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The Woman They Could Not Silence

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Member Reviews

“She blocked out all that usually dominated and made the world stop and stare.”

Incredible true story about a woman who never gave up fighting for her truth.  In 1860, Elizabeth Packard was unjustly detained in an asylum by her husband for speaking her own mind and not sharing his beliefs.  While most people would have given up against the myriad of obstacles she faced, she never did.  Against all odds, she was not only able to secure a release from her prison, but was also legally declared sane by a jury.  Elizabeth Packard eloquently and tenaciously represented the oppressed, championing the rights of women and the mentally ill for the rest of her life.  She was responsible for several laws promoting the rights of married women and of the mentally ill.  She wrote several books about her experiences.  And she ultimately helped initiate an investigation into the abusive behaviors toward asylum patients in Jacksonville, IL.  She was a pioneer, a reformer, a hero, but mostly, a mother.

The author’s absolute passion for Elizabeth Packard comes through loud and clear.  Her book is extensively researched and comes together impeccably detailed.  While it is a work of non-fiction, the narrative and sudden twists make it read like a novel.  The content is overwhelming to the heart and forces the reader to pause and reflect on how things have changed and yet how they still remain the same.  After reading this, you will think twice before flippantly calling another person crazy again.
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4.5 stars

Read a finished copy from the library.

Review going up on 7-28-21

Kate Moore does not shy away from the lesser told stories, and she tells those stories well. In fact so well that you forget your reading a non-fiction book at times because of how easy her books are to read. 

The Woman They Could Not Silence is about Elizabeth Packard who is one of the first women to fight for women's rights and succeed in doing so. But Mrs. Packard's journey was hard and long, and at times has you wondering how she didn't just give up because of how many things were working against her.
Elizabeth Packard was put into an Insane Asylum by her husband because she had different beliefs than him when it came to religion and wasn't afraid to speak those beliefs. This was a big problem because her husband was a preacher and he can't have his wife going against him. Her husband was able to get doctors to believe she was insane in several different ways, and with this had her locked up in an Asylum for three years before she was finally released. During those three years though she saw fellow patients being treated horribly by staff, as well as seeing multiple other women also falsely accused of being insane and put into the asylum by either their husbands or fathers. 
Once she was finally released we see her having lost everything and not even being able to see her children. This leaves her wanting to publish the book she was writing during her time in the asylum to show what it was like in one and how terribly people were being treated.
The last half of the book is this entire journey as well as seeing her become an advocate for all people in insane asylums to be treated justly and for women to have more rights so that they would stop being put into insane asylums by their male family members who didn't like what they were doing.


Overall I loved learning about Elizabeth Packard and seeing all that she was finally able to do to get women's rights and to become an advocate for those falsely accused of insanity.
I can't wait to read Moore's next book and see what she is going to teach us about next.
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"What a story—and what a telling! Kate Moore has hit another one out of the park. In the best tradition of The Radium Girls, Moore recounts the stunning true account of a woman who fought back against a tyrannical husband, a complicit doctor, and 19th-century laws that gave men shocking power to silence and confine their wives. By challenging these norms, Elizabeth Packard became a heroine on the scale of the suffragists. In Moore's expert hands, this beautifully-written tale unspools with drama and power, and puts Elizabeth Packard on the map at the most relevant moment imaginable. You will be riveted—and inspired. Bravo!"
—Liza Mundy, New York Times bestselling author of Code Girls

“The Woman They Could Not Silence tells the captivating story of Elizabeth Packard, a forgotten heroine whose harrowing ordeal in an insane asylum seems straight from the mind of Stephen King—except every word is true. Blending impeccable research with novelistic flair, Kate Moore brings the indomitable Packard to brilliant life, and proves she belongs among our most celebrated women leaders.”—Abbott Kahler, author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park
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This narrative non-fiction book paints a picture of a situation that was unfortunately all to common in the 1800s: Elizabeth Packard, a perfectly sane woman, is sent to an asylum because she challenges her husband. Forced to leave her children and life behind, Elizabeth is imprisoned in the Illinois State Hospital where she learns how many women are in the same position that she's been forced into. When Elizabeth refuses to stay quiet and submit, she's treated horrifically and then must fight her way back to freedom. 
This book details one woman's arduous pursuit for freedom, as well as the women she meets along the way. It also details that horrific facts of how patients were treated, and how little doctors knew about mental illness and how they tried to cure them.
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I've read Radium Girls also by Kate Moore and absolutely loved that book, so I was very excited to get the opportunity to read this latest book by Moore. I had never heard of or learned about Elizabeth Packard, but her story is so incredibly important as part of the history of both womens rights and mental illness. There is plenty of historical fiction that sheds the light on how women, especially married, were unfairly committed to insane asylums for so many reasons that we'd find absolutely ridiculous today. Moore takes it so much further by crafting an engaging non-fiction narrative around the lead up to and fight Elizabeth Packard went through to change laws from which women, like myself, benefit. My only critique of the book is that Moore has done such an incredible amount of research, but it often overtakes the narrative itself where I found myself struggling to make it through certain large parts in the first half of the book, making it overly long in my opinion. I would still recommend this to anyone who really enjoyed Radium Girls though.
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Elizabeth Packard is the civil rights and women's rights activist you have never heard of. She pioneered women's ability to speak, earn wages, and live independently both inside and outside the bounds of marriage. In 1860, when Elizabeth beguns to openly disagree with the teachings of her very religious husband, he decides something must be done to protect his pride and his reputation. Thankfully for him, the laws in the US (namely in Illinois) allowed for wives (and other women) to be committed to an asylum with little to no cause. And thus, Elizabeth's decade's long fight to prove her sanity and the fight to allow others to do the same began.

I really enjoyed reading Radium Girls so when I was offered the chance to review this book, I was pretty excited. Also, as a mental health professional I was very intrigued to learn about this pioneer who clearly had such a larg impact on many of our laws and yet I never learned about her! The author did a great job at making this story alive and accessible despite the change in the times. I found myself identifying with and empathizing with many of the problems and issues presented in this book, even today. Makes you question how much has really changed over time.

It was clear the author did EXTENSIVE research to prepare for this novel. However, the use of "quotes" and superscripts proved a bit excessive to me and at times disrupted the reading flow for me. I use "quotes" because often, the author would use ONE WORD and put it in quotation marks with a superscript. Almost every single chapter had 40-50 such quotes with superscripts and the Notes section of the book citing all of these was about 135 pages. That just seems like a lot to me and as I said, it interrupted the reading flow and on some occasions did not meaningfully add to the message. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
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I loved radium girls, and so I was super excited to read Kate Moore's next novel. However, this one did not grab me like radium girls did! Perhaps the beginning is just super slow but I tried to keep going several times and could not get invested. I really like radium girls in audio format, so perhaps I will try this one on audio as well. 
Definitely an intriguing part of history, the beginning is just so slow!!
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“Devalue the words of women and half the battle is won.”
Kate Moore (author of the 2017 bestseller The Radium Girls) writes these words in the final pages of her new book The Woman They Could Not Silence, but the principle is conveyed throughout the entire work. Moore has spoken to our cultural moment by telling the story of a woman in the mid-1800s who overcame a system that was specifically stacked against women.
The Woman They Could Not Silence focuses on Elizabeth Packard, a wife and mother whose husband (a pastor) sends her to an insane asylum in 1860 for the unconscionable act of (gasp!) pushing back against his newly-changed religious beliefs. Elizabeth, influenced by the ascendant women’s rights movement of mid-19th century America, disagreed with her husband’s beliefs and said as much. She wakes one night to her husband rifling through her things. Moore writes:
Elizabeth’s heart quickened, wondering what he was up to. He’d long been in the habit of trying to control her. “When I was a young lady, I didn’t mind it so much,” Elizabeth confided, “for then I supposed my husband…knew more than I did, and his will was a better guide for me than my own.”
So, given that power, did her husband try to bring her along? Try to persuade her into his new beliefs?
He did not encourage her growth. Instead, he wrote that he had “sad reason to fear his wife’s mind was getting out of order; she was becoming insane on the subject of woman’s rights.”
This is astounding from our point of view, but is all too mundane for the mid-1800s. In a society where women had no legal rights, Elizabeth was seen as being an extension of her husband and had no right to such thoughts and actions. She could be declared “mad” for any reason whatsoever. Men were taken at their word and literally nothing else. Moore explains:
To Elizabeth’s consternation, when Theophilus had declared that she was mad, his parishioners had taken him at his word. They’d begun to weigh her behavior, looking for evidence to support his claim. Her “every motion; every look; every tone of the voice [became] an object of the severest espionage.” “As soon as [the allegation of insanity] has been whispered abroad, its subject finds himself…viewed with distrust,” explained a leading nineteenth-century psychiatrist. “There still lingers something of the same mysterious dread which, in early times, gave him the attributes of the supernatural.” It was not so many years since the whisper would not have been “insane” but “witch”…
A couple of concepts stick out here. First, the parallels to earlier literal witch hunts are unmistakable when reading The Woman They Could Not Silence, as are the parallels to attempts to silence women today. In the last few years, women who accuse powerful men of sexual assault have been met with harassment, gaslighting, and the full weight of inflexible institutions aligned against them. Yet they endure because truth is on their side. One can see each of these women in Elizabeth Packard, as she relentlessly fights against institutions, laws, and a society that is built to consume her as if she is nothing.
Also, the reader can see the degree to which an initial “diagnosis” (especially about a psychological disorder) causes people to evaluate all ensuing behavior in light of that diagnosis. (Her “every motion; every look; every tone of the voice [became] an object of the severest espionage.”) And guess what, after you think someone has a psychological disorder, it’s very easy to interpret any behavior that person exhibits as new evidence of the disorder. This is also a clear theme in Susannah Cahalan’s The Great Pretender, which would be a perfect complement to Moore’s book. Cahalan writes about the story behind David Rosenhan’s “On Being Sane in Insane Places”, where Rosenhan’s participants (or possibly just him; this gets complicated in Cahalan’s book but I’ll leave it at that) checked themselves into insane asylums and then were assumed to be insane because of their ensuing (completely sane) behavior. A diagnosis can lead to assumption of truth, even when that diagnosis is based on nothing but a man’s accusations.
Elizabeth Packard had to fight for her own freedom, but also the freedom of other wives throughout America. The laws were stacked against them. During Elizabeth’s stay in the insane asylum, she attempts to file for a proper trial. However, Moore writes:
The law did not apply to married women. They could be received at an asylum simply “by the request of the husband.” Because married women at that time in the eyes of the law were “civilly dead.” They were not citizens, they were shadows: subsumed within the legal identities of their husbands from the moment they took their marital vows. “The husband and wife are one,” said the law, “and that one is the husband.” He spoke for her, thought for her, and could do what he wanted with her. The law gave him power “to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.”
And later, when her husband Theophilus takes all their things along with her children:
“Can I replevy it as stolen property?” she asked the attorneys briskly. A replevy was a writ that enabled a property owner to reclaim goods. But the lawyers shook their heads. At first, Elizabeth feared that her time in the asylum had invalidated her legal status, despite the recent verdict, but the situation was actually worse. “You cannot replevy anything, for you are a married woman,” her attorneys explained, “and a married woman has no legal existence, unless she holds property independent of her husband… This is not your case… Your husband has a legal right to all your common property — you have not even a right to the hat on your head!” “Why?” asked Elizabeth, outraged. “I have bought and paid for it with my own money.” “That is of no consequence — you can hold nothing, as you are nothing and nobody in law.”
So Elizabeth devotes the rest of her life to fighting to change the laws themselves. People talk often about “strong women” and Elizabeth Packard is more than deserving of that label. She was a one-woman wrecking crew to the laws and customs of mid-19th century America, and she did it to help all married women that found themselves abused and mistreated by their husbands. One man later in the book says as much to Elizabeth, and her response is telling:
“You have more boldness than any four women that I ever before saw, combined!” Elizabeth pulled herself up to her full height. “I claim, Mr. Fuller,” she retorted, “that I need a quadruple share of courage to cope with such men as I have had to deal with.”
The Woman They Could Not Silence is written about days long past, but it is immensely relevant to today. Moore knows this and shows the reader without saying it outright or twisting the history to make a point. The result is a terrific work of nonfiction (better even than The Radium Girls in my opinion) that speaks to the value of women and the hope that comes when just one person fights for the marginalized. I highly recommend The Woman They Could Not Silence, one of my favorite books of 2021 so far.
I received a review copy of The Woman They Could Not Silence courtesy of Sourcebooks and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
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This is an utterly fascinating and true story of a woman, Elizabeth Packard, who was sent to a mental institution simply for being opinionated and disagreeing with her husband. (It was completely legal for her husband to send her there in Illinois of 1860.) More people should know about this aspect of the way women were treated at the time. I was astounded by the list of reasons women could be institutionalized, including for "too much reading." Yes, that's right, intelligent and strong minded women could be sent away from their families and put in a mental institution for having an intellect or for having an issue with their husband. What follows is the story of how Elizabeth began to fight for herself and the lives of other women. This is an unforgettable story.
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Wow, I am so glad that I was introduced to Kate Moore's style of narrative nonfiction when I read The Radium Girls earlier this year! The book was done just as well at that one. The research that went into is absolutely outstanding and I think that it's really impressive when someone can bring a nonfiction story to life like this!
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This was such an intense and interesting read. Elizabeth’s story was one that I was not aware of previously but it illuminated even more the mistreatment of woman and the “insane” in America history. This book definitely brought to light issues that were thankfully addressed by Elizabeth but that is also an issue of current women. This is a book for anyone who wants a look into womens right, asylums, resiliency, and a mother’s love.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore is a phenomenal biography of one woman’s incredible journey of resilience and determination. Elizabeth Packard was a housewife and mother of six when she began voicing her opinions on politics and religion. Threatened by Elizabeth’s independent will her husband declares Elizabeth ‘insane’ and has her committed involuntarily to an asylum. Inside Illinois State Hospital Elizabeth is removed from her family, friends and supporters but discovers a sisterhood of patients lucid and similarly betrayed by husbands and family for having a voice or seeking independence. Elizabeth’s fight to escape the asylum is a long and painful quest marked by her relationship with Dr. McFarland who dutifully denies her freedom or aspirations. Elizabeth witnesses shocking abuse and violence during her imprisonment but it is with her sharp mind and the flow of her pen that she seeks justice and truth. It becomes Elizabeth’s mission to speak up for those whose voices have been stolen and silenced. This is a well-researched, eye opening and powerful book about a woman who fought for justice and human rights against the prejudice and discrimination that faced women in the eyes of the law, society and politics. Elizabeth Packards name needs to be remembered for her life, legacy and the countless lives she saved and this book is a beautiful portrait that recognises and celebrates her journey.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence is a fascinating look at asylums in the mid 1800s, especially their treatment of women. Though this story is a biography of one woman, Elizabeth Packard's experience in the Illinois State Hospital represents the experiences of many women. I've read many historical fiction books and have watched television series/movies that delve into asylums in this time period, but The Woman They Could Not Silence is my first experience reading a nonfiction account. 

During this time period, married men owned their wives. When women married, they gave up their right to their own property; children belonged to their father; if a woman earned money, it belonged to her husband. A wife was told that her opinions and beliefs could not differ from that of her husband. If they did, she certainly was not to voice them. Husbands could have their wives committed to an insane asylum for a large number of reasons. If you've never searched the internet for those reasons, you've got to!  Some of the reasons include the following: novel reading (I'd have been admitted before I was 10!), hard study, asthma, grief...the list goes on and on. We laugh at things like novel reading and hard study, but it was no laughing matter. 

Elizabeth Packard was admitted for having religious views that differed from those of her husband, Theophilus.. She was also very intelligent. Elizabeth had begun sharing her religious views within her community, and her husband was enraged. Rather than believing that Elizabeth could have differing opinions, he placed her in an asylum. 

How many of us women would be in asylums today had the laws not changed? Interestingly, Elizabeth' was instrumental in facilitating some of those changes. 

The Woman They Could Not Silence is a riveting look behind the doors. You'll meet women like Elizabeth who were completely sane, yet admitted by their husbands for ridiculous reasons. You'll meet women who were admitted because they were depressed. And, yes, you'll meet women who were there for quite legitimate reasons. You'll also meet both kind and completely evil asylum workers. And you'll meet Dr. Andrew McFarland, the psychiatrist who played God at Illinois State Hospital. 

If you enjoy reading historical accounts of mental health or about women in history, you really should read The Woman They Could Not Silence.
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The chilling story of Elizabeth Packard, American housewife and mother, who dared to voice her own opinions about religion, thus incurring the wrath of her husband who had her committed to an asylum for the insane, the Illinois State Hospital, where she was incarcerated against her will, an experience that was as devastating as you might imagine. Conditions were appalling, the treatment of the women abysmal, and not one of them had any rights. But Elizabeth refused to be silenced. She fought back with any means at her disposal against this barbaric practice of legally locking women up sometimes for simply being inconvenient or just not the docile creatures their menfolk wanted them to be. She didn’t want any other woman to suffer like she had. This is narrative non-fiction at its best. The book is wonderfully, indeed grippingly written, meticulously researched, and historically accurate. A truly compelling and often even nerve-wracking read. Excellent.
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Thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS for an egalley in exchange for an honest review


I am starting my #summerreading recommendations off with a nonfiction book. This is the story of an Illinois mother of six who was involuntarily committed to an insane asylum in 1860 by her husband and her fight to take on the American legal system.

Meticulously researched and well-paced, Kate Moore had me very invested in the life of Elizabeth Packard.

Publication Date 26/06/21
Goodreads review published 03/07/21


#erinrossreads2021 #readersofinstagram #goodreads #teachersandbooks #netgalley #sourcebooks
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This was both more than I was anticipating and WAY better as well. I didn't know much about what the story was about, but I now wish the story had actually been longer - what an amazing woman Elizabeth Packard was. I cannot even imagine living what she went through and then going on and fighting for the rights of herself and the women that were left behind in the insane asylum, despite all the opposition that constantly battered her from every side [including initially from her children whom her husband had poisoned them against her - that part of the story is particularly sad and infuriating], including the man who controlled her in the asylum [and what a piece of work HE was] and her worthless, craptastic, husband [ do not E V E N get me started on what a jerk this man was, no matter what time frame this was in. NO man should be as crappy as he was to both his wife AND his children. Even at the end, he was a complete jerk and the issues the children had [especially Libby] over the years lie directly at his feet. 
This is a must-read book for anyone who is interested in the fight for women's rights and to read one where the woman, for once, won - though it is up to the reader to decide if the fight and results were worth it [for the record, I, for one, think they were]. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Kate Moore, and SOURCEBOOKS (non-fiction), for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

<b>**</b> <i>I listened to the audiobook and initially the narration bothered me, but the author's voice grew on me and by the end, I was very  happy to listen to her tell the story. </i>
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Kate Moore has done it again! Another intriguing topic that little is known about in modern day (but should be!). I was blown away reading about Elizabeth Packard and her epic saga of her life. Her husband commits her to an insane asylum, with the only basis that she disagreed with him and was standing her ground. 
This book was incredibly researched and detailed. It was truly fascinating as a true story. I will be recommending this far and wide!!
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In 1860, Elizabeth Packard was committed to an insane asylum by her husband simply because her religious beliefs were opposed  to his.  This was the fate of many women of the time.  At that time men could have their wives and daughters committed for just about any reason.  As the title states, Elizabeth would not be silenced.  After three long years, she was released from the hospital.  She went on to fight for the rights of the insane and women in general.  At times , the book did seem a little wordy and slow but overall, well worth the time.  An interesting topic and definitely thought provoking.
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I was a huge fan of Kate Moore’s book “The Radium Girls” when it came out, and it’s been one of those rare books that has really stuck with me for a long time. I wondered if Moore would be able to come up with another worthy subject after the fascinating women in her first book. Luckily, Moore is as skilled with picking a subject as she is crafting a captivating and meaningful nonfiction tome.

“The Woman They Could Not Silence” follows the life of Elizabeth Packard, a woman in the 1860s who was imprisoned in an asylum for basically disagreeing with her husband. This insanely bright and compassionate woman was punished for being intellectual and outspoken (and daring to have a mind of her own). It’s crazy to think that women had zero rights not so long ago in our history – women could have been committed indefinitely for ‘novel reading’ (I sure would have been in trouble!)

Moore does a wonderful job including enough history so that the reader understands the context of Packard’s life and the time period without getting bogged down in fact after fact. Packard’s story is truly a remarkable one – the obstacles she faces and how she works to overcome her circumstances are both inspirational and impressive. I won’t go into detail about what Packard was able to accomplish since the reader doesn’t immediately know what her fate will be. But I will say that it’s unfortunate that Packard is not taught about in school as a valued crusader for the rights of mentally ill individuals and women.

I can’t find any faults in Moore’s storytelling – the pacing is quick, dramatic, and attention-grabbing. There were even a few moments where I actually gasped out loud at what was taking place in Packard’s journey. Like Packard herself, I hope Moore is appreciated for her immense talent and incredible brain.
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for gifting me a digital copy of the latest nonfiction work by Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls.  5 stars for an impeccably-researched book of this incredible woman's story.

In the 1860s, Elizabeth Packard, married for over 20 years to Theophilus and mother of their 6 children, was deemed insane and committed to the Illinois State Hospital.  The reason?  She had different political views from those of her pastor husband.  She never dreamed that this would be the beginning of a long stay where she discovered that she was not the only sane person committed by their husband.  In those days, women had zero rights and husbands could commit them due to reasons such as reading novels, thinking too much, irregular menstrual cycles.  Once Elizabeth realized that she had nothing left to lose, she did everything in her power to change laws so that women had more of a voice.

The author stated that every line of dialogue came from an actual record - I was astounded the entire time I read this book.  The conditions in the asylum and the treatment of the patients is horrific.  The power that husbands and men in general had over women appalling.  But the amazing fortitude of Elizabeth Packard to rise up and make a difference for women was astonishing.  While. so much has changed, the stigma and treatment of real mental illness still has so much more to go.  This book is a must read!
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