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and life along the winding road

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

Kate Moore is a gifted writer and like Radium Girls, in The Woman They Could not Silence she undertakes a difficult subject.

In the mid-19th century women had very little say in their lives. Firstly, with their fathers overseeing every part of their upbringing, then after marriage their husbands had total control. As stated in the book, even the bonnet on Elizabeth Packard's head belonged to her husband. If a couple was divorced the husband was awarded custody of their children. So even as a mother, women had little recourse.

And at that time if a woman was not submissive and had thoughts of her own, both unscrupulous doctors and the law were willing to allow a husband to unceremoniously drop their "difficult" wives off at an insane asylum. Not only was Elizabeth Packard an intelligent woman, she was not willing to go along with her husband's religious ideas and started her own bible study group. This led to her being committed to the Illinois State Hospital where she found many perfectly sane women undergoing sometimes horrific treatment. Elizabeth kept copious notes throughout her internment, hiding them in the band of a hat box and eventually being allowed to write a book of her ordeals. The book, thinking it would never be published, was sanctioned by the duplicitous Dr. McFarland the director of the insane asylum.

Elizabeth, having had her children taken from her, eventually published many books, fought for women's rights and found many who supported her efforts. In 1865 Massachusetts amended the insanity law, making secret frame-ups more difficult.

Elizabeth Packard was an amazing woman, but instead of valuing her, Theopilus Packard found his wife to be a threat and spent years trying to silence her. 

Some reasons women were declared insane:
Domestic trouble
Religious excitement
Business anxieties
Death of friends
Sun stroke
Novel reading