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The Woman They Could Not Silence

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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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GIRL POWER. I often struggle through non-fiction, but The Woman They Could Not Silence was written so well. We follow the real-life story of Elizabeth Packard and her fight for women's rights.

Women have made big strides recently, but there's still so much more to do. Following the story of someone who was fighting for us so early on was powerful.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear is historical non-fiction, telling the story of Elizabeth Packard and her fight for women’s rights in the 19th century. The author uses Packard’s own writings, as well as the writings of others, to tell this in-depth story of the problems facing married women in the Civil War era.
Elizabeth Packard was sent to an insane asylum by her husband Theophilus. He forcibly removed her from her home, her six children, and her life, labelling her as “insane” and locking her up to protect himself from criticism for her opinions. Elizabeth was a force to be reckoned with, and not only did she survive the insane asylum, but she went on to change laws throughout the country so that the same thing would not continue happening to other married women. 

The book is extremely detailed. I enjoyed reading it and learned much that I didn’t know about the Civil War era and women’s rights. The author really brings the reader into Elizabeth’s experience. We experience the frustrating feeling of being trapped right along with her. We experience the confusion as it is difficult to know who is trustworthy. We experience the heartbreak of her life as a mother.

Overall, I recommend this book. It is well-researched, well-written, and still relevant to the struggles of our day. At times it does move slowly and I feel that the story could have been told just as effectively in fewer pages. But ultimately, the author has done an incredible job with a difficult and complicated subject.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence is a non-fiction book about Elizabeth Packard.  Theophilus and Elizabeth Packard were married for 21 years and had 6 kids when Theophilus decided he could no longer tolerate Elizabeth's ways.  She was intelligent, outspoken, and demanding of respect.  She butted heads with her Reverend husband on theology, and that was a blow to his standing in the community and in the eyes of the church hierarchy.  His answer to the problem of Elizabeth was to have her committed to the Illinois State Psychiatric Hospital.  It was common practice at the time, and Elizabeth was far from the only sane wife that had been committed to the insane asylum.  Elizabeth continued to fight for her freedom and women's rights, specifically to ensure that laws were changed so that women were not property of the husband and could not be committed so easily.   #TheWomanTheyCouldNotSilence is a well researched book from the author of The Radium Girls.  Thank you #NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to give my voluntary and honest opinion.
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I stumbled across this on NetGalley one day and immediately put in a request for this. I loved Kate Moore’s previous book Radium Girls so I had high hopes for this one too. This book talks a lot about a huge part of woman’s history that a good amount of people don’t know about. Kate Moore does a great job at inviting the readers into the history as if they are there. 

I felt like this would be an amazing audiobook, but physically reading it was such a long process and was a bit boring at times.
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Moore’s impeccably researched book, “The Woman They Could Not Silence”, was an empowering read, although at times I wanted to scream and throw things due to the injustice so many people experienced (and are still experiencing).  The book follows the life of Elizabeth Packard, a mother, a wife, and a woman who speaks her mind.  Her husband Theophilus, who is a pastor, doesn’t appreciate that Elizabeth has independent thoughts (gasp!) and has her locked up in an insane asylum.  Yes, that’s right. He locks her away because his measly little mind can’t comprehend that a woman has thoughts of her own. (Gasp again!) I shouldn’t jest, because there’s nothing funny in this book, and while the book takes place between the 1860s and 1880s, Moore rightly points out that a woman’s words are still questioned today. She asserts in the postscript that the “pernicious accusation of insanity, deliberately intended to undermine, haunts the annals of history like a spirit photograph, unsettling and at times unseen. It is there in politics, acting as a dead weight to drag back the forces of change” (Moore, 2021).  So many men and women have had their voices silenced because they think differently, are not WASP males, and are crying for change in a world that continues to dig its heels in.  This book follows one woman who stood for radical change, but it is a message to all of us who wish to live in a better and more harmonious world.  

“And yes, they called her crazy.
But if that’s crazy, we should stand back and admire.
For just look at what ‘crazy’ can do.” (Moore, 2021)

Elizabeth is subjected to terrible mental and physical conditions while she was incarcerated at the Illinois State Hospital.  Reading her story was painful at times.  Elizabeth acted better than I would have.  Throughout her entire experience at the hospital, she holds herself like a lady, believing that someone will champion for her, and eventually finding out that she must fight for herself.  While she is working so hard to prove to the director of the hospital that she is clearly sane, she’s also picking up her pen and wielding it like a sword.  Elizabeth begins to write, and write, and write.  She eventually writes laws to change the fate of married woman and the mentally ill.  I don’t want to give away too much, but Elizabeth Packard is my new heroine.   Her courage and determination, her grit and character are inspiring and incredible.  Moore clearly spent a lot of time researching this book because it is one of the best historical books I have read.  Moore’s attention to details, time lines, the flow of the narrative, side notes to the reader about societal norms, and the depiction of the historical figures is flawlessly done. This book was captivating and empowering.  One of the best books I’ve read!

Trigger warnings: female genital mutilation, physical and mental abuse, neglect, torture

Thank you to NetGalley and SourceBooks for providing me with an ARC!
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After reading Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls, I knew to jump at the chance offered by Net Galley to read an ARC of her new book The Woman They Could Not Silence. As she did in the earlier book, Kate Moore researched endlessly to get a factual presentation of a life that would not be believable if it had been fiction. Then she turned around and wrote a true story that reads like a compelling novel. 

Running along as a background current behind Elizabeth Packard’s story as she begins in 1860 is American history before, during, and after the Civil War. Smart, independent, and a thinker, Elizabeth Packard becomes a threat to her husband. Because he can in this day and time, he has her committed to an insane asylum. He is a pastor. They have been married for twenty-one years. They have six children still at home. None of this matters.

Andrew McFarland, the director of the insane asylum, puts on a front of friendship to Elizabeth, even as she begins to see that more than one sane person has been assigned erroneously to his care. Many women have been placed there and labelled “crazy” because they failed to fall in line with whatever their husbands demanded. Conditions are deplorable and caregivers brutal.  

Elizabeth, with unflagging spirit, comes to rely on her writing to cope. She finds creative places to hide her work for the time that will come when she can use it, not only for herself but for the other women she comes to care for. That time is slow in coming, but when it does, she is ready. Kate Moore’s absorbing narrative recounts a woman who refused to be silent, and eventually changed laws in state after state so that men could no longer confiscate property women brought into marriage, did not automatically get custody of any children in case of divorce, and could not label wives as “crazy” and send them to an asylum on a whim.  

As the book pulls you in, be prepared for disbelief that this account could have happened only a century and a half ago, but then look at the extensive research Kate includes in her back matter.
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