To remind us there is nothing new under the sun, I'll share a passage from a book I'm reading, Tiger at the Bar. This story is about an attorney, Charles J. Margiotti about one hundred years ago and his cases in and around Punxsutawney, including St. Marys, Johsonburg and Ridgway in the quiet hills of Pennsylvania, we thought. I'm sharing the newspaper clipping about an abuse case in the Ridgway Record :
Perhaps the most horrible case of brutality in the annals of inhuman treatment, not excepting anything from the most sordid slums of London or New York or heathen Africa, came to light in Ridgway yesterday and will be aired at the next Criminal Court.
After the death of Mr. Hector, about fourteen years ago, the wife was left in rather destitute circumstances with eight small children. All of these children were adopted or taken by families to raise. Among them was a little girl of six years of age named Julia, a bright, handsome, healthful child, who was taken by Mrs. Catherine Georgel, of Boot Jack Road. Relatives have made efforts from time to time to see Julia, but were repulsed on various excuses. Reports were occasionally rife among the neighbors that the child was ill-treated, but nothing was ever known definitely. The child was never permitted to go out or talk to anyone, and was severely punished if she did.
The first that was definitely known of her condition was about Wednesday when the girl, now about twenty years old, suddenly appeared at the jail with not sufficient clothes to cover her, hysterical and screaming for protection, saying that Mrs. Georgel intended to kill her.
Several years ago, the girl's nose was smashed with a club, and was never properly set or treated, so that it is quite flat. Her mouth has been torn at the sides and healed one-sided. Her eyes are battered almost shut. Almost every inch of her body bears scars and welts due to the cuts with knives and burns from scalding water. Her back is a mass of scars and among them are two fresh wounds caused by being stabbed with a pair of shears. Her scalp is covered with scars and two or three vicious lumps are fresh evidence of the use of a club. One ear is torn and horribly disfigured.
Her breasts are just recovering from evidence of severe scalding, the girl alleging that the woman tied her and then poured the boiling water over her. It would be difficult to place two fingers anywhere on her body that does not have a scar. Viewing these things and drawing on the imagination of what the child must have passed through during the past fourteen years, it is little less than a miracle she has any mind left. Brought up in an atmosphere of terror and fear, cowed, bullied, beaten, pounded out of shape with fists and clubs, cut with knives and scalded, and never permitted to go out, and afraid to talk to anyone, always compelled to sleep on the floor, with no treatment for her cuts and bruises and burns, it is a wonder that she even lives.
In fact, according to the girl, Mrs. Georgel declared that she would kill her, and gave her the means to do it herself in the belief that she would do so and end her suffering.
Mrs. Georgel has never figured as a person of refined instincts. The girl says she boasts of Indian blood. It is doubtful, however, if even an Indian of the most savage type ever existed who would inflict such horrible torture on a child, and continue it for years. It is beyond the pale of the most loathsome brute, and how to account for such a beastly streak in a mature woman posing as a human being befogs the reasoning apparatus of a man of the world.
The response to this descriptive and judgmental reporting is the same as today. "In Ridgway that night, there was talk of lynching Mrs. Georgel." If it weren't so true, this would be funny. The no holds barred reporting lives in another time. The trial is interesting. Times have changed in some respects, the abuser spent only a year in jail and the attorney against her, said later, she turned into a very nice old lady. Her defense was the girl was lazy, ungrateful, and incorrigible, a girl who needed constant discipline.
Ridgway set up a fund for Julia. A plastic surgeon did her work for free. She married and moved away.
This reminded me some of Teddy's case when I read it. Only he didn't survive. The isolation, the threat to not talk to the neighbors, the "discipline" from the mother's boyfriend are similar.
I only pray that even though child abuse is not new, that people will not keep silent. Keep your eyes and ears opened. May we be as shocked still as this reporter in 1920 at the Ridgway Record.