Cover Image: The Woman They Could Not Silence

The Woman They Could Not Silence

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Member Reviews

This was a very powerful book that taught me a lot. There were parts that dragged for me, but overall I found this book very informative and intriguing. I knew about the lack of rights that married women had in the 19th century, but I was unaware of what implications that lack of rights could lead to. Elizabeth endured years without her own biological children, and tirelessly fought the entire time for not only her rights but the rights of other women who were unjustly put into asylums. The author also added an air of creepiness to the asylum portions, which I enjoyed. I was pleasantly surprised by the author as the narrator. Usually I find that authors do not do the best job with narrating their own books, but Kate Moore has a wonderfully pleasant voice that allowed the information to feel more accessible to the listener. A long read, but definitely a recommended one.
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I received an advance copy of The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore in both audio and digital form from Blackstone publishers and Sourcebooks through Netgalley 

CW: Forced Institutionalization, Mistreatment of Patients, Abuse of the Mentally Ill, Sexism. 

What It’s About: Elizabeth Packard is a wife and mother of six in 1860, when she begins to share her opinions on religion and her husband feeling threatened, declares she is insane and puts her in an institution for the insane. Her harrowing journey from abused woman to abused patient to advocate to freed woman and back a few times is documented in this book.  

What I Love: Kate Moore is a talented scholar. She present’s Elizabeth Packard as a woman who was fighting for women’s rights prior to when most people think the book began. If anyone has ever read the Yellow Wallpaper or other fictional accounts of women being made to be viewed as unstable if they were not a perfect woman. This story is actually really quite inspiring and I think a lot of people will learn from this book. The way women in this country have been and are treated is appalling and this book really does bring light to a lot of that. 

What I Didn’t Love: Honestly I thought it was a bit dense. It was hard to listen to, this book is loaded in details and quotes from primary documents. It is an in depth exploration of Packard’s life and at times it truly was just too much for me. I think this might be because I have the opposite problem of others with audio, I usually do better with fiction. Additionally, I thought that this book was very repetitive and that certain parts just seemed to keep coming up, to be fair, I actually think that Elizabeth just kept going through the same thing in the same pattern over and over but it got a bit repetitive and maybe stylistically could have been done better. That said, it is a history so this should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Who Should Read This: People who love well researched and detailed histories. People who want to learn more about the abuses women faced pre-women’s right.  

Quick Summary: A woman forcibly institutionalized becomes a leading advocate for the rights of women and the mentally ill.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence starts off strong, but then becomes convoluted with too many characters' perspectives.  As the twisty plot continues, the story becomes more difficult to follow.  The addition of additional characters' voices toward the end detract from the main story and are not necessary to carry the plot forward.
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Elizabeth Packard is someone every woman should know about. If you’ve ever used your voice to stand up for something or someone. If you have ever expressed your opinion. If you can worship whatever religion you want. For these reasons and more you should be grateful to have been born in the 1900s or 2000s and that you can’t just be sent to an asylum for standing up for your beliefs or disagreeing with your husband.

In 1860, Theophilus, husband of twenty-one years to Elizabeth Packard, decides that his wife is getting a bit too intelligent and outspoken. So, without any other corroboration or reason beyond her husband saying she was insane, Elizabeth Packard was committed to an asylum in Illinois. Thanks to detailed journal writing and a book, written by Elizabeth herself, Kate Moore was able to provide readers with a detailed account of Elizabeth’s horrific years in the asylum.

Elizabeth Packard can’t believe how easy it was for her husband to have her committed and upon her arrival, she finds numerous other women and wives, also committed by their husbands. She assumes she will only be there for a few days but when she sadly realizes she will not be going home anytime soon, she sets off on a mission to make sure this doesn’t happen to any more women in the future. She was frequently punished for her outspokenness and for helping other women in the ward. After witnessing deplorable conditions on certain wards, she decided to not only fight for women’s rights outside of the asylum but also for those inside, demanding better care for women. Her months of bathing women that hadn’t been bathed, washing their sheets, combing their hair only to start the cycle back over again when she finished the last woman brought me to tears. She put her own needs aside to offer a bit of love and kindness to women who had basically been thrown away by their families.

I listened to this on audio and whether you read or listen to the narration, it’s heavy and I had to take frequent breaks. But, this is a story that needs to be heard. I can’t imagine what life would be like for women if Elizabeth Packard hadn’t been so determined to go against the doctor and director of the hospital she was admitted to as well as to fight her husband for custody of their children. The ending is quite remarkable and her resilience amazed me. Kate Moore’s research was impeccable and her attention to detail made this narrative non-fiction gripping and emotional. Thanks to her, Elizabeth Packard’s story has reached those of us who had never heard her story.
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I was already a fan of Kate Moore's book Radium Girls, but I was absolutely blown away by The Woman They Could Not Silence. This book is riveting, infuriating, and inspirational all in one. I am constantly in awe of Moore's ability to combine heavy historical research with storytelling that allows for easy reading. She truly made Elizabeth Packard's voice and perseverance come alive on the page.
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This biographical account of Elizabeth Packard's life and experiences in the Jacksonville Asylum, how she fought for her own rights and those of other women unfairly institutionalized and mistreated, and how she got out. The book is both horrifying and enthralling. Horrifying because this is a true account of how men so callously treated women who dared to think for themselves and how those very same men believed that women lacked the intellectual capacity to think independently. Therefore, any woman who, like Packard, displayed independent thought, must have been insane and had to be subdued by any means necessary. Enthralling because Elizabeth Packard's own words are quoted throughout, as she wrote her thoughts and observations prolifically and on whatever surface she could get her hands on. The book reads like a novel, and yet it is based purely on facts. Kate Moore narrates strongly and clearly, holding the reader's attention as much as the force of Elizabeth Packard's personality which shines throughout the entire book.
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Another spectacular book from Kate Moore! As usual, her nonfiction reads and captivates exactly like fiction, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the author as an audiobook narrator.
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OMG I loved this book!  I listened to this book, read but the author, Kate Moore and it was a great listen.   The Woman They Could Not Silence is an incredible story of determination and grit. Elizabeth Packard is a religious woman in 1860 who had the gall to not agree with everything her pastor husband preached from the pulpit. Since he had complete control over her at that time in history, he had her committed to an insane asylum in Illinois where, with the help of the supervisor there, was able to keep her locked up and away from her children for three long years. 

But fear not, Elizabeth is a badass and there is much more to the story. Kate Moore does a wonderful job of taking us not only into Elizabeth's life but into her thoughts, interspersing her own words from diaries and letters. The laws of the day were all against women in favor of the total control by the husband or father, It can't help but bring to mind what women are still dealing with in some parts of the world. 

Thanks must go to the real life Elizabeth who spent her life helping her "sisters" who needed her help and all those who still today are called "crazy" because their ideas are not the norm.

Thanks to NetGalley for this advance copy of the audiobook in exchange for this honest review.
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The Woman they Could Not Silence tells the story of Elizabeth Packard, a housewife turned women’s right advocate who changed the legal landscape during the second half of the nineteenth century.  As with her previous book, Radium Girls, Moore tells the largely forgotten story of legally sanctioned injustice against women in the United States. 



In 1860, Elizabeth Packard was sent to an Illinois insane asylum after disagreeing with her pastor-husband on a matter of Protestant theology.  After Packard refused to modify her behavior, her husband was able to have her institutionalized with the complicity of willing physicians.  Packard herself was afforded no legal recourse being considered a non-entity as a married woman.  Once an inmate at the Jacksonville Asylum, Packard experienced and observed abuses both physical and mental and became, even while still confined, an advocate for the unjustly confined and the mentally ill.  Following her 1863 release, Packard continued her efforts to both secure her own safety (including testifying in a dramatic habeas corpus hearing) and that of other women by working to change the laws that denied married women the full rights of citizenship. 



Even as someone who loves and studies history, I had never heard of Elizabeth Packard and appreciate Kate Moore’s efforts to not only tell her story, but to do so in such an engaging manner.  The audiobook is very well done—the author does read the book well, though hearing this American story read with a British accent is initially disconcerting most particularly with the pronunciation of Elizabeth’s last name-- and is in several ways perhaps the perfect vehicle for the story.  It is a long book—thorough and well researched—which can ( and I did see this in some reviews of the book) intimidate some readers particularly with nonfiction.  The audiobook grabs the reader with the story it is trying to tell, though,  propelling the reader into and through the story.  The subjects of the book also truly come to life to such an extent as to elicit a deep emotional response from the listener whether from the almost comic book villain-like evil of people such as Dr. McFarland or from Elizabeth’s own sometimes cringe-worthy behavior.  And for women today, this is an easy story to connect to.  Moore herself identifies several parallels between Elizabeth’s story and recent events.  While many American women today are thankfully spared abuse the type and extent of which Elizabeth suffered, I think a lot of female readers will feel a sense of recognition as they listen to Elizabeth story.  In the end, that makes this book bittersweet—it lets us remember and celebrate a women’s rights crusader, but it also reminds us how far we still have to go.
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I really enjoyed Moore's other books so I was very interested in this one especially since this is a subject I have always been interested in. Lucky for me Moore did not disappoint. She always amazes me with how much time and research she puts into her books. I always feel like I reading a story and not a historical account that was pieced together by a very talented and dedicated writer. The woman Moore chooses to write about are always fascinating but its her writing that really brings these stories back to life. This was another win for Moore and I can't wait to see what she does next.
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Audiobook provided by NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

I truly hope that somewhere in my academic life, I learned about Elizabeth Packard and that it's something I've just forgotten about. I remember learning about Nelly Bly and how she checked herself into an asylum in order to report on the horrible conditions people were living under. If I learned that, how could any teach not also talk about Packard? Yet none of this story rings a bell and that both infuriates me and breaks my heart. 

Moore does a really good job of bringing Packard's story back to life for a new generation. While I'm generally hesitant when an author narrates their own audiobook, Moore does a great job with it. This book is fascinating... and educational.

This book will also piss you off. The things that women have been subjected to by the hands of men throughout history is, frankly, utter b.s. and the more I discover books telling the truths of women that are being forgotten, the angrier I get. 

THE WOMAN THEY COULD NOT SILENCE is not an easy read... even if the reader is already aware of what was going on behind asylum walls during the time period. How Packard could remain in her right mind and continue to fight I'll never know or understand. But thank God that she did. 

I am grateful to Moore for giving Packard space again so that she's not forgotten. Because the fight for equality still has a long way to go and maybe Elizabeth Packard can inspire a new generation of women to pick up her fight.
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This is a unique look at the life of Elizabeth Packard and her impact on women's rights specifically in the mental health field. She heroically stood up for not only herself and her rights to be viewed as an individual, but also the other women who she met along the way while being unjustly hospitalized in a mental institute by her husband.
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The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore was both inspirational and riveting. I listened to the audiobook  that was masterfully read by the author. It is embarrassing that I had no idea who Elizabeth Packard was prior to listening to this captivating audiobook. How she slipped through history without more of a presence was hard to fathom! Elizabeth Packard was a true heroine in women’s rights. Author, Kate Moore, impeccably researched this book and combined her research with her masterful storytelling and talent to remind everyone about this all but forgotten woman who changed the history of women’s rights. The Woman They Could Not Silence was a true account of Elizabeth Packard’s time in an insane asylum and her long and difficult fight she fought in the name of mental health rights for women and the rights of married women. Kate Moore relied heavily on letters, memoirs and trial transcripts to detail the obstacles Elizabeth faced both before her confinement in the insane asylum and after. Although The Woman They Could Not Silence was quite long (over 14 and half hours of listening time), I found that I could not pull myself away from her story. I wanted to know more. 

In the year 1860, Elizabeth Packard had been married for twenty one years to Theophilus Packard. Elizabeth was a housewife and patient and loving mother to their six children. Her children were Elizabeth’s heart and sole. She lived for them. Theophilus was a Calvinist minister and quite threatened by Elizabeth’s remarkable intelligence, unheard of independence and inability to hold back her own thoughts on any subject she found contrary to her own thoughts. In those days, a woman lost all her rights as a U.S. citizen when they married. In the eyes of the law, in 1860, the man was always right. The husband was regarded as being in sole possession of the property where a husband and wife lived and the husband would be awarded complete possession of the children if either were to be contested in a court of law. The laws always favored the husband. Based on these laws, Theophilus had no trouble having Elizabeth committed to the Illinois State Hospital insane asylum located in Jacksonville, Illinois, against her will. He proclaimed her insane just because she had begun to question his religious views. Theophilus had two friends write letters for him to support his findings. That was all Theophilus needed to have Elizabeth committed. At the Illinois State Hospital, Elizabeth quickly learned that she was not the only sane housewife to be committed without evidence of insanity. Dr. Andrew McFarland, the doctor in charge of the asylum, held the power to silence Elizabeth and keep her locked up for three long years. All that time, Elizabeth fought back against her cruel husband, unmoving and detestable doctor who showed the world a different side of him than he showed the patients at the asylum and the 19th century laws that gave men, and especially husbands, absolute power over women and wives. Elizabeth was determined to change those laws and give women their undeniable rights as citizens. 

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore was both powerful and dramatic. Elizabeth Packard’s accomplishments were historic and heroic. She got her points across through her voice during the trials she endured, the books she wrote and by seeking intervention and reform by the government both through individual states and by the national government. Elizabeth Packard became an advocate for women’s rights. The Woman They Could Not Silence was a testament to how far women’s rights have progressed from those dire days of 1860 but also how far they still need to come. Hats off to the courageous and undying bravery Elizabeth Packard displayed as she fought for her own freedom and rights and those of her fellow women. This is a book not to be missed. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing for giving me the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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First line: This is not a book about mental health, but about how it can be used as a weapon.

Summary: Elizabeth Packard, a wife and mother of six, has displeased her husband with her differing views on religion and politics. According to the laws of the land he is within his rights to commit her to an insane asylum. And this is exactly what he does. However, Elizabeth will not go quietly. For three years she lives inside the walls of the institution, writing her story and about the abuses of the staff and the superintendent. Finally, when she is released her problems are not over. There is still a battle to be won and no one is going to silence her until it is finished.

My Thoughts: If you are looking for a non-fiction book that reads like fiction then this is it. The story is very easy to follow, the flow is consistent throughout and the plot is compelling. Elizabeth’s story is probably more common than anybody realizes. A husband, father, or brother has become disgruntled with a woman and sends them away. It is sad and fascinating all at the same time.

I listened and read this at the same time. Both were very enjoyable ways to consume this book. The reader did a great job and kept my attention while I was doing other things as I listened.

I did get a little frustrated at times with Elizabeth. Even though she knew that certain men were the ones that put her in the asylum she continued to try and persuade them to change their minds. I liked to see that she was smart enough to manipulate the situations she was in or make the best of her times in the asylum. She kept her wits about her which many other women would not be able to do.

With her limited resources she improved the lives of many of the women trapped in the asylum with her. And when she left she did not forget the ones that were still imprisoned. She was an intelligent woman who knew how to get her points heard. Because of her campaigning she brought about changes for married women and patients in the asylums.

FYI: From the author of Radium Girls.
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This wonderful book by Kate  Moore delves deeply into  the issue of women being oppressed by their husbands and institutionalized.  We follow protagonist Elizabeth Packard in her trials against her husband, who wants to see her declared insane.  In this day and age it was quite simple to do.  Elizabeth fought back for her freedom and the freedom of every woman subjected to suppression by their husbands.
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Kate Moore's previous book <i>Radium Girls</i> is a book that I think about a lot. When I finished it, I immediately went to see if Moore had any other published works and was utterly disappointed to find there wasn't much. So, when I saw <i>The Woman They Could Not Silence</i>, I was immediately excited to read it. 

Here we learn the story of Elizabeth Packard, a woman who was admitted to an insane asylum falsely, because her husband wanted to get rid of her. In the asylum, Elizabeth saw the true reality of how these facilities treated the insane. As she grew more vocal, the worse her treatment got. 

While I can't say that I enjoyed the things Elizabeth had to face, I did enjoy reading about the history and just how far science, mental health rights, and women's rights have come from Elizabeth's lifetime. This didn't hit me as hard as <i>Radium Girls</i>, but it was a good read. 

3.5/5 stars
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Thank you NetGalley for an audio-ARC of The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore.
Kate Moore narrates this audio and her voice is perfect for the time period and the historical aspect of this story. Written like a narrative, this non-fiction book was easy to listen to and keeps the reader's interest.
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If this were a fiction book, when Elizabeth Packard wins her insanity trial, readers would be cheering at the happy ending. But THE WOMAN THEY COULD NOT SILENCE is not fiction, and Elizabeth's court battle is only a small part of the remarkable story.  As I listened to the book unfold (I had the audio version), I could not believe all this woman had been through. What's more, i was filled with respect for what had to be one of the most brilliant and unsung female heroes of our time. 

Just as she did the women in Radium Girls, Kate Moore does an excellent job of bringing Elizabeth Packard and her struggles to life.  Readers will find themselves on the edge of their seat as she struggles for release from the asylum and cheering for her brilliance when she bests her antogonists.

Elizabeth Packard is the badass hero every woman should know about. Thank You Kate Moore for writing this book.
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Another fantastic and fascinating book from Kate Moore. 

This ticked all the boxes for me--early feminism, part of history I know nothing about, lunatic asylums, and the mistreatment of women. 

I listened to the audio, which the author read, and it was a good production. The short chapters made this 15 hour audiobook fly by.
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Many of us have seen the graphic that circulates social media with the list of reasons women could once be institutionalized. It’s an absurd list and in the book groups I’m in, “novel reading” is often circled. People laugh. And it is funny when you don’t think too deeply upon it. Because that list is a reality. Those were reasons women could once be institutionalized. That list exemplified the lack of rights women had. That list declared that women who actually thought for themselves, showed emotions, used their imagination, or did anything else outside of the structure set for them as females could then be contained and controlled. So, while on the surface, that list may seem humorous, it’s actually quite terrifying.

Elizabeth Packard lived during a time when the beliefs that list imposed were widely practiced. Because she had spoken out about women’s rights, possessed religious beliefs that contradicted her husband’s and simply proved to have a mind of her own, her husband was legally able to have her institutionalized and declared insane.

That was the beginning of Elizabeth’s harrowing, gasp-inducing ordeal. She endured a number of institutional abuses and a painful separation from her children, while they were being conditioned to view her adversely in her absence. As the title of this book clearly conveys, that was not the end of Elizabeth’s story. 

I did appreciate that Moore included some of Elizabeth’s own misjudgements of other women when she possessed a positive perception of the male they condemned. Her mistakes show her humanness, as well as one of the many issues still prevalent in today’s society. We are often quick to dismiss claims of mistreatment when we don’t experience such mistreatment from the culprit ourselves. Fortunately, Elizabeth was able to learn from her own errors and came to fight for the very women she once misjudged. 

There is a particular short story - one I don’t want to mention by name in an effort to not spoil it for those who haven’t read it - that aptly demonstrates the disturbing effect of doing things simply because “this is the way it’s always been.” The story takes very little time to make a loud statement about not questioning practices and mob mentality. Its eerie message is evident to the reader and one might find it difficult to believe that such an absurdity could ever take place. We see it all play out in different ways again and again, however, and The Woman They Could Not Silence exemplifies this horror as a reality back in the 1800s. 

The value of the historical issue addressed in this book has not depreciated. We need to know this. And we need to recognize how those laws and toxic beliefs continue to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) influence how we behave today. Kate Moore does not shy away from clearly stating how prevalent this issue is still; how quick society is to cast doubt on a woman’s claims with this simple statement: “She’s crazy.” We must all continue to be women they cannot silence.  

I do not think a single fictional horror story exists that can outdo the things that have happened and will happen in this world. We live the ultimate terror daily. The story detailed in this book is truly a terrifying one and while it’s part of history, it’s something that did happen - something that could happen again in different ways. So, if you really want to read something that will creep you out and make you think twice about turning out the lights, read this book about men with too much power, inhumane laws, and women who are silenced through imprisonment, manipulation, and mutilation. I promise you: This is a scary book. But it’s an important one and it needs to be read. 

“We are only just beginning to appreciate exactly how a person’s powerlessness may lead to struggles with their mental health.” ~Kate Moore

“No human being can be subjected to the process to which you subject them here without being in great danger of becoming insane.” ~Elizabeth Packard

I am immensely grateful to Bibliolifestyle & Sourcebooks for my finished copy and Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for my audio review copy.
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