The Convenient Use of Insanity to Deal with a Woman

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
“I do not call people insane because they differ with me.”

fullsizeoutput_20b3.jpeg

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard
(1816-1897)
Quotes said by Dr. Duncanson,
at her January, 1864 trial

(Photo-Public Domain)

Massachusetts pastor Samuel Ware lived in a day when father’s controlled their daughters and that’s what he did when he insisted his eldest and only daughter marry Theophilius Packard a man fourteen years older than Elizabeth. Mr. Packard was an active member of her father’s church and at first it appears to be an amicable relationship. That is until - - - Elizabeth decided to have a mind of her own which eventually her husband would successfully claim she had “lost that mind”.

After their marriage in 1839, the twenty-three year old Elizabeth moved with her husband to Kankakee Illinois. By this time Theophilus Packard Jr., was Reverend Packard a Calvinist minister. After twenty years of marriage Elizabeth could no longer tolerate her husband’s strict religious teachings and began to publicly speak out against it.

One day in 1859 a door-to-door sewing machine salesman came to her door. During his visit Elizabeth could not help herself when the subject turned to her husband and his religious views. He listened intently and upon departing the family home he visited Mr. Packard. On June 18, 1860 a sheriff visited Mrs. Packard and it wasn’t a social call. He came to arrest Elizabeth. Her crime - complaining about her husband’s religious beliefs; the charge - insanity, for you see the sewing machine salesman was Dr. J W Brown and his job that day was to evaluate Elizabeth’s mental state at the request of her husband. ​

A Husband’s Problem is Solved!!

Women were often the targets of being sent to insane asylums. They had fewer rights and were usually under the control of a man rather it be father, husband, brother or son and in the mid-1800’s it was a man’s world. The symptoms qualifying a woman to be admitted into an asylum could range from:

“depression after the death of loved one, use of abusive language, and suppressed menstruation . . . . Diagnoses such as epilepsy and nymphomania were not looked at as diseases, but as bouts of insanity. Women were also diagnosed with insanity when they exhibited symptoms of overexertion.” {3}

If a female family member showed any signs of “disturbing” behavior it was easier to ship her off and put her away than to deal with her actions. The concept of female hormones and things like "baby blues” or as we know it today as postpartum depression or menopause were not understood. The common belief was that was something wrong in the head of the woman and the solution was to place her in an institution.

Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald (1845-1926) has his place in history as the doctor that was involved in the design of the first electric chair and proclaimed after an examination that the assassin for President William McKinley, Leon F. Czolgosz was sane enough to be strapped into it. But he also was a premier psychiatrist and had his own views on the treatment of postpartum depression. If a tepid bath did not help her then there was opium. It may cure her but it gave her another problem.

The alarm for the use of opium as a treatment for mental ailments was first questioned in an editorial published on September 4, 1833 in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal . It begins with a question:​

“Is there any sure and safe method of curing a person of the habit of opium [use],
when that habit is confirmed by many years' of use of the article?

The author, a doctor, says he asks the question on behalf of a young woman who was prescribed opium to treat ‘a slight nervous irritation’. She's become ‘a bound and servile slave’ to the drug, and alarmed to realize she must increase her dose to avoid feeling sick. For almost a year, the doctor has tried everything he can think of, including substituting other drugs and attempting to wean the patient off opium. But she, ‘whilst under a course of gradual reduction or of substitution, convulsed for hour after hour in every muscle, and vomiting almost with intermission’.” {4}
We realize today she was withdrawing from her addiction.

January 1864

While the Civil War enters the new year and are awaiting the battles yet to come on January 13th, Judge Charles R Starr of Kankakee Illinois bangs down his gavel beginning a trial known as Packard v Packard. The Plaintiff is Reverend Theophilus Packard, Jr. and the Defendant is his wife. The complaint: “That his wife was insane and that he was therefore entitled to confine her at home.” {5}

From the moment Elizabeth was confined to the asylum she had been fighting for her freedom. In 1863 a release was granted after her oldest children advocated on her behalf. Although free from the asylum, the institution had deemed her “incurably insane” so her husband decided to take matters into his own hands. He forced her to remain in the nursery room of their home with windows nailed and boarded and the door locked, making her a prisoner in her own home. Ironically the law permitted Mr. Packard to commit his wife into an asylum, but not keep her prisoner in the family home. Elizabeth eventually was able to drop a letter from a window to her friend in hopes of finding help in her situation. The letter found its way to Judge Starr and on January 12, 1864 the Packard’s were ordered to appear before him. Mr. Packard produced the letter from the asylum that declared his wife “incurable insane”. He further went on to claim he was employing:​

“all the liberty compatible with her welfare and safety.” {2)

Fortunately for Elizabeth the Judge was not satisfied and now they face each other in an Illinois courtroom.
Mr. Packard went first:​

“Physicians who had spoken with Elizabeth prior to her commitment to the Illinois State Hospital testified against her. One of these doctors, Dr. J. W. Brown, had conversed with Elizabeth under false pretenses, introducing himself as a sewing machine salesman to interview her and assess her mental state. He testified that she had “disliked to be called insane,” and he found her feelings towards her husband and religious beliefs to be evidence of her insanity. The Reverend’s sister and brother-in-law also testified that Packard had tried to distance herself from her husband and the church, both of which they deemed an indication of her insanity.”

Then the court heard from Elizabeth’s side:​

“lawyers called neighbors and friends to testify on her behalf, and Packard was permitted to read an essay she had written for a Bible class to share insight into her religious beliefs. Dr. Duncanson, a doctor and a theologian, also testified for Packard’s sanity. He had spent hours talking with Packard and disagreed with Dr. Brown’s understanding of her religious statements, stating that many of her ideas and doctrines were embraced in Swedenborgianism. Dr. Duncanson argued that many intellectuals and theologians in Europe favored these New School doctrines.” {above from 2}

[He went on to describe his impressions from his conversation with Packard:]

“On every topic I introduced, she was perfectly familiar, and discussed them with an intelligence that at once showed she was possessed of a good education, and a strong and vigorous mind. I did not agree with her in sentiment on many things, but I do not call people insane because they differ from me, nor even a majority, even, of people.” {2}

It took the all-male jury just seven minutes to find in Mrs. Packard’s favor.
Judge Starr ordered that Elizabeth Packard:

“be relieved of all restraints incompatible with her condition as a sane women” to restore her liberty.” {2}

Elizabeth never returned to her husband nor divorced him but she did stay close to her children.

*

Elizabeth dedicated the rest of her life. Experiencing being incarcerated against her will and knowing the status of women’s rights she founded the “Anti-Insane Asylum Society”. Although it never grew into a major national movement she did establish her goals:​

— To never consent to enter an asylum as a patient
— To never consent to have any relative or friend entered into an asylum as a patient
— That if [members] or anyone in their family became insane, they would be taken care of in their own homes
— That these people would be kindly and patiently cared for
— That if relatives of the unfortunates could not provide for their care, the Society would “furnish them the means for doing so”

— That the fund for helping unfortunates should be bestowed by a committee of the Society after investigation of the case. {6}

She authored several books about her experience but perhaps her greatest achievement was when when in 1867 the State of Illinois passed the “Bill for the Protection of Personal Liberty”. This guaranteed:​

“all people accused of insanity, including wives, had the right to a public trial.” {1}

She lived to see the same bill pass in three states. Her home state of Massachusetts, Iowa, and Maine.
In 1874 she was hoping to meet with the Postmaster General to request asylum inmates have mail access. She was not allowed an audience so Mrs. Packard decided she would go right to the top. She walked to the White House and introduced herself to Julia Grant. Julia liked what she saw and arranged a meeting with President Ulysses Grant. In 1875 Congress passed a bill granting asylum inmates access to on-site federal post officers {7}

*

She died on July 25, 1897. She was a remarkable woman surviving the horrors of a wife under a controlling husband in a time when just by his words - her life was changed forever. In her 1867 book she titled “Marital Power Exemplified” she wrote of her experience:

“I regarded the principle of religious tolerance as the vital principle on which our government was based, and I in my ignorance supposed this right was protected to all American citizens, even to the wives of clergymen. But, alas! my own sad experience has taught me the danger of believing a lie on so vital a question. The result was, I was legally kidnapped and imprisoned three years simply for uttering these opinions under these circumstances.” {2}


* * * * *



Sources
1. https://www.hhhistory.com/2015/04/historic-heroism-elizabeth-parsons-ware.htm
2.
https://publish.illinois.edu/ihlc-blog/2019/03/28/elizabeth-packard-legal-and-mental-health-reformer/
3. https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/6687/Lunacy in the 19th Century.pdf?sequence=1
4.
https://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2017/08/01/opium-history-addiction
5. https://law.jrank.org/pages/2582/Packard-v-Packard-1864.html
6. https://hhhasylum.com/anti-insane-asylum-society/
7. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/...nscripts-and-maps/packard-elizabeth-1816-1897

And this thread that started my quest for answers on women, mental illness and the power of men:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/mary-lincoln-chemical-addictions.182502/
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
It's always so hard to believe these stories because they seem so bizarre to us. But women were locked away when they became inconvenient and "insanity" was used to cover a huge variety of issues from true mental illness to lack of cooperation. Great job putting the story together @DBF
 

Yankee Brooke

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Location
PA
It's always so hard to believe these stories because they seem so bizarre to us. But women were locked away when they became inconvenient and "insanity" was used to cover a huge variety of issues from true mental illness to lack of cooperation. Great job putting the story together @DBF
That seems very bizarre. It sounds more like a weird movie plot than anything.
 

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
It shows up in a lot of novels.
When you think about it - it's the perfect way to get rid of someone you don't agree with as Mr. Packard decided to do instead of confronting his wife. I imagine it was more common than we'd like to think. And can you imagine living in a home where you are threatened with an insane asylum if you do not conform to a certain behavior. Not only with wives but with other families members giving you any grief. We must remember the times they were living in - it was a man's world - and that was enough.
 
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
In 1874 she was hoping to meet with the Postmaster General to request asylum inmates have mail access. She was not allowed an audience so Mrs. Packard decided she would go right to the top. She walked to the White House and introduced herself to Julia Grant. Julia liked what she saw and arranged a meeting with President Ulysses Grant. In 1875 Congress passed a bill granting asylum inmates access to on-site federal post officers {7}
Julia definitely had an influence on her husband and this is another one of those little nuggets that goes to show how much of an influence she had at times. The bill might never have been considered or passed without her acting as go between, and the courage of Elizabeth to approach her in the first place. Considering it was a written communication that helped her escape from her familial prison, I'm sure she knew the value of letters and communication in helping to free people from their chains.

She was a remarkable woman surviving the horrors of a wife under a controlling husband in a time when just by his words - her life was changed forever.
I think it's important to differentiate between men who are controlling and those who aren't. He took full advantage of the societal norms at the time in order to continue to control her, but in the end his bid failed thanks to others who could see through his controlling behaviour (including Judge Starr and the seven male jurors). It's something to watch out for even today, though the fear for women of being sent to an asylum no longer exists. If a man feels a need to control a woman then he needs to seek help himself. She is not the problem.
 

Pete Longstreet

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
Julia definitely had an influence on her husband and this is another one of those little nuggets that goes to show how much of an influence she had at times. The bill might never have been considered or passed without her acting as go between, and the courage of Elizabeth to approach her in the first place. Considering it was a written communication that helped her escape from her familial prison, I'm sure she knew the value of letters and communication in helping to free people from their chains.


I think it's important to differentiate between men who are controlling and those who aren't. He took full advantage of the societal norms at the time in order to continue to control her, but in the end his bid failed thanks to others who could see through his controlling behaviour (including Judge Starr and the seven male jurors). It's something to watch out for even today, though the fear for women of being sent to an asylum no longer exists. If a man feels a need to control a woman then he needs to seek help himself. She is not the problem.
This is true. I see Mr. Packard as a very fragile and weak man. Even though he was the "controlling" one, he was only successful for a period of time because the laws played in his favor. Mrs. Packard persevered. If the roles were reversed, I believe Mr. Packard would not have accomplished even close to what his wife did. She was the stronger one. Mr. Packard probably knew it and couldn't be embarrassed in public by taking a submissive role to his wife.
 

Pete Longstreet

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
I believe this is Mr. Packard:

 

LoyaltyOfDogs

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Location
Gettysburg area
I believe this is Mr. Packard:

The Find-A-Grave entry includes a reference to a book that looks like it ought to be fascinating reading. Here are some details about "Elizabeth Parsons: A Noble Fight," by Linda V. Carlisle:

1613662243893.png
 

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
An interesting story: Mary Todd Lincoln should thanked Elizabeth Packard for escaping an asylum. Robert Lincoln called police to take him mother from a Chicago hotel to escort to court on May 19, 1875. He was concerned that his mother was “insane” because of her “unusual” behavior. Seventeen people testified against Mrs. Lincoln five of them doctors. Robert was the last witness after which the court determined that Mrs. Lincoln be committed to Bellevue Place Insane Asylum for treatment.

“I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long been a source of great anxiety to me. Robert Lincoln” {*}

Thankfully Elizabeth Packard had been through this experience some 15 years earlier and had changed laws in Illinois that prohibited committing an individual into an asylum without a trial. With the new law Mary along with help from her sister was able to defend herself in a court of law. The verdict:

“We, the undersigned jurors in the case of Mary Todd Lincoln, having heard the evidence in the case, are satisfied that said Mary Todd Lincoln is insane, and is a fit person to be sent to a state hospital for the insane” [The jury verdict May 19, 1875] {*}

{*} http://22219619.weebly.com/mary-todd-lincoln.html

During her “insanity” trial these are some of the reasons the “former sewing machine sales man” turned Dr. JW Brown gave for his reasoning:

Question: Dr., you may now state all the reasons you have for pronouncing her insane.

His Testimony: I have written down, in order, the reasons which I had, to found my opinion on, that she was insane. I will read them.

1. That she claimed to be in advance of the age thirty or forty years.
2. That she disliked to be called insane.
3. That she pronounced me a copperhead, and did not prove the fact.
4. An incoherency of thought. That she failed to illuminate me and fill me with light.
5. Her aversion to the doctrine of the total depravity of man.
6. Her claim to perfection or nearer perfection in action and conduct.
7. Her aversion to being called insane.
8. Her feelings towards her husband.
9. Her belief that to call her insane and abuse her, was blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
10. Her explanation of this idea.
11. Incoherency of thought and ideas.
12. Her extreme aversion to the doctrine of the total depravity of mankind, and in the same conversation, saying her husband was a specimen of man’s total depravity.
13. The general history of the case.
14. Her belief that some calamity would befall her, owing to my being there, and her refusal to shake hands with me when I went away.
15. Her viewing the subject of religion from the osteric standpoint of Christian exegetical analysis, and agglutinating the polsynthetical ectoblasts of homogeneous asceticism.

The witness left the stand amid roars of laughter; and it required some moments to restore order in the court-room.

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/36591/36591-h/36591-h.htm
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
2. That she disliked to be called insane.
7. Her aversion to being called insane.

Imagine that!

14. Her belief that some calamity would befall her, owing to my being there, and her refusal to shake hands with me when I went away.

Obvious paranoia. Oh wait, his being there did bring on a calamity!

Favorite saying: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't really out to get you.

Roy B.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
I suppose it's a step up from being accused of being a witch, which is how they dealt with "disagreeable" women in "less civilized" times.
In the case of witchcraft accusations, I believe one ought consider the financial side--and this may also be at the root of a lot of the insanity accusations as well. Most of those accused in Salem were wealthier than the accusers. One could avoid a death sentence by pleading guilty (which entailed the loss of at least half of one's assets--and often all of them); those executed were the brave souls who refused to plead guilty when they knew that they were innocent.

It would be interesting to do an analysis of the property assets of people declared insane. Where they merely different or was there a greedy motive?
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
It would be interesting to do an analysis of the property assets of people declared insane. Where they merely different or was there a greedy motive?
I followed up on this myself, looking into Mary Lincoln. She had offered to split the estate of her son Tad with her son Robert (even though she was entitled to 2/3 of it) and she lent Robert money even though he refused to let her in his home. After the courts declared that she was, indeed, sane, she demanded return of the assets he had taken: $73,000 (no trifling sum in those days). But the litany that Mrs. Lincoln might have held against her son Robert (and others) ceased to trouble her in her last years and she seems to have returned to being the warm and gracious person that she was in her youth.

It raises the question of how many women were declared to be insane because of greedy relatives? Did Elizabeth Packard have assets that the Reverend might have lost in divorce? In a discussion of women's property rights, I found that the cases of Elizabeth Packard and Mary Lincoln were specifically cited.
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
In the case of witchcraft accusations, I believe one ought consider the financial side--and this may also be at the root of a lot of the insanity accusations as well. Most of those accused in Salem were wealthier than the accusers. One could avoid a death sentence by pleading guilty (which entailed the loss of at least half of one's assets--and often all of them); those executed were the brave souls who refused to plead guilty when they knew that they were innocent.

It would be interesting to do an analysis of the property assets of people declared insane. Where they merely different or was there a greedy motive?
There's a great book about the witch trials of Colonial New England that details the financial advantages accusers gained from having someone declared a witch. Some were neighbors with boundary disputes, some debtors being pressured to repay. By the end of the list all of the accusers look greedy and self-interested.

It raises the question of how many women were declared to be insane because of greedy relatives? Did Elizabeth Packard have assets that the Reverend might have lost in divorce? In a discussion of women's property rights, I found that the cases of Elizabeth Packard and Mary Lincoln were specifically cited.
It would be interesting to see if insanity accusations increased after laws were passed that allowed women to maintain some control over their own property. For most of history a woman lost all of her possessions when she married so there would be no need to remove her.
 
Top