Child Abuse, Past, Present and Future

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By Kennesaw Taylor

In 1873, Etta Wheeler, a nurse was making rounds in a tenement, in New York City. She had heard stories about a girl who was being held hostage and abused by her foster family. After talking her way into the apartment, she caught her first glimpse of nine year old Mary Ellen.

The child was barefoot, half clothed and half starved. A cat of nine tails lay nearby, and her arms and legs showed the effects of its use. Her face bore the look of suppression and misery. Over the next two months, Mrs. Wheeler reported the child’s plight to police and charities trying to save her, nothing was done. As there were no laws to protect children, no laws were being broken.

She contacted Henry Bergh, the president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which had been started nine years earlier. Bergh…

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