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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.
"Yes, naturally you would; but in my case, these relatives have not seen me for seven years, except brother Samuel, of Batavia, who has visited me only once during that time. And besides, opinions will not convict a criminal. Facts are needed as proof. A murderer is not convicted on opinions, but on facts."
"But insanity is not a crime, but a misfortune, and different kind of evidence is required to prove it. It is a disease, and as physicians detect disease by the irregularities of the physical organization, so they must judge of insanity by the 'views' they take of things."
"But, Doctor, is not the conduct the index of the mind and if 'these views' are not accompanied with irregularities of conduct, ought 'these views' alone to be treated as evidences of insanity?"
"Yes, a person may be insane without irregularities of conduct."
"But have we any right to restrain the personal liberty of any one whose conduct shows no irregularities. For instance; should you like to be imprisoned in one of these wards on the simple opinion of some one that you had an insane idea in your head, while at the same time all your duties were being faithfully performed?"
He made no reply.
After a silence of a few moments, I added:
"Now, if you, Doctor, or any other individual, will bring forward one act of my own, showing lack of reason in it, I will own you have a right to call me insane."
After waiting a long time, he said:
"Was it not an insane act for you to fall down stairs, and then to be carried back to your ward?"
"That was not my act in being carried back to my ward. It was your own act, and my falling down stairs was an accident, caused too, by your ungentlemanly interference; and the object I had in view by asserting my rights, was a rational one, for I had good reasons for doing so."
"Oh, no, no, the reasons are nothing."
"Yes, they are; for unless you know the reasons which influence the actions of others, many acts would appear insane, that would not, if we knew the reasons which prompted the act. I asserted my right to my liberty from principle, not from impulse, in compliance with the advice of Gerrit Smith, viz.:
"When you have done all that forbearance, kindness and intelligence can do to right your wrongs, all that is left for you to do is, to 'assert your rights,' kindly, but firmly, and then leave the issue to God."
After another pause he said:
"What motive, Mrs. Packard, could I have for making you out insane, if I considered you were not? Would money prompt me to do it?"
"No, Doctor, I don't think money has influenced your mind in my case; but yon have so long been in the habit of receiving women on the simple verdict of the opinion of the husband, without proof, that you seem to think there is no necessity of using your own judgment at all in the case. And you do not seem to apprehend the glaring truth of the present day that woman's most subtle foe is a tyrant husband.
"It is might, not right, that decides the destiny of the married woman.
"You know I am not by any means, the only one you have thus taken in here, to please a cruel husband. You have received many since I have been here, such as Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Kenny, and many others. Indeed Doctor, this fact has become so notorious here, that our attendants echo the remark made by Elizabeth Bonne, the other day, viz.:
'I did once think I would get married; but since I have been here, and seen so many wives brought here by their husbands, when nothing ails them, I am firmly resolved never to venture to marry in Illinois! I can take better care of myself, alone.
"And Doctor, I agree with her in this conclusion:
"It is fatally dangerous to live in Illinois, under such laws, as thus expose the personal liberty of married women."
This kind of married slavery is worse than negro slavery, and it must be abolished before the reign of righteousness prevails.
Resolution is pacific; and I am resolved to secure peace on no principle but justice, freedom and right. With resolution, firm and determined, I am resolved to fight my way through all obstacles to victory -- to the Emancipation of married women!
I assume that my personal identity is my God-given right, and I claim that this right shall be recognized in the settlement of this great woman question.
None to my knowledge sustain me in my path of self-denying obedience to the cause of "married woman's emancipation." But when the victory is achieved, there will be no lack of voices to chant this triumph. If, while in the hottest of this battle, some of these plaudits could be heard, it would be a help far more needed and welcome than when we have laid off our armor.
But he whom God guards is well guarded. It is the fate of many who seek to do good, to have to resist their friends, and face their foes.
To be God's chosen instrument to raise woman to her proper position is a glorious office, and those who win this crown, must be willing to bear this cross. The public conscience is in motion, and the great moral force my enemies are struggling against is the gospel enforced by conscience, and every energetic act in us adds potency in the moral element by which it is to be moved to action.