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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.
"I will fill my pipe."
We met at the gate, where the gate-house concealed us from the view of those we left under the tree, when he said:
"I wish to tell you, I have sent four letters to my wife, and I get no reply. I don't know as they are intercepted, but I think I should have had a reply if they were sent. And another thing," said he, in an undertone, "I want to tell you something more, may I?"
"Certainly, tell me anything you like."
"I am almost afraid it is wrong, but I want to," and the big tears stood in his eyes.
"Oh, sir, you need not be afraid -- tell me! tell me all!"
"I will then."
And just as he had uttered these words, his attendant callled out:
"Yes, I am here filling my pipe," at the same time crowding some tobacco into a hollow corn-cob with his fingers.
The attendant was now at his side, and taking hold of his arm led him back to his companions under the tree.
This incident led me to recommend to the Committee the Belgium mode of collecting the mail from inmates of insane asylums, as seen in the following pages.
When once I had reached the public road I found no difficulty in hiring a passing team to carry me back to the village depot, where I again met Mrs. Darwin, conveyed there in the asylum carriage, accompanied by Mrs. Ranney. I then presented her one of my books on condition she would read it, which she promised to do, and without a "thank you," she turned from me and took a seat upon the opposite side of the depot.
"How did you find the patients after I left?"
"O, all nice and very comfortable. I like the appearance of things at the asylum even better than I did at my former visit!"
"Did you see all the patients?"
"Yes, all the female patients."
"Did Dr. Ranney accompany you this afternoon?"
"Yes, he was with me all the time."
The public should know that Mrs. Darwin is the chosen secretary of the Board of Visiting Committee. But unless she changes her programme materially, the expense attending getting up this Committee's report of the treatment of the patients in Mount Pleasant Asylum will be a useless expenditure, since this knowledge can be equally well obtained from Dr. Ranney's own reports.
A cotemporary has informed me through the New York Tribune that, "the Belgium government has recently ordered securely locked letter boxes, easily accessible to all the inmates to be placed in every Lunatic Asylum, public or private, in that country. No officer of the institution has any means of reaching the contents of these boxes, and the letters in them are collected weekly and are taken to the Procureur du Roi of the district for examination.
"If he thinks any complaint well founded, he at once institutes an inquiry into it, and takes steps to have the person released, if examination by impartial experts establishes his sanity.
"This certainly is a step in the right direction. All persons confined in Lunatic Asylums are thus placed in a direct communication with an officer of the law, who is sworn to see justice done them as far as possible. As we have said before, this letter-box system should be introduced by law into our own Asylums."
Another extract from the New York Tribune goes to confirm. the statement that such a system is needed in our country. "It requires," says this writer, "a very plain statement of facts to arouse public attention to the conduct of our Lunatic Asylums. Such a plain statement is put forward to-day and supported by the affidavits of the principal parties concerned, a gentleman who has been confined for some time in Bloomingdale Asylum upon what he insists -- and with apparent reason -- is a false charge of insanity, and two former employees of the Asylum.
"The statements of these three persons, amount to charge of the grossest cruelty, vindictiveness, and carelessness on the part of the officials of the prison, and these charges we are glad to see will be thoroughly sifted by able and determined men. The thought that we have at our doors a system of cruelty practiced upon those who can neither defend themselves, nor make their grievances known, is harrowing.
"Many of us are apt to think the powerful pictures of Charles Reade's "Hard Cash" overdrawn and exaggerated by the art of the novelist; but if the disclosures of Bloomingdale, coming close upon those of Vermont, should prove to be true, we may find the novel outdone in the strength of its coloring by history, and local history, too.
"An admirable suggestion has been adopted by the Belgium government which might be acted upon wisely by our own. The great fact of which the sane and insane of asylums complain, is the utter want of means of communication with the outside world. It must be conceded that Lunatic Asylums are intended to be means of cure, and not alone places of safety, and that in many cases the means of communicating with friends would tend to the alleviation of mental and physical derangement.