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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 beg you to consider, Sir, the laws do not allow you to interfere in such a matter. Are you authorized to stop a man from doing a legal act?"
"No, Mrs. Packard, I am not. I see you are without any legal protection. Still I think you are safe in Chicago."
"I hope it may so prove, Sir. But one thing more I wish your advice about; how can I keep The money I get for my book from Mr. Packard, the legal owner of it? "
"Keep it about your person, so he can't get it."
"But, Sir; Mr. Packard has a right to my person in law, and can take it anywhere, and put it where he pleases; and if he can get my person, he can take what is on it."
"That's so -- yours is a sad case, truly; -- I must say, I never before knew that any one under our government was so utterly defenseless as you are. Your case ought to be known. Every soldier in our army ought to have one of your books, so as to have our laws changed."
Soldiers of our army! receive this tacit compliment from Mayor Sherman. You are henceforth to hold the reins of the American Government. And it is my candid opinion, they could not be in better or safer hands. And in your hands would I most confidently trust my sacred cause -- the cause of Married Woman -- for, so far as my observation extends, no class of American citizens are more manly than our soldiers. I am inclined to cherish the idea, that gallantry and patriotism are identified; at least, I find they are almost always associated in the same manly heart.
When I had sold about half of my twelve thousand books, I resolved to visit my relatives in Massachusetts, who had not seen me for about twelve years.
I felt assured that my dear father, and brothers, and my kind step-mother, were all looking at the facts of my persecution from a wrong stand-point; and I determined to risk my exposure to Mr. Packard's persecuting power again, so far as to let my relatives see me once for themselves; hoping thus the scales might drop from their eyes, so far at least as to protect me from another kidnapping from Mr. Packard.
I arrived first at my brother Austin Ware's home in South Deerfield, who then lived about two miles from Mr. Severance, where were my three youngest children, and where Mr. Packard spent one day of each week.
I spent two days with my brother and his new wife, who both gave me a very kind and patient hearing; and the result was, their eyes were opened to see their error in believing me to be an insane person, and expressed their decided condemnation of the course Mr. Packard had pursued towards me. Brother became at once my gallant and manly protector, and the defender of my rights.
"Sister," said he, "you have a right to see your children, and you shall see them. I will send for them to-day."
He accordingly sent a team for them twice, but was twice refused by Mr. Packard, who had heard of my arrival.
Still, he assured me I should see them in due time. He carried me over to Sunderland, about four miles distant, to my father's house, promising me I should meet my dear children there; feeling confident that my father's request joined with his own, would induce Mr. Packard to let me once more see my own dear offspring.
As he expected, my father at once espoused my cause, and assured me I should see my children; "for," added he:
"Mr. Packard knows it will not do for him to refuse me,"
He then directed brother to go directly for them himself, and say to Mr. Packard:
"Elizabeth's father requests him to let the children have an interview with their mother at his house."
But, instead of the children, came a letter from brother, saying, that. Mr. Packard had refused, in the most decided terms, to let sister see her own children; or, to use his own language, he said:
"I came from Illinois to Massachusetts to protect the children from their mother, and I shall do it, in spite of you, or father Ware, or any one else! "
Brother adds, "the mystery of this dark case is now solved, in my mind, completely. Mr. Packard is a monomaniac on this subject; there is no more reason in his treatment of sister, than in a brute."
These facts of his refusal to let me see my children, were soon in circulation in the two adjacent villages of Sunderland and South Deerfield, and a strongly indignant feeling was manifested against Mr. Packard's defiant and unreasonable position; and he, becoming aware of the danger to his interests which a conflict with this tide of public sentiment might occasion, seemed forced, by this pressure of public opinion, to succumb; for, on the following Monday morning, (this was on Saturday, P. M.,) he brought all my three children to my father's house, with himself and Mrs. Severance, as their body-guard, and with both as my witnesses, I was allowed to talk with them an hour or two. He refused me an interview with them alone in my room.
Of course it was a great satisfaction to me to be allowed once more to look upon these dear objects of my tenderest affections, yet his refusal to allow me to see them alone, almost paralyzed the joyful emotions their presence had inspired; and when my Arthur left my embrace for his father's lap, in obedience to his authority, I felt the utter helplessness of my position to such a degree that the joy of meeting was almost superseded by the thought of another, and, perhaps, a final parting.