Mary Ellen was a nine-year-old girl in 1874 whose sad story had a happy ending. A nurse and concerned neighbors from the poor neighborhood of New York where Mary Ellen lived, became aware of Mary Ellen's plight. Her abusive parents had beaten her, kept her chained to a bedpost, and she was underfed.
The nurse and local church members told the district attorney about Mary Ellen's life in hopes of getting the child taken away from her parents. They were shocked to find there was no law in place to enable police to do so.
Ironically, animals did have protective rights through the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, these advocates discovered. They approached the Society, stating that since Mary Ellen was a member of the animal kingdom they could help her. The Society was able to do so.
When Mary Ellen was removed from her home, she was taken on a stretcher because she was too weak to walk.
When the public heard that animals that were cruelly treated had more rights than children, there was a public outcry. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed, and by 1900 there were 161 such groups in the U.S.
In the 1930s, the Social Security Act began to make funds available for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. It was not until 1968, when Dr. C. Henry Kempe and Ray E. Helfer's book The Battered Child was published, that people began to be aware of and believe that parents and caregivers truly could and did physically abuse their children.
When other doctors avoided the topic, Dr. Kempe bravely studied what doctors had been seeing for decades: some children's injuries were of such a nature that they could not have been caused by anything other than being physically
or sexually abused by an adult.
Much has happened since then, and much more needs to be done. Since the 1970s, efforts of child advocates have grown into an ever-burgeoning movement to save our children.
The ultimate goal is to break the cycle and end child abuse … stopping it before it starts. And we have a long road ahead of us. Yet, we have come a long way since the days of Mary Ellen, and our efforts have made a great impact. With the increase of reports and stories in the media, it is a timely opportunity for us to take a greater stand.
If you would like to help … become an advocate. Devote your time to helping improve and save the lives of America ’s children. Discover ways you can get more people to help you advocate. Help get more financial assistance for Love Our Children USA and spread the word that more must be done.
We can do it for all of the Mary Ellens and other children who are victims of violence and neglect. It’s up to us to give them hope.
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