Elizabeth Packard, Proposal and Annotated Bibliography

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was an average woman in nineteenth century America. She married Theophilus Packard in 1839, and together they had begun raising their children in Illinois. However, due to their conflicted religious beliefs, Elizabeth and her husband began to have tensions. Theophilus Packard had his wife taken away to the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1860.  She would remain in the asylum for three years; all the while she faced the hardships of being perceived as insane. Once Elizabeth was discharged she became an activist for asylum rights as well as active in reforming marriage law. She was able to write about her experiences in the asylum and produced multiple books on reforming mental institutions and women’s rights. The American asylum reform would not have been the same without Packard’s influence and personal account reflections.

Packard’s attribution to this field of American psychiatry is very critical because of her experience. She was committed without acting and did not go in the asylum with a prior agenda such as other famous reformers such as Nellie Bly and Dorothea Dix. To truly reflect Packard’s influence and contribution I propose to create a web-based project, more specifically a blog, which will be dedicated to her life in and out of the asylum. I will section off the blog strategically by using her accounts and even diary entries by her son along with an abundance of background sources. The investigation and trial in the state of Illinois will also play as a major theme to contribute to Packard’s life.  I will use her accounts, such as The Great Drama, or, The Millennial Harbinger, and Modern persecution, or Insane asylums unveiled, as demonstrated by the report of the Investigating committee of the legislature of Illinois to prove the affect she had on not only the state of Illinois but also the United States. There are many secondary source materials on the life of Elizabeth Packard that support the need for the study of her story. It is my contention that Elizabeth Packard influenced the asylum reform, marriage, and the American law through her experience in the mental hospital. There are articles, books on asylums in general, and even a play about her life. Women and Madness by Phyllis Chesler elaborates on Packard’s influence of the effect of mental institutions and feminism while Gerald Grob’s The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill provides information on the political and campaigning influence of Packard.


Appelbaum, Paul S., and Kathleen N. Kemp. “The Evolution of Commitment Law in the Nineteenth Century: A Reinterpretation.” Law and Human Behavior 6 (1982): 343-354.     Accessed September 20, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1393766

I will use this piece to reflect the influence that Packard had on marriage laws. Her husband was very cruel to her and she fought to help other women who went or were going through the same thing as her.


Berry, Dawn Bradley. The 50 Most Influential Women in American Law. Los Angeles: Lowell      House, 1996.

This compilation of women’s works on powerful ideas of law mentions Elizabeth Packard and the role she played in American Society.


Carlisle, Linda V. Elizabeth Packard: A Noble Fight. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2010.

The author discusses Packard’s trial and the other hardships she faced with her husband, Theophilus Packard.


Chesler, Phyllis. Women And Madness. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2005.

Chesler’s book focusses on how women got into the asylum in the nineteenth century. She examines the lives’ of several women who were committed to the insane asylum. In this piece Chesler describes the importance of Packard and compares her experiences to the other women.


Cullen-Dupont, Kathryn ed., American Women Activist’ Writings: An Anthology, 1637-2002.  New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002.  

This book looks at women’s activists from 1637-2002. The series goes into depth about American women’s lives and the writings that made their influences widespread and possible. Elizabeth Packard’s excerpt from Marital Power Exemplified: Mrs. Packard’s Trial is used to show the struggle of Packard and the asylum.


Deutsch, Albert. The Mentally Ill in America: A History of Their Care and Treatment From Colonial Times. New York: Columbia University Press, 1946.

Deutsch’s book discusses in general the history of mental institutions in America. He discusses important characters such as Benjamin Rush and Dorothea Dix. He also presents Elizabeth Packard’s story as a crusade and her cause to improve the asylum conditions. The book puts Packard’s experience into the broader perspective of the history of mental institutions in America.


Gamewell, Lynn and Nancy Tomes. Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of  Mental Illness before 1914. New York: Cornwell University Press, 1995.

Madness in America discusses madness and the asylum in early America and the asylum in the antebellum period. It discusses the role of religion and moral treatment and also shows how traditions and culture affect what sanity means to different societies. Packard is mentioned in the patient accounts and is seen as a critical point for asylum reform.


Geller, Jeffrey L., and Maxine Harris. Women of the Asylum: Voices from behind the Walls,  1840-1945. New York: Anchor, 1994.

This is a compilation of women’s first-hand accounts from the asylum. Two decades of women are represented and also explains the ideal of “True Womanhood.”


Grob, Gerald, N. Mental Illness and American Society, 1875-1940. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Grob’s piece discusses Packard and how she transformed psychiatry in America. Grob focusses on issues of the asylum from 1875-1940. He brings to light how the mental hospital gradually changed and went through stages of reform and movements.


Grob, Gerald, N. The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill. New York: A Division of Macmillan, Inc. 1994.

In this book Grob discusses how Packard affected subordination of women as well as the asylum reform. Grob writes about the ways in which America reacted towards the mentally ill as opposed to the mentally ill themselves.


Lunbeck, Elizabeth. The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Lunbeck uses Packard as an example to tie in how scrutiny in the psychiatric system began. This book has a more modern take on mental illness but draws examples from early America.


Mann, Emily. Mrs. Packard: Inspired by a True Story. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2009.

A playwright, Emily Mann, portrays Mrs. Packard’s story on stage and shows perceptions of her being passionate about her ordeal.


Packard, E.P.W. The great drama, or, The millennial harbinger. Hartford:  The authoress, 1878-  1879.

Packard discusses her struggles and compares her religious beliefs to her husband. She also addresses the marital rights that a woman should have in the marriage. She gives many religious parallels involving her ordeal and investigation.


Packard, Elizabeth P. W. Marital Power Exemplified in Mrs. Packard’s Trial and Self-Defense from the Charge of Insanity; or Three Years’ Imprisonment for Religious Belief, by the   Arbitrary Will of a Husband, with an Appeal to the Government to so Change the Laws as to Afford Legal Protection to Married Women. Hartford: Case, Lockwood &   Company, 1866.

In this work by Packard I will use her accounts of the trial and her beliefs and struggles for a balanced marital power.


Packard, E.P.W. Modern persecution, or Insane asylums unveiled, as demonstrated by the report   of the Investigating committee of the legislature of Illinois. Hartford: Case, Lockwood, and Brainard, 1875.

This primary source by Packard introduces her detailed experiences before, during, and after her imprisonment in the Illinois insane asylum. She also provides letters that were sent between her and her husband.


Packard, E.P.W. , and Sophia N.B. Olsen. The Prisoner’s Hidden Life Or Insane Asylums  Unveiled as Demonstrated by the Report of the Investigating Committee of the    Legislature of Illinois, Together with Mrs. Packard’s Coadjutor’s Testimony. Chicago: A.B. Case, 1868.

This primary source by Packard discusses the hardships she faced in the asylum and shows the investigation she proposed.


Reiss, Benjamin. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums & Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Reiss discusses the encounters and culture of the asylums in the nineteenth century. He adds how important the Packard Laws were especially for influencing marriage relationships. Reiss also mentions the horrifying scenes Packard saw and how she wanted to make it better.


Sophia, letter to the editor, Brooklyn Daily Eagle: 1841-1902. August 31, 1872.

This letter to the editor in the state of Illinois shows some of the public’s view on insane asylums and the reform that was influenced by Elizabeth Packard.


Sapinsley, Barbara. The Private War of Mrs. Packard. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

This secondary sources describes Elizabeth Packard’s injustice and her kidnapping by her husband and doctors.


Wenegrat, Brant. Illness and Power: Women’s Mental Disorders and the Battle between the  Sexes. New York: New York University Press, 1995.

Wenegrat proposes the question as to if mental illness really existed in all cases. He discusses how it was used for power in the nineteenth century, especially with the power struggle between the husband and the wife.





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