response, the caretaker gave the little girl to the Department of Charities. When Fanny finally came to see the toddler, she was told by the caretaker that the little girl had died. But Mary Ellen was now two years old and very much alive.

A man named Thomas McCormack appeared at the department and claimed to be the child’s biological father. The Department of Charities never asked for documentation, but simply turned the child over to Mr. McCormack and his wife Mary. Thomas McCormack died shortly after, and Mary McCormack got remarried to a man named Francis Connolly. Mary Ellen was supposed to be the illegitimate child of Thomas McCormack, but this was never verified. Mrs. Connolly hated the child because of the father’s betrayal, and the abuse began immediately upon his death.

Mary's Life With Mrs. Connolly

Mrs. Connolly mistreated Mary Ellen terribly, beating her daily. Neighbors later testified that when Mr. Connolly left for work in the morning, Mary would systematically beat the child for up to fifteen minutes at a time. They heard her crying and wailing while being dragged through the apartment. Though everyone in the building knew about the abuse, no one intervened. Later, a two-foot braided horsewhip was found and determined to be a tool used daily on Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen was never allowed to go outside or even look out the window. When Mrs. Connolly was away, she locked the child in a tiny, dark closet with only a piece of carpet to lie on and an old quilt to warm her. She was beaten, cut, starved and burned for more than seven years.

During this time, the family moved to another apartment building. However, the abuse had been so horrific that a former neighbor remained concerned for the little girl. When a Methodist mission worker visited, the lady asked Mrs. Etta Angell Wheeler to check on Mary Ellen. Etta Wheeler managed to get a brief entry into the apartment and what she found horrified her. Mary Ellen, now ten years old, was literally covered in scars, burns, welts, and a cut that ran from her forehead to her chin (her “mother” felt Mary Ellen was not holding a piece of cloth properly and slashed the girl’s face with scissors). Though it was December in New York, the child wore only a threadbare dress and was barefoot, standing on a stool while washing dishes. Mrs. Wheeler did not speak to Mary Ellen at this time.

When she left, she was determined to get the girl out of there. It took her three months to make any progress.

Mary Ellen and Mrs. Wheeler

Mrs. Wheeler went to the authorities with her story of Mary Ellen’s abuse, but the authorities did nothing. Some jurisdictions had laws prohibiting excessive physical discipline. In fact, New York permitted the removal of children from neglectful homes. However, their determination, in this case, was such that they would not intervene, so they left Mary Ellen with Mrs. Connolly.

In her quest to help the little girl, Etta Wheeler talked to her niece who said she should seek assistance from Mr. Henry Bergh, the founder of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The niece remarked, “She is a little animal, surely.” She meant that as a living, breathing, feeling creature, Mary Ellen was entitled to live as well as an animal. Not knowing where else to turn, Etta Wheeler went straight to Henry Bergh who listened but stated that he must have written documentation from witnesses.

Etta Wheeler obtained written evidence of the abuse from several neighbors, including one whose apartment shared a wall with the Connolly's. The neighbor told Mrs. Wheeler that she heard the beatings and the cries of the child on a daily basis. Etta took the neighbors' testimonies to Henry Bergh, who sent a worker out posing as a census taker. He was able to see the child himself and reported to Henry Berg that the allegations were true and accurate.

Mr. Bergh and the Fight to Save Mary Ellen

Mr. Bergh made it clear that he was acting as a concerned citizen and not in his capacity as president of the NYSPCA. Later, it was falsely said that the court case of Mary Ellen was conducted under this office and presented as an animal abuse case. He sent a NYSPCA worker to the apartment, and the allegations were confirmed as true and accurate. ASPCA attorney, Elbridge T. Gerry, prepared a petition and presented it before the court asking permission to remove Mary Ellen from the home so she could be brought to the judge to testify about the abuse. Judge Lawrence of the Supreme Court took the case. Mr. Bergh was instrumental in rescuing Mary Ellen. His position and ties to the legal community made people listen and take the case seriously. Once he became involved, Mary Ellen was rescued in forty-eight hours!

Through his urging, The New York Times became involved and sent reporters to cover the trial of Mrs. Connolly. From their reports, we have actual recordings of the account. When Mary Ellen was brought into the courtroom, she was still wearing the dress Mrs. Wheeler had seen her in three months before. Her face was disfigured and, only one day prior, had been slashed with scissors. Mary Ellen was ten years old but was only the size of a five- or six-year-old. Poor nutrition and circumstances had stunted her growth.

Until now, they had not even known the child’s name! Mary Ellen was in hysterics, having been locked inside for more than seven years, living with the constant fear that her stepmother would punish her for what was happening. She was carried into the courtroom wrapped in a blanket and holding a peppermint stick that a police officer had given her in hopes of calming her screams. Once she settled down, she was able to tell the Judge some of her ordeals.

On April 9, 1874, ten-year-old Mary Ellen testified, “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 (Mrs. Connolly) 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 anyone—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 of ever being on the street in my life.”

Life After Mrs. Connolly

On April 21, 1874, Mrs. Connolly was found guilty of felonious assault and sentenced to one year of hard labor in prison. I could not find anything more about her life after prison.

The court sent Mary Ellen to a home for grown girls who had been in trouble and were being reformed. Needless to say, this did not work at all. Jude Lawrence was Mary Ellen’s guardian, and Mrs. Wheeler prevailed upon him to release Mary Ellen into her custody. She went to live with Etta Wheeler’s mother in Rochester, New York, where she was exposed to a life of freedom and love. But she didn’t know what that meant at first.

Mary Ellen had been so deprived of life experience that she was unable to live normally for a while. She had to be taught how to walk outside. She had never walked upon uneven surfaces and could not distinguish between heights, grass, pavement, rocks, and pebbles. She had never seen living trees, grass, or flowers. She had seldom even seen the sky. She was unaware of accepted right and wrong behaviors and discipline was only physical to her. She had never owned a toy or played with other children. She had never been told of God and had no exposure to religion of any sort.

Mary Ellen learned to be a child by observing other children. The adults taught her manners and life skills. When Etta’s mother died, Mary Ellen went to live with Etta’s sister and was loved and treasured. She received religious instruction and learned how to run a household. She lived there until the age of 24 when she married a kind man. They had two children. and by all accounts, Mary Ellen was a gentle and loving mother. She named one daughter Etta in honor of the woman who had led the crusade to rescue her.

She seldom spoke of the early years, but she and Etta did once attend a session of the American Humane Association’s conference, where Mrs. Wheeler was the guest speaker. That was in 1913.

In 1956, Mary Ellen died at the age of 92. She lived a long and happy life following her horrific and harrowing early years.

Read More From Wehavekids

Mary Smitt, the Neighbor Who Cared

The following is taken from Etta Wheeler's personal account of the matters regarding Mary Ellen Wilson.

Mrs. Wheeler was trying to get into the apartment to see Mary Ellen when she met the neighbor, Mary Smitt. The Smitts lived next door to the Connolly family and shared a common wall through which sounds were easily heard.

Mary Smitt had come from Germany with her husband and shortly after became very ill. She became bedridden and was in a position to hear all that transpired on the other side of the common wall. She heard a child crying and thought, perhaps, the child was sick as well. As Etta Wheeler grew to know Mary Smitt, she shared her concern and mission to rescue Mary Ellen from the home.

As time passed, Etta grew to care for Mary Smitt. One Easter Sunday, Etta brought flowers to Mary, who was bedridden. That Easter, Mary Ellen had already been locked in a dark room for the day, and her step-parents had gone out—not planning to return until nightfall.

Mary Smitt and Etta Wheeler sat talking about Easter, Christ, and the Resurrection. Mary shared stories of her home and childhood in the Rhineland and said she longed to pass over to a better place where she would not be sick anymore. She told Etta that before she was to die, she wanted to know that the child was safe. She considered Mary Ellen a fellow sufferer.

The day after Mary Ellen was rescued and taken into safety, Mary Smitt died in peace knowing it was okay to leave. She had done all she could to help the little girl.

I was unable to locate more about Mary Smitt or her life.

Interesting Facts

  • Mr. Bergh worked to bring legislature that brought about The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was determined to prevent this sort of exploitation and abuse of children.
  • Elbridge T. Gerry became President of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and later wrote a book, The Relation of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to Child-Saving Work.
  • Mary Smitt, the neighbor who shared a common wall with Mary Ellen, died the day after Mary Ellen was rescued. She had hung on, hoping to see the child safely removed from the abuse.


Questions & Answers

Question: Did Mary Ellen Wilson's biological mother ever try to find her?

Answer: She did when Mary Ellen was very young but was told the child had died.

Question: What happened to Mary Ellen's birth mother, were they ever reunited?

Answer: They were not. It is believed that the birth mother died early.

Question: Why was Mary Ellen abused?

Answer: Because her stepmother was jealous of the birth mother's relationship with the father.

© 2011 Brenda Barnes


Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on January 10, 2018:

I am also. She probably suffered from nightmares but led a wonderful productive life.

Jenn from Pennsylvania on January 09, 2018:

That poor girl! I am so glad that she was taken out of that horrible situation and was able to live a much happier and long life.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on January 01, 2018:

It is believed that the mother died. Since I wrote the article, I found newspaper articles with more information. Some people who claimed to to Mary Ellen's grandparents in England petitioned the court for custody but it never manifested.

Deborah Minter from U.S, California on December 31, 2017:

Everything turned out alright.....Really sad story.

What happened to Mary's biological mother? Did she ever find out Mary was alive?

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 19, 2017:

I certainly believe that man did indeed participate in the torture of Mary Ellen Wilson. I will research the article. Thank you very much!

Paige Shreeve on December 04, 2017:

Hello Ms. Brenda, I found some info in a newspaper article that might interest you. A source told me that he heard that Mary had been murdered about a year after being released from prison, & the date of this article seems an ironic match. We'll never know, but it sounds like a possibility. I couldn't find any more articles about this murder. Also, I believe Francis Connolly skipped town to New Jersey to escape arrest. He also beat Mary Ellen, which is why she was always fearful of men, married a bit later etc. He basically left his wife with the full rap. Click on this link & scroll to the 4th column article "Unsolved Mystery".

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 27, 2017:

Hello sybol. It is indeed mind boggling and heart breaking. I thank God every day for people who refuse to ignore abuse and neglect and choose to change lives. I am so pleased you found Mary Ellen's story. I want millions to know so those millions can save our children now who suffer immeasurable misery.

sybol on August 27, 2017:

This story is so mind boggling for many reasons. Thank God for people who passionately get involved.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 07, 2017:

MrsReuland5, indeed we, as a society, have evolved into selfish units, concerned only with our own hapiness or that of the chosen ones we care about. There still are many loving people, just more that are not so that attitude prevails. I think of the Mary Ellen Wilson case almost daily and my heart always grieves for her and other children who suffer daily in our own time. We have to step us and DO something. Children still do not have rights such as adults have. The Childrens Protective Services agencies are clear that parents have rights even after they abuse, neglect and tracumitizze little children. It is tragic and forever sad.

Thank you for stopping by and learning about Mary Ellen Wilson.

MrsReuland5 on June 07, 2017:

The neighbor in this shocking piece of history should serve as an example for us all. We as a human race have become so concerned with ourselves that we turn our heads at the basic needs of others. The fact that we do this with children is just down right unexceptable. I can assure you I would not have had such patience with the legalities of it all...... something to be said about the saying.."pick on someone your own size."

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 07, 2016:

Thank you Carol. This story stays with me and I constantly remember Mary Ellen. My heart grieves for all the children who are not discovered and suffer for years, even decades. I pray that hearts are softened toward children. It is my hope that this article raises awareness and causes people to remain watchful and to report instances where things just seem "off."

Carol Morris on September 07, 2016:

Although this story has a happy ending it made me very sad. Sad for all of those children that this happened to and is still happening to today. Sad for those children who do not have a good neighbor to save them. You really drew me into this story with your excellent writing and the important subject.

bernie on December 01, 2015:

This real life story is a good movie material.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on October 26, 2015:

From what book Silvia? In any regard, lessons learned from experiences greatly differ from person to person bur collectively, the case of Mary Ellen Wilson caused people to agree we needed protection for children.

Silvia on October 25, 2015:

can you guys tell me the lessons learned by society from this book?

Cindy Franklin on May 25, 2015:

How sad that laws were in place to protect animals from abuse before the same protection was offered to children.

JLClose from OreGONE on May 16, 2015:

Heart breaking. Thank you for sharing her story.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on October 05, 2014:

Hello Kamara. I also was inspired to learn Mrs. Smith had so much compassion for Mary Ellen. We all can make a difference and reduce suffering. Thanks for stopping by to read about Mary Ellen. Her legacy will live forever.

Kamara Davis on October 01, 2014:

This story is very horrible but at least it has a positive outcome. Thank you for all the information that you were able to gather. I really liked that you told us about Mrs. Smith the neighbor that was concerned about Mary Ellen.

Jenni on April 04, 2014:

As a student of child development, in class we were told of Mary Ellen, but not her ordeal, only the first child abuse case on record. I am a young mother of 3, and it is so hard breaking to hear stories like this. What's even sadder is the fact abuse still happens in modern day, & when reported, sometimes nothing happens! I know of people with false reports & children immediately taken away, but I also know of many cases reported on the news of deaths by abuse and most younger kids. I pray for all the little suffering children.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on March 07, 2013:

Hello blairtracy. I also am thrilled that she had a happy life. She sure suffered horribly through her first years. I wish I had known Mary Ellen. Thanks for stopping by.

Hello aperry. One would think so but many children are still scarred and maimed. Child abuse is very prevalent today. Some hide it, some do not. All of it is awful and we as a society need to get involved. Thanks for reading Mary Ellen's story and leaving a comment.

iguidenetwork, I agree. Abused people do not have to continue the horror. Mary Ellen is proof. I am so glad her story is inspirational to you. It is to me.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on March 07, 2013:

Horrible and sad story, but I'm glad it ended happily and well. I don't believe that all abused children would grow into be abusive adults or parents, and Mary Ellen became a loving mother herself. Thanks for sharing.

aperry6969 on March 06, 2013:

things like this still happen today. abusers are just more careful about leaving marks.

Tracy B from Canada on March 06, 2013:

What a horrifying story. I am so happy to hear that it had a happy ending! Thank-you for sharing her story.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 26, 2013:

Hello Lucky. You call yourself by a positive name. I know the past can be left behind and we can overcome. I have done it personally. Bless you.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 26, 2013:

Hello Ahedden. Mary Ellen's story is with me always. So many children suffer horrible things and the world turns away. After more than a century, we still are failing to protect our little ones. I hope you are a voice and a light for them in your career. Bless you.

Ahedden on February 25, 2013:

This story is heartbreaking! It was so long ago ! Truth is tho that children were all to often mistreated and beaten as they r today . It's a sad situation . That's why I am going into the human services field to hopefully help ppl that r less fortunate .

Lucky on February 14, 2013:

I also wrore this one. My mom was an 18 year girl when she gave birth to a baby girl on 28 July 1985 who is me. I struggle to figure out why she did not threw me in the rubbish bin as some of the cruel women do, because the aftermath was a nightmare. She started looking for a job while moving to an old abandoned flat where she was not paying any rent. She finally found a job at a surgery of a certain doctor. I was three, when she started dating this doctor. He was a tall muscled body builder former militant and a doctor by profession. He was staying in a farm out of town with his parents. My mom and I moved in with him to this farm. From first day, life was hard between me and my stepfather together with his family (Though according to me he was my real father as I was told). His family was nicer to my mother but I was treated like trash. Strict rules were enforced just for me only. Things became worse as one of my cousin (father’s sister’s son) was staying there in the farm with us. One day he stole money from my grandmother’s purse. And I was accused of taking it. I was seven years by then. That was the first day that my mom showed me how sadistic she was. She beats me in order to impress my grandmother. I thought maybe I was not her daughter. She was demon possessed (according to my imagination). My cousin was always a sellout as he knew that I am not favorable to the rest of the family. I was more brilliant and my grades were good when I started my primary school in 1991. The relationship between me and my mom was no longer a mother daughter relationship.

After staying some months, we moved to his mansion in the suburb. The house was the last on the block. My mom was pregnant and she was on break from drugs at that time but still tries her best to please him by abusing me. Only my dad was still using them and he was always harsh and hostile at me. I didn't know what to do, or what to say. I would only get beat if I did something wrong. Then, things began to get worse and worse. Of course she beat me for whatever reason. On that time I was always wearing long sad wet face because I was always crying at a place called home. There was one occasion where she randomly threw me in my room and slapped me. I heard her scream outside my door: "God, why did you curse me with this demon!?" I have never forgotten this. It was 22 May 1992 when my mother gave birth to a baby boy called Prince. I was the sacrifice for his birth and I was doing grade two. I took responsibility for taking care of Prince at an early age. I was working from sun rise to set as unreasonable punishment. We were staying in a mansion but for me it was like hell. Slightly mistake that I could do would lead me into beatings.In 1997 during school holidays I was sent to his parent’s farm to help there. We used to plow with some horses. I was used to hold rein to direct horses to keep them in the furrow and my grandfather was guiding them with a whip. Sometimes he used to whip me on my hands intentionally where I would drop those reins down and ran away. By that, my grandfather told my father that I don't want to help him. My dad said it will be better if I must be harnessed with those horses to avoid what I was doing.

I remember when I was in elementary school, my teacher had written something about me being stubborn on my report card, I thought my mom couldn't read so I changed the date on an old report card and gave it to her. She noticed it and read it and found it was an old report card, this made her so angry, she went and got one of those big orange outdoor extension cords and began whipping me with it. While beating me I attempted to run out the back door and she screamed you “lil ***** if you leave out that door I'll kill you”. I stood there and let her beat me. I started defending myself by grabbing that cord. She took some handcuffs and handcuffed me to a post in the garage then beat me until I wet myself and leave me there overnight. The next day she took me to school, and told the teacher she beats me and why but teachers didn’t believe her. I remember one of the teachers called the social worker. But the social worker was her friend. I would always have marks on my wrists and neck. Once, she put a rope around my neck and pulled really hard. I went to school the next day with a rope burn around my neck. I had to lie to the other kids, but I don't remember what I said to them.

One of my mom’s objectives was to make me feel inferior to everyone in the community. On that one she succeeded as I started to despise myself and felt useless. Some kids might admire my background by looking at my nice clothes whereas I was suffering. I was always quite without any freedom. That silence made her accuses me of being stubborn because every time when she shouts, I just kept quite like I was not there. One day I found my mom seated in the living room alone. I created a chance to chart with her though I knew I would get some negative results. I was asking her why she’s doing this to me. She told me that I do not listen, I am a result of rape, I am stubborn and she is doing this because I am a girl and she is teaching me how to be responsible. I was puzzled by this answer. “Is this the right way of teaching your daughter a life?” I didn’t get it. Instead of giving me some tips to approach my teenage stages she only abuses me. I was living my life alone but with a lot of her rules and control. She told me that I must never try to run away as I will get arrested at the spot.

In 1995, my parents decided one day that I no longer needed a room. I came home one day to find the computer in my room in place of my bed, which I found they had thrown out. My mother said she wanted a new place to put her computer and my room was the perfect place. I didn't understand why she didn't use the one that I was moved to. When I asked, her reply was simply that my room had a better view. I now was forced to sleep in the room at the basement that has a bathroom. It seemed to me that they were forcing me further away from them. I was no longer allowed the privilege of sleeping in the room next to them. My mother used to tell me that I was worthless or going to burn in hell for being inpure. Some of the days I was not allowed to eat. Then I started to steal food. I was good on stealing food as they never find me. Besides all those challenges I don’t remember if I ever steal money at home. One night when I was twelve, my parents took me to a movie and I was very excited to finally spend some time with them. . That was the one and only time I felt like she may love me. I thought it was a real turning point of the atmosphere .They didn't speak to me the entire time. After the movie I tried to talk about it with them, being excited, but it resulted in an argument for some reason. They spent the whole night talking to each other. I felt so forgotten. When we got home after the movie my mom saw my brother standing in the door waiting for us. He ran to her and hugged him and started talking to him with a huge grin on her face. My mother ignored me as I walked past. I ran downstairs and cried in my room for what felt like hours. I cried so hard it hurt. I felt so much pain in my heart. I wanted to die. I knew that my parents could hear me, and I secretly wanted one of them to tap on my door and hold me and say: "I love you, everything's gonna be alright," but they never did. Eventually I came out of my room and my mom was still speaking to my brother. I said, "Hi mom, I love you" but she looked right through me and didn't reply. I tried my best to please my mother but nothing made her to be happy with me. I knew that she was capable of love—she loved my brother. She didn’t hit him, ever. I didn’t understand her because if I am sick she would try by all means to treat me well. Literally including my dad as he would use his medicines for medical treatments.

After finishing the 7th grade, On the night before my first day of high school, I sat in silence in my room trying to think about how my life would get itself together for high school, while listening to my parents talk about me in the living room

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on October 05, 2012:

Hello Will. That mother might get results if she contacts her Senator directly. I am sure the laws exist even if local authorities abuse them. I recommend all of you visit a website called Darkness To Light. It teaches how to prevent and recognize child sexual abuse. I am so glad you found this article. Please stay in contact and let us know how things progress.

Will on October 05, 2012:

No laws exist in walker co. Al. to protect children that work. I know a 3 year little girl being molested by her dad acording to what she has told her grand mother. DHR has done nothing and the mother can't get help from any lawyer or judge (judge selman) takes the side of the father it seems and now wants custody of the little girl and it seems he has the money to get her. His lawyeris Tommy Carmichael in jasper who was acused of videoing customers in his tanning bed buisness(the lawyer defending the dad) Is there no protection for little girls in walker county? No they don't even have a child advocate to intervene in cases like this. Other counties do! Can anyone help this little girl? She needs it badly andimmediately! PLEASE someone HELP this child

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 13, 2012:

Hello KawikaChan. It makes me angry and sick also. I agree with you, as a group of united protectors, we can reduce and prevent child abuse of all kinds. Thank you so very much for reading about Mary Ellen. This article is so important and I hope millions of people are changed by her story.

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on September 13, 2012:

Very well written piece - makes me so angry how this can happen, and after all these years is still happening - it's such an ugly side of humanity. But the beauty is in the people that never give up. We should always band together against crimes against our children and others who cannot defend themselves. Peace. Kawi.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 09, 2012:

Hello dear femme. Mother Theresa said without that one drop the ocean would be less. I agree with her. I believe to forgive is most difficult when the helpless are hurt. Even in forgiveness it is okay to demand justice. Thank you so much for taking time to leave such detailed comments. I do appreciate that.

femmeflashpoint on September 09, 2012:


This was a fascinating and worthy piece of history to account. The idea that children are property is still alive and well today, unfortunately. Reading about these sorts of incidents always makes me feel physically ill, but to make it through it and find out that a rescue occurred, and a crime was punished, made it worth it.

I do try to be forgiving and have a tolerant spirit, but I completely fail at both when cruelty to the defenseless and innocent occurs. I admit to thinking, "Yessss!!!!" when I read Satan's Right Arm got a year's worth of hard labor.

I hope it was devastating for her, and caused her pain from top to bottom for the entirety of her stint.

I was told not long ago, regarding a boycott of Amazon, over selling dolphin and whale products, that I am only one person and I cannot possibly make a difference.

I guess you can imagine what I thought of that. (Wink) It may only make a difference to me, but God sees it, and that is enough.

Here you've given us two women who deserve to be remembered for being driven and diligent in getting mandates passed in an era where women had nearly no voice at all in legal matters.

We will never know what differences we might make for the good if we never bother trying.

Awesome read, Hyph. I loved it. :)


Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 08, 2012:

Hello jennzie. We cannot comprehend because our mind and heart are not bent in the direction of causing harm. Yes, Mary Ellen had a wonderful life from all reports. She deserved it too. I bless the memory of the people who worked to save her and hope her story saves other innocents. I really appreciate you stopping by to read about her and to leave a comment. Thank you.

Jenn from Pennsylvania on September 08, 2012:

I don't understand how anyone can do such horrible things to an innocent child. But at least this story had a happy ending in that Mary Ellen was finally able to lead a far happier and long life, thanks to the kind people who cared enough to intervene and save her.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 08, 2012:

anshf, I have no idea. Most likely she did. It would have been difficult not to remember that kind of terror. I doubt they had a name for it back then though. Thank you for reading about Mary Ellen.

anshf on September 08, 2012:

Did she have any PTSD?

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 03, 2012:

Joslyn, I would love to read your page. It is very interesting that your 9 year old is involved in helping. My own 9 year old son is very service oriented. Mary Ellen Wilson received an angel to help her. It is confusing and tragic that many children do not survive. Thank you for coming by. I hope you come back so I can follow your progress on helping child abuse survivors.

Joslyn on September 03, 2012:

I have to say that this story has made an inspiration for me to follow through with making my page on child abuse awareness and I have my 9 year old daughter that is helping me on this and we both believe that this was a true miracle for this little girl not every child gets the help and it is amazing that she did and that we now have laws to help children in them situations.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 16, 2012:

Hello M. I also am happy that Mary Ellen escaped from that awful woman and man. I believe the husband knew and did nothing to help her. How are you proving child abuse is wrong? I am interested to know if you are writing a paper, getting a new bill passed or whatever. Thanks, Hyph.

M on August 16, 2012:

I'm so relieved that Mary Ellen got out of that hellhole. Mary, if you're in Heaven right now, I want you to know that I'll be using your case to prove just how wrong child abuse is. Wherever you are, I hope you're happy.

nightsun from northern california on May 20, 2012:

thanks H..I've had so much noise from kids and animals in my life now that things are more quiet, makes me feel a bit lost. What to do when you don't have anyone to care for....I wish people would stand up for the innocent whenever heard or seen. It would make this world a much better place...To often so much trauma will destroy a young mind forever. Just using words in a hard tone can effect them. The damage humans do....

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on May 20, 2012:

I don't know night sun how people just turn away. A hurting life is our business and we are morally required to assist. I am so happy that you took in kids who were wandering. You truly may have saved their lives. We can all make room for a child in our home and in our hearts. Bless you!

nightsun on May 19, 2012:

It's ashame more people don't stand up..There is so more hurt in the world. I've been an "informal" foster parent over the years..My kids usually had fiends in some kind of need. Or you just stumble across those broken..How a person can trun their back, well, I just don't understand..

Have an awesome day..

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on May 19, 2012:

Hello nightsun. i agree. The heart of a human being is the most cruel thing on this planet. Animals are never cruel, they just kill to survive. People do it for pleasure. Abusers are given short sentences and turned out to do it again. These people do not stop, they just learn how not to get caught. Only a year ago, a lovely little girl was killed in our own community because people who knew them wouldn't get involved. Her father walked away free while her stepmother received only 18 years for killing the child, cutting her body into pieces and throwing it out in separate areas. i am still appalled.

I continue to hope this Mary Ellen article opens just one heart and saves even one child. Thank you for the encouragement. BTW, I agree with you about people who abuse animals.

nightsun from northern california on May 18, 2012:

Very interesting and sad. The cruelty of humans is heartbreaking..Thankfully there was some strong enough to help her. This was in the days when people didn't intervene in others business. We just can't find a middle ground for abuse, neglect , tortue of the innocent(I include animals in this)...People either don't want involved or our justice systems turns them back out..

Thanks for this hub...

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on May 17, 2012:

Franklin, I am deleting your cruel, ugly and most awful comment. Search your heart and surely you will find an ounce of compassion and kindness in there somewhere. If you can only leave nasty remarks, do not visit my Hubs ever again.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on April 06, 2012:

Hello Lilleyth. Yes, that was another horrible example of abuse. I don't know how these children survived but am so glad they did. Yet, people still beat and torture children to death. A woman in my own area killed her step daughter last year (an 11 year old cancer survivor), dismembered the body and scattered the parts. She only received 18 years in prison.

My heart bleeds for these babies and it seems more and more people are evil and hurt them.

Thank you for sticking with the story. Mary Ellen did have a happy ending. Perhaps I need to freshen this Hub and add more material about her life after she was rescued.

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on April 06, 2012:

This reminded me of Sybil and the horrible abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother - tying her to a piano leg with her bladder full etc. This was painful to read as well.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on April 04, 2012:

Hello Cathy. They did know her story. There is a great book about Mary Ellen with photos and information supplied by her family. Here is the link to purchase it on Amazon.

and this one has the case files

Cathy on April 04, 2012:

Do you know if Mary Ellen shared her life story with her 2 daughters? And is anything known about the daughters?

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on March 23, 2012:

Hello Faith. Child abuse is a tragedy that should not happen. It is because people with hard hearts and no compassion have power over weaker ones. Thank you for reading my Hub.

Faith on March 22, 2012:

Sadly.. I've heard many cases where cps abuse the children they remove from the biological family etc... There the ones who a meant to protect the children..

Abuse affects do many lives, I feel so helpeds know approx 5 children a day die of abuse and 3/4 are under the age of four... -.-

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 10, 2012:

Me too Philly. When I first began learning about Mary Ellen Wilson, I was amazed, shocked, saddened and happy that someone stood up for her. Thanks for reading this Hub.

Jose Velasquez from Lodi, New Jersey on February 09, 2012:

I have new found respect for the SPCA.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on February 01, 2012:

Yes Jade, I am too. The child sure deserved a happy life. I still wonder what happened to the abuser. I appreciate you leaving me a message. This case is close to my heart.

jade on February 01, 2012:

very sad story glad it ened happily

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on January 22, 2012:

Hello Pollyannalana. I was appalled when I learned that monster only received one year also. The court system then and now do not take child abuse seriously. That is one reason children are dying every day from abuse. I cannot find out what happened to the woman after prison. I still search for information. Thanks for reading this story. I feel this is still a very important case and impacts us today.

Pollyannalana from US on January 21, 2012:

One year. Today that wouldn't shock me but that far back I would think she could have gotten more justice than that. That is why the rapes and abuses never end, because are courts are too lenient. I read this story last year online (Wikipedia I think) but had forgotten until now. Well I am sure hell will take care of the rest of this woman's sentence.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 18, 2011:

Hello RunAbstract. It astonishes me that Mrs. Connelly only received one year of punishment. This story has literally impacted my life. I want to prevent more of these tragedies. Thank you for reading about Mary Ellen.

RunAbstract from USA on December 18, 2011:

What a tragic, yet beautiful story.

It brought tears to my eyes.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 18, 2011:

Hello Joy. Yes, this is a heart rending story. That child would have been killed if she was not rescued. Mrs. Wheeler was a brave and loving lady. I wonder what ever happened to the abuser. I could not locate further information about her. Thank you for taking time to read and comment on this story. I think the more people are aware of abuse, the more wee can take action in our own communities.

Joy on December 18, 2011:

This is an awful story. However I am so glad that Ms. Wheeler saved her and then sent her to live with her mom and then sister. It speaks volumes as to how much love this women had in their hearts. To take in a child that has only known abuse then love and teach her that well. From what you have written she grew up to have a wonderful life. Abuse like this never leaves a person but she was able to live a happy life because of their love. Thank God for people like them.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 14, 2011:

merry Christmas keep writing these great stories keeps us informed...

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 14, 2011:

Hi Deborah. This little girl's story has touched my heart so deeply that I never forget her. Thank God for people who love and care. People like you and me and all the others who love the hurting.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 13, 2011:

this is the best HUB.. and so sad with a happy ending..but the torture she had to go through.. I just don't understand how people can treat children like this.. makes my heart hurt. thank you for putting all of this together..great HUB. I voted up and beautiful but sad.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 10, 2011:

Hi there coffee. Yes, child abuse is a terrible issue and happens every day in every town in America, probably across the planet. We all must take action, speak up and confront the abusers. You are right about that. So many people look the other way while children suffer horribly. Many do not survive. That makes me sick.

Thank you for caring.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on December 10, 2011:

Hello arusho. Amazingly good records were kept on the case. I suppose because it was so groundbreaking, authorities and the families wrote it all down and passed it on. She was a great inspiration that life can be good and happy. Everything about this case amazes me and touches my heart. I believe God sent people to help Mary Ellen and to change laws for all children. Sadly, abuse is still a terrible issue.

Thank you for stopping by and leaving such great comments. I really wish to bring awareness so these things can no longer be hidden and repeated. Regards, Hyphenbird.

holdmycoffee on December 09, 2011:

Great, great hub! Thank you for sharing this information with everyone. Sadly, child abuse is still a big issue. More people need to speak up and take actions!

arusho from University Place, Wa. on December 09, 2011:

How did you ever track Mary Ellen back to her biological parents? And she changed hands so often, horrible! Amazing that she was able to marry and have children and live happily into her 90s. Also, I didn't know that there were animal cruelty laws before there were child abuse laws.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on November 28, 2011:

Suzette, when I was researching this story, I literally was sick to my stomach. The poor little child had no one at all and no hope. But God sent Mrs. Wheeler and saved her. So much good came about because Mary Ellen was found and rescued. I know people care. This continues to be my most visited Hub although people seldom leave comments. Advertising has been disabled due to content and I am glad. This article is too important to have the reader's attention swayed.

Thank you very much for your support of the Hub.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on November 28, 2011:

What a horrific story! Thank heavens someone advocated for that child. This is interesting and how sad we had laws against animal cruelty, but not human cruelty. Thank goodness this has a happy ending and thank goodness it started Children's services, although, they don't always do the best job at finding and preventing child cruelty.

Julie Grimes from Columbia, MO USA on September 07, 2011:

An amazing story.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on September 02, 2011:

Bless her little heart. Every time I hear of another case, my heart aches and my stomach feels sick.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on September 02, 2011:

Just recently, they found a child in a cage in a mobile home in VA. She had been in the cage for 3 years. She died. Her parents have both been brought up on charges.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 17, 2011:

I know Thelma. One's heart just aches. Failure to do something is to encourage the abuser in feeling he/she can continue without consequences. Thank you for reading and your comments.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on August 17, 2011:

What a tragic story! It is very difficult to say something after reading this. I feel so angry to those kind of people who abuses children. We should always report to the police whenever we hear something like this in the neighbourhood. Well done Hyphenbird.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 07, 2011:

lambservant, I know. I was physically ill while researching and writing this Hub. That precious child suffered so. Etta Wheeler was a great and strong woman. God used her mightily to save Mary Ellen. Sadly children are still being horribly abused and killed. I also say, Come, Lord Jesus!

Lori Colbo from United States on August 06, 2011:

Child abuse is one of the gravest sins and horrors on the planet today. God bless the Etta Wheelers of this world. I wish what happened to Mary Ellen never happened again. Come Lord Jesus.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on July 08, 2011:

I wish we did teach children how to be parents and how to be love. Sadly, the Caylee Anthony case proves people have not stopped doing this and children are suffering every single day. Thanks for your visit and your loving heart Hattie.

Hattie from Europe on July 08, 2011:

I wonder why they don't use this in our classes at school, it is a good story, and worth noting. It's ashamed over the years even still today children go through this. :)

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on July 05, 2011:

Hello Cari Jean. You are so right, many abused children are not saved or even known about. Just today I was watching the Casey Anthony trial. She was found Not Guilty of killing her child, perhaps she is indeed innocent. But someone is not and that baby suffered a cruel death. My heart just bleeds for these little ones.

Thank you for stopping in and leaving a great comment.

Cari Jean from Bismarck, ND on July 05, 2011:

What a heart-wrenching story. I'm so glad things ended well for this little girl. It makes me wonder though how many chilren back then were abused and absolutely nothing was ever done. I'm thankful for the laws that are there to protect children today but sadly not all children are saved from the abuse.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 19, 2011:

Hello LisaMArie724. It is my honor to bring awareness to this subject. Hopefully it will make a difference for another child.

Thanks for the visit. Have a great evening. HB

Lisa Stover from Pittsburgh PA on June 19, 2011:

Wow this is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing this.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 19, 2011:

Perhaps that will happen Kat. Hubs like this one are to make a difference so a person may read it and take action. Meanwhile pray diligently for the little ones. Prayer changes people and circumstances. I am glad you care about these children. HB

Katharella from Lost in America on June 18, 2011:

All I have is photographs, but I'll never see them again. So unless their teachers or someone else learn hope is lost, then they'll grow up in a home where they're mentally abused, EVERY morning.

Just hoping someone else who reads this will keep their eyes open for children and their actions, fears, and the tiny things they say to give hints. -Kat

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on June 18, 2011:

You've got a great attitude and your heart is very big. Bless you for this hub.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 18, 2011:

Hello happyboomernurse. This whole story is sad and heart wrenching. Thankfully Mr. Bergh had the resources and contacts to get the child out quickly. It saved the child's life.

The ads being disabled don't bother me, it is not about the money. I am grateful HP allow Hubs like this to stay up. I understand that ads wouldn't be appropriate for the subject matter.

Thanks for the visit and comments. Have a great day. HB

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on June 18, 2011:

Thanks for writing this well documented, heartwrenching hub on such an important topic. The many comments here show that even today, preventing and/or stopping child abuse can be extremely difficult and emotionally draining even when the reporter of the abuse tries to go through the CPS system and/or report it to police. Still, we have to keep trying to save our prescious children.

It was ironic, sad and yet also inspiring, that Mr. Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals used his resources and influence to bring Mary Ellen Wilson's case to court and was instrumental in rescuing a human being.

Thanks for posting this hub as a public service even though Hub Pages doesn't allow any ads for hubs written on this topic.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 18, 2011:

marcoujor, it is very awful. And so very unnecessary. I will never understand how people can be so cruel. Thanks for the visit and votes. Take care. HB

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 18, 2011:

Hi Katharella. It is very frustrating to know and have Social Services question and wonder and do nothing. If there is a way to be close and watch the children and love them, it might give you more evidence and them a little comfort.

Eric's popping in was a surprise. I have not read his books yet, but want to get them. When I write something like this I prefer not to be unduly influenced by another author. It was nice of him to visit the Hub, I don't know how he found it, perhaps by Google search.

Thanks for following the Hub. Have a great day. HB

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 18, 2011:

Hello shygirl. I too am glad someone was brave and didn't give up. I think about all the people in that building who heard Mary Ellen's screams and did nothing. My heart breks all over again.

Thanks for the visit and the votes.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on June 17, 2011:


Oh for any child with such innocence to have to suffer a fraction of what sweet Mary Ellen did and so many after her. Thank you for relaying this horror which is a wake-up call for a true American tragedy. You write with passion and inspiration.

Voted UP & UA-- thank you, mar.

Katharella from Lost in America on June 17, 2011:

Hi Hyphenbird, I've not forgotten this hub or stopped following it. I see you have permission for the original author, so thank you to Eric for making this known, and people who keep spreading this story, as awareness also needs to go to those children who are mentally abused or neglected. It's just so heartbreaking, and I think, sometimes I can't comprehend how people can act so horrible to another being let alone an innocent child. Not a day goes by there's not certain children I worry about. I can't help, and nobody to help me either. I did try to no avail, and get viewed as the bad person and I don't understand that. WHY does CPS start questioning your motives for calling rather than just going to check it out or having the school check it out.. I tend to lose faith in the system, so I think unless I could go get the children and bring them to safety myself, what else can one do?

shygirl2 on June 17, 2011:

How sad and awful at the same time...I am glad to hear someone cared enough to do something for the poor girl, despite the length of time it took to do so. Great, informative hub. Voted up and useful!

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 17, 2011:

Hello RedElf. I agree that Mrs. Wheeler was brave and tenacious. It certainly is my hope that this Hub will bring the horror of abuse to the light of day and prevent more. Also it shows that one person can indeed make a difference in the life of a child.

Thanks for the visit and great comments. HB

RedElf from Canada on June 17, 2011:

Excellent article - what a brave and charitable woman to effect the child's rescue. Thanks for sharing this - every time an article such as this is written, there is a chance someone will read it and be moved to help a child they know about who is living in fear.

Brenda Barnes (author) from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on June 11, 2011:

Thank YOU vocalcoach. It was very painful to research and write. I cried a lot. If it brings one case to light and increases awareness of even one case it sure was worth it. My pain is nothing compared to what children suffer. I am so very sorry if this caused bad memories for you. I knew it might bring some to the surface for some folks.

I appreciate your support very much.

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