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Modern Persecution, or Married Woman's Liabilities
During the post-Civil Wars years, Elizabeth Packard was one of the key champions of rights for women and people labeled as insane. At this time, men could declare their wives insane and have them institutionalized without a public hearing—a fate that befell Elizabeth Packard in 1860. She spent three years in the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, for disagreeing with her husband’s conservative religious philosophy, views on slavery, and how to raise their children.
In 1863, the asylum doctors declared her incurable and released her to her husband. He deprived her of clothing and boarded her up inside a room, actions that were illegal. She smuggled a letter to a friend, who convinced a judge to grant a writ of habeus corpus. At the trial of Packard v. Packard, the jury decided in her favor in only seven minutes.
After gained her freedom, Packard became an activist for women’s rights and personal liberty. Her writings inspired Illinois and several other states to pass laws that prevented husbands declaring their wives insane and that required jury trials before people could be committed.
"A wounded spirit who can bear." Spirit wrongs are the keenest wounds that can be inflicted upon woman. Her nature is so sensitively organized that an injury to her feelings is felt more keenly than an injury to her person.
The fortitude of her nature enables her to endure physical suffering heroically; but the wound which her spirit feels under a wanton physical abuse is far more deeply felt, and is harder to be borne than the physical abuse itself.
Her very benevolent, confiding, forgiving nature, renders it a greater crime to abuse her spirit, than to abuse her person. To most men, and some women, this position may appear absurd, yet it is true; neither do we feel disposed to blame this class for not appreciating it, for their coarser organization incapacitates them to understand us.
When woman is brought before our man courts, and our man juries, and has no bruises, or wounds, or marks of violence upon her person to show as a ground of her complaint, it is hard for them to realize that she has any cause for appeal to them for protection; while at the same time her whole physical system may be writhing in agony from spirit wrongs, such as can only be understood by her peers.
Spiritual, sensitive women, knowing this fact, suffers on in silent anguish without appeal, until death kindly liberates her from her prison-house of unappreciated suffering.
It is to delineate these spiritual wrongs of women, that I have given my narrative to the public, hoping that my more tangible experiences may draw the attention of the philanthropic public to a more just consideration of married woman's legal disabilities; for since the emancipation of the negro, there is no class of American citizens who so much need legal protection, and who receive so little, as this class.
As their representative, I do not make complaint of physical abuses, but it is the usurpation of our natural rights of which we complain; and it is our legal position of nonentity, which renders us so liable and exposed to suffering and persecution from this source.
In the following narrative of my experiences, the reader will therefore find the interior of a woman's life delineated through the exterior surroundings of her bitter experiences. I state facts through which the reader may look into woman's soul, as through a mirror, that her realm of suffering may be thus portrayed.
Mrs. E. P. W. PACKARD.