The Insanity of Inequality

In 1851, the state of Illinois opened its first hospital for the mentally ill. The state legislature passed a law to protect people from being committed against his or her will. The law required a public hearing before that person was committed. With one exception, a husband could have his wife committed without either a public hearing or her consent. All the law required was “the permission of the asylum superintendent” and one doctor who agreed with the diagnosis. In the summer of 1860, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard (1816-1897) was a victim of that law. Such was the insanity of inequality. 

black and white photograph or linotype of Elizabeth Packard a woman who faced the inanity of inequality and fought it.

Early Life

Betsy Parsons Ware was born in Ware, Massachusetts on December 28, 1816, to Lucy Parsons Ware and Reverend Samuel Ware. The oldest of three children, she was the only daughter. She changed her name to Elizabeth as a teenager.

Her father, a Calvinist minister, made sure all his children were well-educated. Elizabeth studied French, algebra, and the new classics at the Amherst Female Seminary. She became a teacher.

Elizabeth fell ill during the 1835 winter holidays. Doctors treated her with emetics, purges, and bleeding for “brain fever.” But her symptoms (headaches and feeling delirious) continued. Her father believed her condition was from stress and checked her into Worcester State Asylum for several weeks. Some speculate that her symptoms resulted from tight lacing her corset, which caused restricted breathing, fainting, and “poor digestion.”


In 1839, twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth married the man her parents insisted she marry. Theophilus Packard, a conservative Calvinist minister was fourteen years her senior. They had six children and lived in Western Massachusetts until September 1954. 

They moved to Kankakee County, Illinois. She worked as a teacher in Jacksonville, Illinois.

A New Life and New Ideas

Spiritualism and other modern religious movements intrigued Elizabeth, a religious woman. She questioned her husband’s beliefs and started talking openly about her ideas to his parishioners.

Alarmed by her refusal to follow his wishes, Packard questioned Elizabeth’s sanity. 

His suggestion worried Elizabeth enough she consulted an attorney. The attorney assured her he could not commit her without a jury trial.

In the middle of her husband’s church service, Elizabeth states she was going across the street to worship with the Methodists.

Packard arranged for Dr. J. W. Brown, masquerading as a sewing machine salesman, to speak with his wife.

She complained to the “salesman” about her husband’s domination and his accusations that she was insane.

The doctor told Packard what she’d said. Packard decided to commit her to an asylum.


Elizabeth came face-to-face with the insanity of inequality on June 18, 1860, when the county sheriff forcibly removed her from her home. 

They committed her to the Jacksonville Asylum. At first, she had a private room and could keep clean and healthy.

black and white photograph of an 5 storied white insane asylum with multiple connected buildings.

The superintendent of the state hospital, Dr. Andrew McFarland, saw her several times. When she refused to agree she was insane or to change her religious views, he had her moved to the 8th Ward for the violent and hopelessly insane.

Over the next three years, Elizabeth steadfastly refused to agree she was insane or to change her beliefs. Attacked and harassed daily, she also witnessed abuse other patients suffered. She wrote her thoughts and experiences on scraps of paper she found. And she collected written testimony from other patients.

She maintained good hygiene, routine physical exercise, and cleaned the filthy rooms of Ward 8.

Discharged to Home

Depending upon which source you read, either the hospital decided it could no longer keep Elizabeth or her oldest son turned twenty-one and had the legal authority to remove her from the asylum. 

She fought the release. She wanted to finish writing her book, and she was afraid her husband would lock her up somewhere else. 

In the fall of 1863, the hospital discharged her with a letter stating she was “incurably insane” and returned to her husband.

Packard had placed locks on everything. Elizabeth could not get food or clean linens without his permission. Before long, he nailed the windows of their former nursery shut and locked her in. She had no fire or warm clothing. Meanwhile, her husband tried to get her committed somewhere else.

Elizabeth Gets Help

After about a month and a half, Elizabeth threw a letter out of the window to a neighbor. A writ of habeus corpus was issued on her behalf.

Judge Charles Starr ordered Packard to bring Elizabeth to his chambers on January 12, 1864. Packard presented Elizabeth to Judge Charles Starr as ordered. He also brought the letter from the Illinois State Asylum that said she left without being cured and is incurably insane.

Packard v. Packard

The Packard v. Packard trial began on January 13, 1864.

Theophilus Packard’s lawyers produced witnesses from his church and family and even Dr. J. W. Brown, the doctor-salesman. All of whom declared Elizabeth was insane for her disobedience and for trying to leave the church.

Elizabeth Packard’s lawyers, Stephen Moore and John Orr, called witnesses who knew the Packards but were not members of her husband’s church. None of them had ever seen any signs that Elizabeth was insane. Her friend, Sarah Haslett, testified about Elizabeth’s confinement in the locked nursery. Dr. Duncanson, a physician and theologian, testified that he had interviewed Elizabeth for three hours, and while he did not agree with her beliefs, he did not call people insane “because they differ with me.”

After seven minutes of deliberation, on January 18, 1864, the jury declared Elizabeth sane.

Home Again

Elizabeth returned home, but Packard had sold their house, took her money, notes, wardrobe, and their young children back to Massachusetts with him. His actions were perfectly legal under Illinois and Massachusetts law. Elizabeth could do nothing to recover her children and property.

Elizabeth never divorced her husband, but she never returned to him either. 

Asylum Reform

Elizabeth devoted the rest of her life to changing the conditions suffered by the mentally ill. She traveled around the country and campaigned to pass laws that required a jury trial to prove insanity. 

She founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society and published several books, including Marital Power Exemplified, or Three Years Imprisonment for Religious Belief (1864), Great Disclosure of Spiritual Wickedness in High Places (1865), The Mystic Key or the Asylum Secret Unlocked (1866), and The Prisoners’ Hidden Life, or Insane Asylums Unveiled (1868). Her book sales made her financially independent.

Various state legislatures passed thirty-four bills, which required a jury trial before anyone could commit a person to an asylum. Illinois passed such a law in 1869. In 1880, they formed The National Society for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity, in part because of her influence.

And she didn’t stop there.

Married Women’s Rights

Elizabeth wrote, lectured, and lobbied against the insanity of inequality for married women. She fought for a married woman’s right to own property, sign legal documents, enter a contract, obtain an education, and keep custody of her children.

She won custody of her children when they were teenagers (1873).

After her children grew up, she lobbied for people locked up in mental wards. She got laws changed in Iowa, New York, Connecticut, and then worked on a federal bill. The bill passed.

She spent fifteen years organizing 25 other states. Many laws changed because of her influence.

A Life Story Worth Telling

book cover for the woman they could not silence by Kate Moore detailing the life story of Elizabeth Packard

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, also known as E.P.W. Packard, died on July 25, 1897. She faced the insanity of inequality, fought it, and won. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people were saved from abuse because of her. She probably saved hundreds of married women from false imprisonment for insanity. If you’d like to read more about this strong woman who fought for women’s rights check out The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore. 

Freedom is Under Attack

Freedom is under attack. Not by enemies, but by our neighbors. The Texas law banning abortion is the worst kind of law. Not just because it denies women the right to make decisions about their own bodies, their own lives, but because it invites neighbors, friends, and family to turn on each other. That is reprehensible.

Image of martial arts style fight in silhouette against a sun covered in part by a red cloud against a red sky--a symbol that Freedom is under attack

To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

Nelson Mandela

The Texas Law

“The Texas law, which makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, bars state officials from enforcing it and instead deputizes private individuals to sue anyone who performs the procedure or “aids and abets” it.

The patient may not be sued, but doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure, and even an Uber driver taking a patient to an abortion clinic are all potential defendants. Plaintiffs, who do not need to live in Texas have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it, are entitled to $10,000 and their legal fees recovered if they win. Prevailing defendants are not entitled to legal fees.

NY Times

Read that again. The law “bars state officials from enforcing it.” Instead, it “deputizes private individuals” to sue anyone who performs the procedure. Or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. The state of Texas has turned into a Nazi state. This law is the same as the 1933 Nazi decree that required Germans to turn in anyone who spoke against the government. 

Not only that, this Texan law says the plaintiff (the person suing) does not need to “live in Texas, have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it.” And to top that off, they will REWARD the successful plaintiff with up to $10,000 and their legal fees! 

If the defendants (the accused) win, they cannot recover legal fees. The law punishes the accused even if they are innocent!

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court refused to block the law. This upset many people. According to the NY Times, “Usually, a lawsuit seeking to block a law because it is unconstitutional would name state officials as defendants.” Except in this case, the law specifically bans state officials from enforcing this law.

And in the unsigned majority opinion (not ruling), they said that the abortion providers who sought the block did not make their case. It also stated that this opinion did not speak to the constitutionality of this law. 

Could they have blocked the law? Of course they could have. Should they have? That’s complicated by legal issues I don’t pretend to understand completely.

I understand that this law is about more than pro-life or pro-choice. It’s about turning people against each other. It invites abuse of each other and of the system. What I want to know is where the heck the voting Texans are? What are you thinking?

It’s the mark of a backward society – or a society moving backward – when decisions are made for women by men.

Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Don’t Tell Me You’re Pro-Life

If you:

  • Don’t support laws to prevent school shootings,
  • Are against free school lunches for every child,
  • Don’t support taxes to provide better care for and laws protecting our elderly,
  • You cheered when you heard Osama bin Ladin was dead,
  • Don’t support laws that require fathers to pay child support from prenatal care through that child’s college education, 
  • You eat meat or eggs or fish,
  • Don’t support free education for all,
  • You believe accessible parking is preferential treatment,
  • Don’t support paid maternity and paternity leave,
  • You hunt and kill any living animal,
  • Don’t believe in mandatory sentences for rape,
  • Aren’t against police brutality in all situations,
  • Don’t support free health care for all (including free contraceptives),
  • Will not wear a mask to protect others from COVID, 

…you are not pro-life.

You are pro-life in all situations or you are not pro-life but pro-controlling someone else’s life.

My Position on Abortion

Photo of the backs of many female manikins covered in yellow and red caution tape with the message "your body belongs to you on the back of one manikin"

No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.

Margaret Sanger

No one gets pregnant so they can have an abortion. No one chooses abortion as their first option for birth control. It is a deeply personal choice. A choice no one else will ever understand.

I fully support every woman’s right to choose what to do with her body. And I adamantly object to any law aimed at controlling anyone’s choice about their health, pregnancy, or sexuality.

True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.

Jonathan Sacks 

I believe the Supreme Court will rule the Texas Abortion Ban as unconstitutional. But that decision may come too late for some women.

Stop the Attacks

Make no mistake. Freedom is under attack. You may think the Texas Abortion ban law doesn’t affect you, but you’re wrong. If it stands, how much longer before some group will challenge freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, or the right to vote? Oops, look at that. Some people already challenge the right of others to vote. Stop the attacks. Your freedom is at risk.

A tiny Crack in Male-dominated Science

In the 1850s, a natural philosopher (amateur scientist) studied the effects of the sun’s heat. Hers were early, perhaps even the first experiments ever done on Earth’s greenhouse effect. Despite the limitations 19th century society put on Eunice Newton Foote, she made a tiny crack in male-dominated science.

graphic representation of Eunice Newton Foote shows a female profile with a pilgrim-style bonnet covering most of her face. She made a tiny crack in male-dominated science.

Early life

In 1819 in Goshen, Connecticut, Isaac Newton Jr. and Thirza Newton had a daughter they named Eunice. Eunice, her six sisters, five brothers, and her parents moved to Bloomington, New York.

At seventeen, she went to Troy Female Seminary. Being a student there allowed her to study the basics of chemistry and biology at a local science college.

On August 12, 1841, she married Elisha Foote. They lived in Seneca Falls and later in Saratoga, New York. They had two daughters.

Women’s Rights

While living in Seneca Falls, Eunice Newton attended the first Woman’s Rights Convention on July 19-20, 1848. She signed the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The document demanded equality with men in social status and legal rights.


NASA image of the earth from Apollo 17 celebrating the tiny crack in male-dominated science made by Eunice Newton Foote in her experiments on the greenhouse effect.
Apollo 17, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1850s, Foote conducted her experiments. She used an air pump, four mercury thermometers, and two glass cylinders. She put a thermometer in each glass cylinder. Then she pumped the air out of one cylinder and compressed the air in the other. She used carbon dioxide, common air, and hydrogen. When both cylinder reached the same temperature, she set them in the sun. She measured the temperature in the cylinders and recorded how long it took to reach maximum temperature. And she made a discovery.

“The receiver containing this gas (carbon dioxide) became itself much heated—very sensibly more so than the other—and on being removed [from the Sun], it was many times as long in cooling.”

After only basic chemistry and biology classes, she hypothesized that Earth would have been much warmer in the past if its carbon dioxide levels were higher. 


She wrote a report on her experiments and hypotheses. Joseph Henry presented that report on August 23, 1856, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS was all male until 1850. They allowed females and amateurs to be members but not a “professional” or a “fellow.”

The September 1856 issue of Scientific American featured Foote’s work. In an article titled “Scientific Ladies—Experiments with Condensed Gases,” the author wrote, “the experiments of Mrs. Foote afford abundant evidence of the ability of woman to investigate any subject with originality and precision.”

She accomplished this three years before Irish physicist John Tyndall’s famous experiments. We don’t know if he knew about Foote’s experiments.

A Woman’s Work

Kudos to the folks who uncovered the documents about Eunice Newton Foote. What we know about her makes one wonder how much more she could have done with the proper education and support. A strong woman, she wasn’t loud; she didn’t make a tremendous splash, but she made a tiny crack in male-dominated science.