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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.
That he is acquainted with Mrs. E. P. W. Packard, and verily believes her not only sane, but that she is a person of very superior endowments of mind and understanding, naturally possessing an exceedingly well-balanced organization, which, no doubt, prevented her from becoming insane, under the persecution, incarceration, and treatment she has received.
That Mrs. Packard has been the victim of religious bigotry, purely so, without a single circumstance to alleviate the darkness of the transaction! A case worthy of the palmiest days of the inquisition!!
The question maybe asked, how this could happen, especially in Northern Illinois?
To which I answer that the common law prevails here, the same as in other States, where this law has not been modified or set aside by the statute laws, which gives the legal custody of the wife's person, into the hands of the husband, and therefore a wife can only be released from oppression, or even from imprisonment by her husband, by the legal complaint of herself or some one in her behalf, before the proper judicial authorities, and a hearing and decision in the case; as was finally had in Mrs. Packard's case, she having been in the first place, taken by force, by her husband, and sent to the Insane Hospital, without any opportunity to make complaint, or without any hearing or investigation.
But how could the Superintendent of the Insane Hospital be a party to so great a wrong?
Very easily answered, without necessarily impeaching his honesty, when we consider that her alleged insanity was on religious subjects; her husband a minister of good standing in his denomination, and the Superintendent sympathizing with him, in all probability, in religious doctrine and belief, supposed, of course, that she was insane. She was legally sent to him by the authority of her husband as insane; and Mrs. Packard had taught doctrines similar to the Unitarians and Universalists and many radical preachers; and which directly opposed the doctrine her husband taught, and the doctrine of the Church to which he and Mrs. Packard belonged; the argument was, that, of course, the woman must be crazy!!
And as she persisted in her liberal sentiments, the Superintendent persisted in considering that she was insane!
However, whether moral blame should attach to the Superintendent and Trustees of the Insane Hospital, or not, in this transaction, other than prejudice and learned ignorance; it may now be seen, from recent public inquiries and suggestions, that it is quite certain, that the laws, perhaps in all the States in relation to the insane, and their confinement and treatment, have been much abused by the artful and cunning, who have incarcerated their relatives for the purpose of getting hold of their property; or for difference of opinion as to our state and condition in the future state of existence, or religions belief.
The undersigned would further state: That the published account of Mrs. Packard's trial on the question of her sanity is no doubt perfectly reliable and correct. That the judge before whom she was tried, is a man of learning and ability and high standing in the judicial circuit in which he presides. That Mrs. Packard is a person of strict integrity and truthfulness, whose character is above reproach.
That a history of her case after the trial was published in the daily papers in Chicago, and in the newspapers generally, in the State; arousing at the time a public feeling of indignation against the author of her Persecution, and sympathy for her; that nothing has transpired since to overthrow or set aside the verdict of popular opinion; that it is highly probable that the proceedings in this case, so far as the officers of the State Hospital for the insane are concerned, will undergo a rigid investigation by the Legislature of the State.
The undersigned understands that Mrs. Packard does not ask pecuniary charity, but that sympathy and paternal assistance which may aid her to obtain and make her own living, she having been left by her husband without any means or property whatever.
All of which is most fraternally and confidently submitted to your kind consideration.
WILLIAM A. BOARDMAN.
Hon. S. S. Jones' Testimonial.
To a Kind and Sympathizing Public:
"This is to certify, that I am personally acquainted with Mrs. E. P. W. Packard, late an inmate of the Insane Asylum of the State of Illinois. That Mrs. Packard was a victim of a foul and cruel conspiracy I have not a single doubt, and that she is and ever has been as sane as any other person, I verily believe. But I do not feel called upon to assign reasons for my opinion in the premises, as her case was fully investigated before an eminent Judge of our State, and after a full and careful examination she was pronounced sane, and restored to liberty.
Still I repeat, but for the cruel conspiracy against her, she could not have been incarcerated as a lunatic in an asylum. Whoever reads her full and fair report of her case, will be convinced of the terrible conspiracy that was practiced towards a truly thoughtful and accomplished lady. A Conspiracy! worthy of a demoniac spirit of ages long since passed, and such as we should be loth to believe could be practiced in this enlightened age, did not the records of our court verify its truth.