Friday, December 28, 2007

December 28: Elizabeth Ware Packard (1816-1897)

Elizabeth Packard
"Thus the most sensible people on earth are exposed to suffer a life-long imprisonment, from the folly of some undeveloped, misguided person. And the tendency of imprisonment itself is sadly detrimental to a person who has intelligence enough to realize that he is held under lock and key. To persist in treating them as though they were unable to take care of themselves is to undermine self-reliance and self-respect. In short, it tends to destroy all that which is noble and aspiring in humanity..."

--Elizabeth Packard,
The Prisoners' Hidden Life [1868], p. 248
Nineteenth-century American patients' rights advocate Elizabeth Ware Packard (portrait at left) was born on this date in 1816. Her pastor husband had her committed to the Illinois state lunatic asylum in 1860, because she was argumentative and disagreed with him on religious matters. Three years later, she was discharged, but it took a court case (Packard v. Packard) to determine that she should not be confined to her home.

Mrs. Packard went on to work for better legal protections for asylum inmates, like the right to send and receive mail; for more oversight of asylum superintendents; and for married women to have the same protections as others under commitment laws. She published her story and her positions in several books, which are available online.

A play and a museum exhibit earlier this year in New Jersey both focused on Packard's personal story and public career.


Anonymous said...


Linda V. Carlisle said...

For more about Mrs. Packard, please see my new book Elizabeth Packard: A Noble Fight by Linda V. Carlisle (University of Illinois Press, November 2010) One woman's courageous battle for women and the mentally ill. 11/11/10, 26560 bytes