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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.
For there is a possibility that a class of women might be led to become so eager in their aspirations for political office, to which the ballot would render them eligible, as to lead them to regard the office of maternity as secondary in importance. Or in other words, such might be led to feel that it would be a greater honor to fill some office at Congress than it would be to fill the office of maternity.
Whereas in reality there is no higher office a woman can fill than that of maternity.
But with this temptation before them, this class might be induced to leave their children to the care of Bridgets while they go to Washington to make laws. And if our daughters should be induced thus to pervert these noble aspirations of womanhood, I fear future Congressmen might become even more corrupt than those of the present day, for want of a mother's judicious and effective training.
Nothing good can be accomplished without opposition, and sometimes, the more sensible, reasonable and consistent, the more virulent, unreasonable, fierce and determined this opposition.
Although so desirable and important as to secure the co-operation of every unbiased mind, yet, self-interest in Doctor McFarland, Superintendent of Jacksonville Asylum, prompted him to organize an opposition, whose determination it was to defeat the passage of this bill.
For this purpose he used to meet the members at the hotels and boarding-houses where they congregated, and, in these secret sessions, endeavor to convince his listeners that I was an insane person, and therefore it was unsafe and foolish for them to be influenced by my logic or statements in relation to the bill.
Some, whom he thus psychologized into his opinions, used their influence with others to treat my business not only with indifference, but also with open opposition in casting their votes.
This opposition made lobbying on my part an imperative necessity.
I therefore went round to these boarding-houses, and asked permission of the landlords to meet the members at his house, in his parlor, after tea, and also to introduce me to them.
This favor being cheerfully granted, I thus had the opportunity of a personal interview with many of them, which was faithfully improved, by calling their personal attention to the intrinsic merits of the bill.
At these interviews a two-fold object was secured, viz., conviction in their minds of my sanity, and also a secret determination to uphold and vote for the bill upon its own intrinsic merits.
Their manly sympathy was also enlisted in my cause by Dr. McFarland's very unjust attack upon my reputation; for it became known that Dr. McFarland had refused my request for admission into his "star chamber," for the purpose of answering personally to the charges he was there bringing against me.
Over the minds of these members with whom I had these interviews, I had no further fear of Dr. McFarland's influence. And such as I could not meet, I sometimes employed some outside influence to work upon by proxy, for me.
Besides this, the Chicago Tribune and the Springfield Journal and State Register, all helped me, by allowing their columns to be used in setting forth the necessity of such legislation, by my anonymous articles on this subject.
These articles called the opposition party into this field, which was fearlessly met by a still plainer array of facts, as challenged contradiction. Their sophistry and misrepresentation were so entirely exposed by the strong argument of truth and facts, that even a distinguished Judge, who undertook to defend Dr. McFarland's interests, retired ingloriously from the field, like a vanquished foe before the pursuer.
This public controversy between truth and falsehood, logic and sophistry, drew public attention towards the bill, which was constantly growing in favor with the enlightened public. This rallying force of public sentiment accelerated the progress of the bill, which was still on its slow, but sure passage.
In the House it passed its third reading by only six voting against it.
The Senate Judiciary took it through its second reading, without hesitation, and here it lodged, and I could do nothing effectual to bring it forward to its third reading.
I feared for its destiny, knowing that Dr. McFarland had several strong, firm friends in that body, and there seemed to be some occult influence at work against it, such as I could. not ferret out.
Still I waited and watched, paying my board in Springfield during the entire term, for this sole purpose.
At length, on the Monday previous to the last Thursday of the session, I was told the bill had passed the third reading in the "omnibus" with other bills.
Rejoiced as I was at this announcement, for some unknown cause, I could not help feeling a little incredulous about this statement, and, acting upon this impression, I engaged one of the employees at the House to look and see if the bill was really passed.