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Elizabeth Packard

A Noble Fight

Linda V. Carlisle

Publication Year: 2010

This biography details the life of Elizabeth Packard, who in 1860 was committed to an insane asylum by her husband, a strong-willed Calvinist minister. Upon her release three years later, Packard obtained a jury trial and was declared sane, but her husband had already sold their home and left for Massachusetts with their young children and her personal property._x000B__x000B_This experience launched Packard into a career as an advocate for the civil rights of married women and the mentally ill. She wrote numerous books and lobbied legislatures literally from coast to coast advocating more stringent commitment laws, protections for the rights of asylum patients, and laws to give married women equal rights in matters of child custody, property, and earnings. Despite strong opposition from the psychiatric community, Packard's laws were passed in state after state, with lasting impact on commitment and care of the mentally ill in the United States.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I am deeply indebted to those who read and commented on early drafts of this book, including Professor Kay Carr at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and Professors Ellen Nore, John A. Taylor, James Trent, Mary Ann Boyd, Charlotte...

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pp. 1-15

In the spring of 1875, a distraught Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the slain president, was involuntarily committed to a private mental hospital in Batavia, Illinois, by a court order requested by her son, Robert Lincoln. Fifteen years earlier, an...

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1 "All the Love His Bachelor Heart Could Muster"

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pp. 16-23

Elizabeth Parsons Ware was born in Ware, Massachusetts, on 28 December 1816. She was the fifth child born to Reverend Samuel and Mary Tirrill Ware, but the first to survive infancy. Two sons, Samuel and Austin, were born later and also...

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2 "New Notions and Wild Vagaries"

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pp. 24-34

In recalling their decision to marry, both Elizabeth and Theophilus Packard intimated that, given the choice again, they would choose differently. His diary entries about their marriage were written many years after the fact and, thus, the immediacy of any...

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3 Breaking the Mold

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pp. 35-43

"Farewell: father, mother, brothers! I leave thee this pleasant September morning, 1854, to seek my Western home in Lyme, Ohio. My little group of loved ones are all in good health and spirits—five in number—the oldest, Theophilus, twelve....

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4 Free Love and True Womanhood

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pp. 44-56

Manteno was a small farming village platted on the rich prairie of Kankakee County in east-central Illinois. The arrival of the railroad in 1853 encouraged growth and, by the time the Packards arrived there in 1857, the thriving community boasted...

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5 "The Forms of Law"

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pp. 57-67

By June 1860, the conflict between the Packards had, quite literally, reached a maddening degree for both husband and wife. Indeed, the entire family was in significant distress and there can be little doubt that Theophilus was truthful in his statement...

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6 Andrew McFarland and Mental Medicine

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pp. 68-77

Elizabeth was at first impressed by asylum superintendent Dr. Andrew McFarland. She described him as a “fine looking gentleman” and was charmed by his sophistication and attentiveness. McFarland, she said, “very gallantly” permitted her ample...

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7 "A World of Trouble"

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pp. 78-90

Andrew Mc Farland wa s about to learn what Theophilus Packard knew: Elizabeth Packard could be a troublesome woman. It was impertinent for her to insist that the systematic theology of a noted theologian or minister was unreasonable in the light...

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8 "An Unendurable Annoyance"

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pp. 91-103

After two years of extraordinary difficulty with Elizabeth Packard, Andrew McFarland was anxious to see her leave his institution. At the September 1862 meeting of the asylum’s board of trustees, he recommended they discharge her “for reasons...

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9 From Courtroom to Activisim

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pp. 104-117

Testimony in Packard's trial began on 12 January 1864 and caused an immediate sensation. A noisy crowd packed the courtroom, and it was clear the predominantly female assemblage favored Packard as the heroine of the drama unfolding before them. Theophilus hired attorneys...

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10 "My Pen Shall Rage"

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pp. 118-131

In her asylum notes , Packard recorded that she understood that angry words—“the utterances of my natural indignation”—would likely be construed, literally, as madness. Thus, she said, “Reason taught me to be quiet while in the asylum, that I might...

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11 Shooting the Rattlesnakes

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pp. 132-144

Following her defeat in Connecticut in June 1866, Packard returned to her father’s home to ponder her next move. In late August, Samuel Ware died, having “repented of the wrongs . . . innocently done” to his daughter.1 He bequeathed $2,000 to charity...

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12 Vindication adn "Virtuous Action"

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pp. 145-154

The Report of the Investigating Committee appeared in the 6 December 1867 edition of the Chicago Tribune even before reaching the hands of Governor Oglesby, who was touring in Europe. As might be expected, it reignited the furor that had...

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13 Triumph and Disaster

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pp. 155-164

By 1869 Packard had “sold enough [books] to purchase a nice little cottage and a lot in Chicago, free from all encumbrances.”1 The property, valued at $5,000, was located at 1496 Prairie Avenue, several blocks from the district that would, within...

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14 Working in Her Calling

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pp. 165-176

In 1872 with her reforms in place in Illinois and her family scattered, Packard looked for other fields of service. Iowa was a logical choice. Not only did she still have good friends in Mount Pleasant, but also her son, Theo, and his wife had settled there...

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15 "Great and Noble Work"

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pp. 177-189

Implementation of the AMSAII’s “Project of The Law” clearly slowed, but did not stop, Packard’s progress. From 1875 on in state after state, asylum superintendents promoted legislation to repeal or amend Packard’s laws. Indeed, the degree of Packard’s....

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16 Final Campaigns

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pp. 190-200

There is considerable evidence that Packard’s legislative activities continued during the 1880s and 1890s. An article in the Atchison Daily Champion notes that she appeared before the Kansas legislature in 1881 “to secure additional legal...


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pp. 201-232


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pp. 233-250


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pp. 251-259

Publication Information, Back Cover

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pp. 260

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090073
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035722

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Packard, E. P. W. (Elizabeth Parsons Ware), 1816-1897.
  • Psychiatric hospital patients -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Social reformers -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Women social reformers -- Illinois -- Biography.
  • Mentally ill -- Commitment and detention -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Mentally ill -- Civil rights -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Husband and wife -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Married women -- Civil rights -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Women's rights -- United States -- Case studies.
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