Monday, January 17, 2022

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

 
First Line: If she screamed, she sealed her fate.
 
1860. Manteno, Illinois. The more Theophilus Packard's wife's religious views diverged from his own, the more inconvenient she became to this small-town pastor. Finally, he put his plan in action and enlisted the aid of strong men who bundled her into a wagon headed for the train station. Once aboard the train, Elizabeth Packard found herself headed for Jacksonville, the home of the Illinois State Hospital. Once inside the stately building, Elizabeth's husband had her committed and put into the care of Dr. Andrew McFarland, a man highly regarded for his knowledge and treatment of the insane.

Once out of the public areas and into a ward with the other patients, Elizabeth found herself in "a storage unit for unsatisfactory wives." Many of the other patients were women just as sane as she who had also been put there by their husbands, and they found themselves with no rights and no way of ever getting out.

But Theophilus Packard and Dr. Andrew McFarland soon learned that they had grossly underestimated this tiny woman. Once she realized that she had truly lost everything, she knew that she had nothing to lose, and she began to fight. And fight. And fight. For her freedom and that of the other sane women unjustly imprisoned in asylums everywhere.

~

When I read this emotionally charged book and learned that at the time of the Civil War Jacksonville, Illinois had been known as "the Athens of the West," I almost choked. I grew up not far from Jacksonville, and I knew it as the home of "the state nuthouse." But that's just geography. When I learned of this book, I knew that it would resonate with me and not just because I'm a woman and well aware of how my gender has been treated by the opposite sex. My mother had what was then termed a nervous breakdown when I was an infant, and she underwent electroshock therapy to snap her out of it. Living with Mom made me very aware of the stigma that is applied to anyone with the slightest hint of mental illness about them. As a teenager, I did volunteer work at a mental health center that had a program bringing patients from the hospital in Jacksonville to the center to be rehabilitated. 

So... I'm familiar with the area, and I'm a woman with more than a passing acquaintance with mental illness. I'm also a reader aware of the abominable way mentally ill people have been treated down through the centuries. No wonder I expected to be horrified and angered by reading The Woman They Could Not Silence. Was I? You bet! 
 
But much more than that, I was uplifted by Elizabeth Packard. What a marvelous human being! It was an emotional experience to watch this woman's character be forged through her time in the mental hospital. At first, she was a woman of her time. Her husband had falsely accused and forsaken her, so she looked to another man to rescue her. The man she turned to was Dr. Andrew McFarland. However, her thinking was flawed. McFarland was even more dangerous than her husband. Time after time, I found Elizabeth's naïveté heartbreaking, but once she realized that she could count on no one but herself to obtain her freedom, there was no stopping her. Wow! 

Elizabeth Packard almost single-handedly changed the laws in many states pertaining to married women's rights to their own wages and property as well as to the commitment and treatment of the mentally ill. Think crowdfunding is a 21st-century resource? Think again. Elizabeth Packard was an expert practitioner. This woman had flaws, but she also had so much empathy, compassion, intelligence, determination... She should have been a shining example to us all for over one hundred fifty years, but instead, she was consigned to obscurity, a centenary in the Jacksonville papers labeling her "a minor league nut" who "couldn't keep her mouth shut." 

As Kate Moore says in her Author's Note: "So in the end, this a book about power. Who wields it. Who owns it. And the methods they use. And above all, it's about fighting back." I, for one, am grateful that Moore brought Elizabeth Packard back into the light. More than ever, this world needs to follow the examples set by such beacons of humanity.

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear 
eISBN: 9781492696735
Sourcebooks © 2021
eBook, 589 pages
 
Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased from Amazon.

18 comments:

  1. I must read this book, Cathy! I'd heard about it, and another book friend I trust raved about it. Now I see that you loved it, too, and that does it for me. It sounds like a searing story, and I can understand why you were both outraged and uplifted by it. It is now on the wish list.

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  2. I always look forward to see what book will start out your best reads of the new year. You found one early in the year. It does sound very good. I have put it on hold at the library. Thanks for enriching my reading experience. I have found many new authors due to Kittling Books. We seem to have similar tastes in what we read. I like usually what you like. Still visit your site first thing every morning.

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    1. Aw, thank you, Lynn! It's always special when you find someone who shares your reading DNA.

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  3. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for the recommendation

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  4. Elizabeth Packard is another wonderful historical character that I had never heard of. I very much appreciate learning about her. This sounds like an important book.

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    1. It is. I hope you get a chance to read it.

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  5. Sounds like a fascinating book. I'm adding it to my TBR!

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    1. Oh, good! I'm hoping everyone will learn about Elizabeth Packard.

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  6. Just checked it out from the library. I read the previous book, "Radium Girls" and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the heads up on this one Cathy.

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    1. You're welcome, Ev. I've had Radium Girls in my Kindle for ages. This book has certainly given me the impetus to stop hoarding it and start reading it.

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  7. That does sound good. I'll have to find the time when I'm in the right frame of mind myself (hah!) to be appalled and infuriated to read this, though.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, and I was in just the right mood!

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  8. Oh, god, it's always good to tell the truth about historical events and the mistreatment of women. So glad that Elizabeth Packard's real story has come to public view and she is getting credit for the changes she made for women and others.
    I don't think I can read this, as I hate to read about women's oppression. I guess one murder in fiction is OK, but a system in place to oppress women which did horrible things is beyond my reading realm. It's like reading about the women in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland forced to work every day for hours in hot laundries, while their babies were sold and later, they had a hard time finding them, if they ever did.

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    1. Yes, it can be very tough to read about subjects like this.

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  9. This sounds a soul shaking read. Thanks for the review.

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Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!