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The Woman They Could Not Silence

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I don’t read a ton of non fiction books, so I wanted to try something new with this one. This tells the story of Elizabeth Packard, a courageous woman who stood up for herself and others. Elizabeth was placed in an insane asylum against her will by her husband, who didn’t like her speaking her mind or having her own opinions. Elizabeth’s tenacity really shines through in the book. I was consistently surprised by how she handled hurdles that were put in front of her by her husband or the doctors.

At first, this read like a fiction story with how detailed it was. It felt like there may have been a few liberties taken during the first portion before Elizabeth was admitted and just after, some of the details seemed far to deep or mundane to go even into a diary. Once she was out of the asylum and working on her novel or into the trials, it felt much more non fiction like and I honestly through it moved a little more quickly! ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Fantastic! I recently read "The Radium Girls" and LOVED IT. I honestly think this one was even better. It had the same level of "wtf", "seriously?" and "Omg I can't even" as Radium Girls, but I think this one felt like it had better pacing. Kate Moore has a way of making me simultaneously want to throw a book against the wall, and also never want to put it down. 

I am so glad I know this story now! Elizabeth Packard was a bad ass and her story deserves to be told. The whole thing was heart breaking and shocking. It took things that we all kind of know, and really shone a light on them. Asylums were HORRIFYING but I couldn't stop reading about it! We've come a long way, but it is such a great reminder of how much impact we can make even against so much adversity.
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Kate Moore writes the best narrative nonfiction. The way she weaves quotes into the paragraphs makes it feel as though Elizabeth Packard herself is telling the story. Elizabeth's story has been hidden for far too long, and you will root for her throughout each page as she battles against her misogynistic husband, insane asylum superintendent, and societal expectations for women. She literally changed laws that supported women and people labeled "insane." The book includes pictures and a lengthy bibliography.
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human-rights, historical-places-events, historical-research, history-and-culture, nonfiction, emotional-abuse, journaling*****

In 1860, married for 21 years to a preacher and with six children, Elizabeth Packard came to realize the awful truth of the total subjugation of women as her husband had her committed to an insane asylum because she disagreed with him. This is her story, but the practice was still in effect when Nellie Bly wrote her expose. This form of persecution was also practiced in England and elsewhere well into the twentieth century. This is the extensive retelling of one woman's hard work to fight the system and strike a hard blow for women's rights.
I requested and received a free temporary ebook from Sourcebooks via NetGalley. Thank you!
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The time was 1860 and a woman was as much a chattel as a slave in the south was.  The only difference was that you couldn't sell a woman.  But once married, she was the 'property' of her husband and had no rights of her own, to money, property, even her children.  If a husband could find two doctors to certify that his wife was 'insane' he could have have committed to an asylum for as long as the Superintendent and Board decided she was still insane.

Mrs. Packard, was not your typical wife, she had a mind of her own and wasn't afraid to make her opinion known.  Her husband Theophilus was an Presbyterian minister who after twenty one years of marriage decided to have his wife confined to a mental asylum.  Her husband, with the members of his congregation found her to be insane because she refused to be a shy and subservient.  She had the audacity to have her own opinion on religion and later converted to Methodism.  

She spent five years in an asylum before getting herself declare sane against the wishes of the Superintendent of the institution.  She then spent the rest of her life fighting for woman's rights including priority of guardianship over her children, the guaranty of a hearing before she could be institutionalized.  Her advocacy led to the first woman being admitted to law school.  

During her life she continued to fight for woman's human rights though her husband and the Asylum's Superintendent continued to create situations that tried to present her as insane.
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If you read Radium Girls by Kate Moore then you know the author can do her research and write a compelling book. In The Woman They Could Not Silence, she delves into the life of Elizabeth Packard, a woman who fought for women’s rights in the 1800s. Her husband is angry that she dare question his teaching in the church where he is a pastor. He then has her committed. What a dire situation. How can she fight for herself when she has been placed in an insane asylum?

Take a look:

1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened—by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

The horrific conditions inside the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, are overseen by Dr. Andrew McFarland, a man who will prove to be even more dangerous to Elizabeth than her traitorous husband. But most disturbing is that Elizabeth is not the only sane woman confined to the institution. There are many rational women on her ward who tell the same story: they’ve been committed not because they need medical treatment, but to keep them in line—conveniently labeled “crazy” so their voices are ignored.

No one is willing to fight for their freedom and, disenfranchised both by gender and the stigma of their supposed madness, they cannot possibly fight for themselves. But Elizabeth is about to discover that the merit of losing everything is that you then have nothing to lose…

I love books like this that introduce me to people in history who I wasn’t aware of and much like Radium Girls, Kate does another wonderful job of detailing this time in history. This book is NOT to be missed.

Out on June 21.
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Another shining expose by Kate Moore, whose non-fiction humanizes each topic she addresses. I felt equal parts joy for Moore’s writing and horror at the subject matter. Moore is quickly becoming a dominant force in this writing space. After The Radium Girls, I wondered how Moore could possibly hit so profoundly and impactfully again. Well, I’ve got my answer - it’s The Woman They Could Not Silence. Highly recommended for library collections, book clubs, and high school curricula.
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I found the story of Elizabwth Packard to be truly horrifying, uplifting, and impacted.  In the 1800's, her husband had her committed into a mental asylum for her outspoken faith.  While there, Elizabeth served the other patients with such compassion and dignity.  After her release she fought and won and helped to have over 24 bills passed in favor of women's rights and those of the mentally ill.  A fabulous read.
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In 1860 a woman had no rights. Her life was dictated by her father, then husband or another male in the family. Elizabeth Packard was a devout woman, loving mother of six children and the wife of a preacher. She was not meek and shared her views with the congregation and her husband. Because her voice would not be silenced her husband had her committed to an asylum. She had no contact with the outside world and more importantly, her children. Even though Elizabeth began her stay at the Jacksonville asylum on a ward that was quiet and offered a bit more freedom, her cries of protest got her sent to the truly dangerous ward that was barbaric and made her situation even more unjust. Foraging for scraps of paper and pencil nubs she was able to keep a secret diary which later gave her the means for several books and papers. A gifted writer and speaker, when she eventually gained her freedom she was able to support herself and her children which felt like the final "take that" moment. A staunch supporter of women's rights she won legislation to force the courts to hold a trial before anyone was committed which slowed down the process by which so many healthy sane women were being unjustly held. The account is harrowing, the description of the "cures" used in these asylums is barbaric and the telling of Elizabeth Packard's story is riveting. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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The Woman they Could Not Silence is Kate Moore’s latest history book, once again set in Illinois. This time, her focus is on the remarkable Elizabeth Packard. Mrs. Packard is a young mother whose husband, Theophilus disagrees with her outspoken thoughts regarding religion and politics. As a result, he admits her as “insane” to the Jacksonville Asylum. Elizabeth Packard spends the next several years fighting for the rights of married women who lose their liberty at the behest of their husbands, while remaining unequivocally sane. Kate Moore’s book is an engaging and excellent read full of facts and Elizabeth’s own direct quotes from her journals and publications. Every women should read this as a testament to those that have come before us and fought viciously for our independence from the restrictions married women have had to abide by. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this digital advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Oh, what a book!  I've been on a Victorian-era asylum book kick and was eager to learn more about the astonishing Elizabeth Packard.  Truly amazing that one woman in Victorian times was able to change the world by her steadfast determination and intelligence.  No matter what, giving up was NOT an option. As the author says, the book is about fighting back.

In 1860 America, Elizabeth had been married to a solemn and cruel husband for twenty one years and had nowhere to go and no male to turn to (necessary in those times).  She deigned to speak her mind and express views, especially about religion.  Theophilus couldn't stand anyone oppose him, especially her, so forced her into the Illinois State Hospital, an asylum, and as a woman she had absolutely no choice.  She lost her six precious children, with whom she was besotted.  She was held against her will but kept in her emotions as she did not want to give the impression of insanity.  She encouraged every other inmate she could and reminded them to fight back.  Most were imprisoned as they were merely inconveniences to their husbands.  But what went on in asylums is horrendous.  Parts of this book include details of dreadful treatment and torture.  It is no wonder many broke down while there.  Elizabeth meticulously documented everything against all odds, sometimes even without paper!  Her perseverance is incomprehensible and admirable.  I have the utmost respect for her and what she did and how she did it.

Dr. Andrew McFarland, the director, was, at first, Elizabeth's confidante at the asylum.  They had intelligent conversations.  But that changed.  The author details Elizabeth's life before, during and after imprisonment including writing a book about asylum life and advocacy for women and women's rights.  Included are photographs and even a list of reasons for incarceration which is basically living normally.  Psychiatrists weren't trained.  The rules were so terrible they were bound to make any person insane.  Just expressing a desire to leave was viewed as insanity.  Women were imprisoned as they were hormonal, emotional and threatening to men.  Inside many women worked.  As a seamstress, Elizabeth was able to sew.  That is, before she was moved to another ward for stirring up dissent.  She realized, "being sane, I can't be cured".  She was desperate for freedom and children but would have to submit to her husband.  That wasn't in her.  

After her release (what a story that was!), her life did not get any easier.  She put her all into advocating for women and Packard's law passed!  She wrote and wrote and wrote and tirelessly pushed and eventually got the right people on her side.  

Wow, reading this was an astounding experience, one every person should have.  The research that went into this is just incredible.  The more I read the thirstier I became!  Kudos to the author.

My sincere thank you to SOURCEBOOKS and NetGalley for the privilege of reading the e-ARC of this fantastic, life enriching book!
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“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”
“I wrote my way out.”
“As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat.”
Alexander Hamilton or Elizabeth Packard?
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.
After learning her own powers of thought, writing, and persuasive speaking, Elizabeth Packard was confined by her husband in the Jacksonville Insane Asylum. The injustices, abuses, and flagrant inhumanity she saw and experienced there set her on a path to fight for women’s rights and better treatment of the mentally ill.
I knew nothing about Elizabeth Packard before reading this book. It was a fascinating and compelling read. Highly recommended!
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Kate Moore's The Woman They Could Not Silence shares another unknown piece of women's forgotten history. As with Radium Girls, Moore's meticulous research into the life of Elizabeth Packard offers readers insights into the grave injustices that existed in the 1860's against women and individuals with mental illness.  Elizabeth Packard was married to her husband Theophilus (whose name ironically means "friend of God), a minster, for 21 years when he involuntarily committed her to the Illinois  State Hospital because she was "insane." Says who? Theophilus. Why? Because she disagreed with him about religious matters and his decision to stop supporting the abolitionist movement. Trial? No. Ability to defend herself? No. Would she be able to see her five children? No. How could this be? Because at the time, women had no legal rights. In the eyes of the law, women were "incompetent." They could do nothing without a male--father before marriage, husband after marriage, male relatives if she became a widow. She had not right to enter contracts. She had no right to her own money. She had not right to see her children. She had to right to testify on her own behalf. 

And yet, Elizabeth Packard would not be silenced. She stood up for herself again the diabolical Dr. McFarland, the superintendent of the State Hospital. She did not flinch when she suffered physical abuse in the hospital. She found a way to record her experiences through her writings. After her release from the hospital, she published books about her experiences. She lobbied legislatures to change the laws about the commitment of married women. She became an outspoken supporter of women's rights and was eventually reunited with her beloved children. And by some next level grace, she remained civil to her husband until his death. 

My only criticism of the narrative is related to pacing. The first half of the work moves so slowly. It's painful. Perhaps, that was an artistic choice--to mirror the agony of being held against one's will for three years. But it made for tough reading, and I had put the book down at times because it was too much. The second half of the book moves more quickly, and again, perhaps that was intentional. 

This would be a great book club read for lovers of women's history. 

Thank you to Sourcebooks for the advance copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A favorable review was not required and all views expressed are my own.
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This is such an important book, but it is INFURIATING to read.

As a woman that considers herself a feminist, I am ashamed that I had never heard of Elizabeth Packard. I'm also angry--for some reason, I still know the name of the man who (supposedly) invented the cotton gin, but this absolute warrior of a woman was never once mentioned in any of my history classes.  Every school I ever attended gave shoutouts to Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt and called it good for women's history.

But let's be honest--this is a story that the patriarchy would prefer women didn't hear.  Elizabeth Packard was committed to an asylum by her husband for speaking out against his religious and political views, but she still managed to 1) get out of the asylum despite his wishes for her to live the rest of her life there, 2) be ruled "sane" by a court when at that time married women (and only married women) were not even entitled to a trial, 3) wrote and published multiple books that allowed her to support herself, her children, and her loser husband, and 4) successfully campaigned for laws to protect both married women and the mentally ill.  And she did all of this in a time/place where married women were considered legally insignificant extensions of their husbands, meaning that not only could he easily have her committed to an asylum for pissing him off, but she was not legally entitled to her own property, her financial earnings, or the custody of her children.  

This book is about so many things.  It's about the history of the treatment of mental health, and of course, women's rights.  It's an inspirational story about one particular woman and the effect she had on society. But more than that it is about the capability of women and the changes that they can make, even with everything stacked against them.  It's both shocking and at the same time not at all surprising that this story isn't a staple of American History classes.

From the technical side, Kate Moore writes extremely readable nonfiction.  I believe that her writing is perfect for people who don't typically like nonfiction--she manages to avoid the dryness that often manages to slip into even the most interesting topics in nonfiction books. My only critique would be that the book is too long.  I know from her Q&A that she did cut back significantly from her first draft, but this book needed to be even shorter.   It's clear from reading this book that the author was (justifiably) fascinated by this woman and all that she did, but shortening the book would make it even more accessible.  I loved this book, but I would still recommend Kate Moore's other nonfiction book, Radium Girls, before this one. 

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars

*eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This author has a talent for grabbing events in history that aren’t as well known or publicized and making them more real for us today. This issue is one that is important and  Rey interesting (not as morbidly fascinating as Radium Girls, but not much would be too me as that raised the bar pretty high). Still really glad I read it and already fe3commended it to several friends.Full review on goodreads.
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This book tells the true story of Elizabeth Packard, a mid-19th century wife and mother who fought for women's rights in America.

Historically, women in the United States had no rights. "Women....were subsumed within the legal identities of their husbands. The husband and wife are one, said the law, and that one is the husband." Thus a husband owned all his wife's possessions, could take custody of the couple's children, and had the power "to deprive [his wife] of her liberty and to administer chastisement."

In June 1860, Illinois resident Elizabeth Packard had been married to her pastor husband Theophilus for twenty-one years. The Packards had six children, who were "the sun, moon, and stars" to Elizabeth, and she spent her days "making their world as wondrous as she could." 

Elizabeth's husband Theophilus was of a less gentle nature. He was an autocratic man who had at times confiscated Elizabeth's mail, refused her access to her own money (from her father), and isolated her from her friends. Elizabeth felt "the net [Theophilus] cast about her felt more like a cage than the protection marriage had promised."

Things were about to get much worse though. In the bible class run by Theophilus's Presbyterian church, Elizabeth had expressed views that differed from her husband's. In Theophilus's eyes, this meant his wife was insane, and he determined to have her committed to an asylum.

In 1860 a husband could have his wife committed by merely asserting she was mad and getting medical certificates from two doctors. Theophilus approached two physicians he knew, and they agreed to affirm that Elizabeth had "derangement of mind...upon religious matters." Elizabeth soon found herself in Illinois's Jacksonville Insane Asylum, over two hundred miles from her home in Manteno.

Jacksonville Asylum operated under the supervision of Dr. Andrew McFarland, who answered to a Board of Trustees that rubber-stamped all his decisions. As the saying goes, 'absolute power corrupts absolutely', and McFarland was a dictator who ran the institute more like a prison than a hospital. Moreover, McFarland - who had little training in the field of mental health - couldn't tell an insane person from a bunch of carrots. McFarland allowed perfectly rational women to stagnate in Jacksonville for years on the say-so of their husbands....who often had ulterior motives.

When Elizabeth arrived at Jacksonville Asylum, she found McFarland to be a fine-looking gentleman with a nice manner. Elizabeth thought the doctor would realize how intelligent, well-spoken, and sane she was, and would release her immediately. This didn't happen however, and Elizabeth was incarcerated for years.....during which she sorely missed her beloved children.

McFarland had theories about ingratiating himself with patients for therapeutic purposes, and he got close to Elizabeth to help 'cure' her. As a result, Elizabeth developed a complicated love/hate relationship with the doctor, which is detailed in the book.

While in Jacksonville Asylum, Elizabeth observed the abusive treatment of patients, and met competent women who were incarcerated by scurrilous husbands. Elizabeth recorded her observations in a secret journal, and wrote a book while in Jacksonville. All of these proved useful later on.

Once Elizabeth was released from the asylum, she published her writings, and campaigned day and night to change America's laws. Elizabeth wanted to secure equal rights for women and get asylum reform....and a nice bonus would be to get McFarland fired. Elizabeth went door to door; spoke to legislators; implored governors; attended court; testified before the Jacksonville Board of Trustees; and more.

Of course Dr. McFarland, Theophilus, supervisors of asylums, profiteers associated with mental hospitals, and newspapers (run by men) fought Elizabeth tooth and nail, and the suspense of the book lies in 'who would win?'

The story is interesting, and the topic is VERY important, but the narrative is much too detailed and over-long. Kate Moore did extensive research for the book, and she includes too much of it in the narrative. Trial transcripts, witness testimony, and the like could have been summarized with no loss of impact.

Still, Elizabeth Packard was a force majeure for women's rights, and her contribution was almost forgotten until Kate Moore unearthed it. Thus, this is a very important book, highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley, Kate Moore, and Sourcebooks for a copy of the book.
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Elizabeth Packard. What an awesome woman. I am so glad I strayed outside my reading comfort zone to pick up this ultimately triumphant story of someone I had never even heard of, but who's persecution and tenacity, intelligence and kindness, have not only paved the way for modern women but blasted through the bedrock of institutionalised paternalism to lay the road itself. I turned each page wondering 'how could they?'. How is she going to get through this? Who could bear this, stay true to herself and continue to care so deeply for others despite the personal cost. And ...What an awesome writer. Kate Moore, I am so glad you took the time and huge effort to tell us Elizabeth's story so compellingly. I couldn't put it down.
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Good story of strength and learning. I enjoyed reading it! Thank you Net Galley for the copy in exchange for my honest review!
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“Devalue the words of women and half the battle is won.”
I started reading about Elizabeth Packard and looked a the cover again to make sure it was really nonfiction. 

In 1860, Elizabeth, the mother of six children, was taken by her husband to the Illinois State Hospital.  He was tired of her independent thought and her religious beliefs differing from his, so  he had her committed to an insane asylum.  Other reasons a woman might be considered mentally ill were too much time spent reading novels and irregular menstrual cycles. 
Elizabeth was brilliant and kind and won over not only most of the other patients, but many members of the staff as welll.  This gave her the opportunity to get paper and journal her experience.  The director at the facility was kind for a time, but grew tired of her and made life hell. 
Eventually free, she became a voice for the voiceless, campaigning for change in the way mental health facilities operated,  and constantly striving for the equal treatment of women.
Elizabeth’s story was so fascinating.  It’s something that I’ve always thought about, how a person who has had a miserable or tragic experience can rise above and elicit great change.  Elizabeth certainly made her mark and this gripping book truly honored her life’s work.
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What I liked:

This book follows a woman I'd never heard of before seeing this story, Elizabeth Packard. Her story has a lot of twists and she really never gives up. But that's not all there is to like about this story. Because the book focuses so intimately on one person and those around her, we get a very detailed look at all the characters, and Moore doesn't disappoint on providing a clear picture of those involved.

What I didn't like:

There were some pacing issues in the story. I'm not sure if it wouldn't have benefitted from being just a bit shorter.


I'll be honest, I wanted to read this book because I'd read Radium Girls also by Kate Moore and loved it. This book is not that book, and I don't think it's quite as good as that book. However, it's a totally different type of story and the quality of writing you'd expect if you're a Radium Girls fan does hold up here.
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