Who is the Very First Foster Child Ever? Part 2: Social Services and the Courts Step In

In my earlier blog Who is the Very First Foster Child Ever? Part 1, I began telling the story of 10 year old Mary Ellen Wilson, the first foster child in the United States.  


In 1873, a neighbor reported the neglect and abuse of little Mary Ellen to the New York  Department of Public Charities and Correction.  An investigator from the Department, Etta Angell Wheeler, began looking into the case.  Etta Wheeler sweet talked her way into the Wilson’s home and saw for herself signs of abuse – scars and bruises all over the young girl’s body.  The worker interviewed other neighbors to gather more evidence.  Etta was determined to help out this battered little girl.

But who could she turn to help get this 10 year old girl out of this abusive situation?  
In the early 1870s, there were no laws protecting children from physical abuse by their parents.  So Etta turned to the president of the local chapter of the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), who eventually agreed to champion Mary Ellen’s case.  [An aside – yes, there was an organization to prevent animal cruelty before there was an organization to prevent child abuse!]  
ASPCA convinced local authorities to remove the abused child from her home and to bring her case before a judge.
The chilling testimony of the little girl:

“Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day.  She used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide.  I have now on my head two black-and-blue marks which were made by Mamma with the whip, and a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors in Mamma’s hand; she struck me with the scissors and cut me.;  I have no recollection of ever having been kissed by any one—have never been kissed by mamma. I have never been taken on my mamma’s lap … I never dared speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped.”

The judge decided to place Mary Ellen under the court’s custody.  But what to do with this child taken away from her family for safety’s sake?
Stay tuned for part 3.

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