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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.
Soon her aberration of mind led her to seek some of her better clothing carefully kept from her by her husband, which very woman-like act was seized by him as an excuse for confining her in her room, and depriving her of her apparel, and excluding her lady friends. Believing that he was about to again forcibly take her to an asylum, four responsible citizens of that village made affidavit of facts which caused the investigation as to her sanity or insanity. During the whole of the trial she was present, and counseled with her attorneys in the management of the case.
Notwithstanding the severe treatment she has received for nearly four years past, the outrages she has suffered, the wrong to her nature she has endured, she deported herself during the trial as one who is not only not insane, but as one possessing intellectual endowments of a high order, and an equipoise and control of mind far above the majority of human kind.
The heroic motto: "suffer and be strong," is fairly illustrated in her case. While many would have opposed force to his force, displayed frantic emotions of displeasure at such treatment, or sat convulsed and "maddened with the passion of her part," she meekly submitted to the tortures of her bigoted tormentor, trusting and believing in God's Providence the hour of her vindication and her release from thraldom would come. And now the fruit of her suffering and persecution has all the autumn glory of perfection.
"One who walked
Feeling the accusations of his guilty conscience, seeing the meshes of the net with which he had kept her surrounded were broken, and a storm-cloud of indignation about to break over his head in pitiless fury, the intolerant Packard, after encumbering their property with trust deeds, and despoiling her of her furniture and clothing, left the country. Let him wander! with the mark of infamy upon his brow, through far-off states, where distance and obscurity may diminish till the grave shall cover the wrongs it cannot heal.
It is to be hoped Mrs. Packard will make immediate application for a divorce, and thereby relieve herself of a repetition of the wrongs and outrages she has suffered by him who for the past four years has only used the marriage relation to persecute and torment her in a merciless and unfeeling manner.
Note to the Reader.
It is but justice to myself to say, that the testimony of the two great Conspirators, Deacon Abijah Dole and Deacon Josephus B. Smith, ought to be taken by my readers at a discount, since those who were present during the whole trial saw the fact demonstrated, that both of these Deacons perjured themselves openly, upon the witness stand, while giving in their manufactured testimony against my moral character.
A part of the time of the five days trial was consumed in taking testimony from these two witnesses while making a most malign attack upon my moral character, by manufactured testimony, which, when tested by cross-examination, would not hold together -- in fact, was so plainly contradictory and absurd, that I was strongly urged, by my friends, to enter a prosecution, at once, against them both, for perjury.
This part of the trial was not reported by Mr. Moore, because, as he said, this attack was entirely foreign to the question at issue. My moral character was not the question the jury were called upon to consider -- but whether I was insane or not.
This most wanton and cruel attack, made at Packard's dictation, was shown to be merely an act of desperation on their part to save their sinking cause; but as it proved, these weapons of cruel slander and defamation were most signally turned against themselves, by forcing the conviction upon the jury, and all who heard it, that their testimony, as witnesses against my sanity, was of no account whatever. In fact the remark was often made to me:
"We do not believe a word that Deacon Dole or Deacon Smith have spoken against your sanity, now that they have so plainly proved themselves to be lying witnesses against your virtue."
E. P. W. P.
When this trial terminated, I returned to my home in Manteno, where five days previous I had bestowed the parting kiss upon my three youngest children, little thinking it would be the last embrace for years I should be allowed to bestow upon these dear objects of my warmest affections.
But alas! so it proved!
Mr. Packard had fled with them to Massachusetts, leaving me in the court-room a childless widow. He could not but see that the current of popular indignation was concentrating against him, as the revelations of the Court ventilated the dreadful facts of this conspiracy, and he "fled his country," a fugitive from justice!
He, however, left a letter for me which was handed me before I left the Court-house, wherein he stated that he had moved to Massachusetts, and extended to me an invitation to follow him, with the promise that he would provide me a suitable home.