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Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson

Eric A. Shelman

323 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0966940008 / ISBN 13: 9780966940008
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348 pages. IT BEGAN WITH ONE ABUSED CHILD . . . A Little Girls Terror: By April of 1874, nine-year-old Mary Ellen Wilson had been beaten, cut, and burned by her foster mother for more than seven years. She had never once been allowed outdoors, her keeper locking her inside a tiny, dark closet while she was away. In the coldest New York winters, the child slept on a piece of carpet on the floor, only a threadbare quilt to warm her. A Caring Womans Determination: When a concerned social worker named Etta Wheeler learned of the childs plight, she made appeals to the police, church, and the courts, but with no success. Dont interfere between parent and child, they said. While others may have given up, Etta was determined to help little Mary Ellen. An Unlikely Hero For An Abused Child: In a desperate last resort, Etta went to Henry Bergh of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Would this man who was so kind to animals help Surely the child had the same rights as a defenseless, abused creature. Bergh heard Ettas story, and the events that followed forever changed the course of child protection in America. Forgotten for over a century, Shelman and Lazoritz bring the story of Little Mary Ellen to light for the first time since it appeared in the pages of the New York Times, the Brooklyn Eagle, and the New York Tribune in 1874. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Bookseller Inventory # 9780966940008

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Title: Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen...

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition:New

Book Type: Paperback

About this title


In New York City back in April of 1874, a most unusual event took place. A severely abused nine-year-old girl named Mary Ellen Wilson became the first child in America to be rescued from an abusive home. She had been beaten, burned, slashed with scissors, locked in a closet, and had never been outside of her tenement home in over 7 years. Thanks to the concern and dedication of a missionary named Etta Wheeler, the child was finally saved from her cruel captors. Henry Bergh's ASPCA -- yes, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -- was instrumental in securing her rescue. When no other agencies would become involved, the ASPCA used its power and influence to not only save Mary Ellen, but to charter the first organization of its kind to prevent cruelty to children, the NYSPCC -- the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This book remains the ONLY book that tells the dramatic story of Mary Ellen's life and rescue.


Conventional child rearing in the wake of the Civil War could be aptly described as "spare the rod and spoil the child." Like slaves in the previous era, children were considered property, with no more rights than horses or dogs. With luck they were cared for and loved. Orphaned and raised in devastating poverty, young Mary Ellen Wilson was not so lucky. Out of the Darkness vividly details Mary Ellen's life as a captive in her Hell's Kitchen tenement. Left alone during the day to find her own playthings--a few strings and a pet spider named "Timmy"--the situation only became worse when her mother returned home to administer shockingly brutal daily beatings. More than a chronicle of one child's abuse, however, Out of the Darkness also documents her rescue--including the key role of the newly created American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. By drawing parallels between animal rights, Mary Ellen's case, and the end of slavery, Out of the Darkness illustrates how the end of the Civil War ushered in a profound shift in attitude--an acceptance that all living beings are capable of suffering and therefore deserve protection. This is a riveting read about a fascinating period. --Ginger Dzerk

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