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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.
Acting upon the principle of doing unto others as we would wish to be done by, I have never denied Mr. Packard the privilege of seeing his children at my house whenever he chose, or their writing to him when and what they pleased, and also allowed them to visit him occasionally.
But from me he has never received anything but the repectful treatment of a stranger gentleman in my family. For never have had the least occasion for believing he has ever repented in the slightest degree of the course he has pursued towards me.
Therefore, as I claim to be a follower of Christ, I am not allowed to extend to him forgiveness, except upon the gospel terms of repentance. And since he does not repent he will not allow me to forgive him.
For nine years subsequent to my incarceration I withdrew a11 fellowship from him, not even so much as to speak or write to him: but when he restored the children to my guardianship and care, although it was a mere act of compulsion on his part, since he saw it was certain the court would give hem to me if he did not, yet, as I told him:
"I am happy I can regard this act in the light of an act of restitution on your part so far, as to allow me to treat you henceforth as a gentleman."
From that time I have felt justified in simply speaking to him as I would to any stranger gentleman.
Within three years from this date my two oldest sons both married, and removed to Iowa where they still live.
My third son, Samuel, has been obliged to sojourn for a time in a Southern climate to recuperate his health.
And my fourth son, George, thought it best to suspend, for a time at least, his educational course at the High School at Chicago, where he stood in the highest rank, both in deportment and scholarship, and accept an offer from his uncle in New York city to go into business with him as his bookkeeper.
I consented to this arrangement and he is now in New York City with his uncle.
My dear daughter, Elizabeth, is teaching school.
Arthur, my youngest son, is at work on a farm in the country. This disposition of Arthur was secured by his father, in opposition to my will and wishes. It was my intention to give him and George both a superior education, and I made them each this offer, and in George's case this offer is still a standing one. But in Arthur's case, since his father has taken him from my guardianship, care and custody, without my consent, I consider myself as henceforth exonerated from all my previous offers for his support and education.
Although so far as Arthur's welfare is concerned, I regret this arrangement. Yet, for myself, I feel greatly relieved of a heavy responsibility; for by the great fire in Chicago my business capital was all burned up, so that from that date I have had no income to depend upon for my own or my children's support, except the rent of part of my house. And until I can earn a new capital to start business again with, it would have been quite a burden upon me to furnish means for their support and education.
Looking therefore upon these circumstances as only parts of the wise plan of an unerring Providence, I cannot but feel that God has thus emancipated me from all family cares and responsibilities, so that I can now devote my undivided energies to the great work, I seem peculiarly capacitated by my experiences, to perform. Indeed, I cannot but regard myself as one of God's agents to do the especial work He has assigned me to do.
He has kindly gratified the great desire of my maternal heart -- the care and custody of my own children, for a time -- and now He seems to say to me:
"Will you trust your children with me, and go work in my vineyard?"
My heart responds, "I will."
As my case now stands delineated by the foregoing narrative, all the States on this Continent can see just where the common law places all married women. And no one can help saying, that any law that can be used in support of such a Persecution, is a disgrace to any government -- Christian or Heathen. It is not only a disgrace -- a blot on such a government -- but it is a crime against God and humanity, to let confiding, trusting woman, be so unprotected in law, from such outrageous abuses.
Mr. Packard has never impeached my conduct in a single instance, that I know of; neither has he ever charged me guilty of one insane act -- except that of teaching my children doctrines which I believed, and he did not!
This is all he ever alleges against me.
He himself confirms the testimony of all my friends, that I always did discharge my household duties in a very orderly, systematic, kind, and faithful manner. In short, they maintain that I, during all my married life, have been a very self-sacrificing wife and mother, as well as an active and exemplary co-worker with him in his ministerial duties.
Now I have mentioned these facts, not for self-glorification, but for this reason, that it may be seen that good conduct, even the best and most praiseworthy, does not protect a married woman from the most flagrant wrongs, and wrongs, too, for which she has no redress in the present laws.