Best-selling author Moore (Radium Girls) writes in this latest work that 19th-century asylums were places of horrific abuse and mistreatment of women patients. Husbands and other male family members often had the authority to commit their wives and daughters without their consent; within the institutions, superintendents wielded supreme authority. Crafting another fast-paced work of narrative nonfiction, Moore tells how Elizabeth Packard's husband, a minister, committed her to an Illinois asylum when her religious beliefs diverged from his own. During her three years in the asylum, Packard wrote thousands of pages about her experiences, the filthy conditions, and the abuse suffered by patients at the hands of staff. After being released, Packard embarked on a crusade to expose abuses at asylums, reform commitment laws and procedures, and introduce governmental oversight. Her efforts resulted in a number of laws protecting asylum patients around the country. Using Packard's extensive writings, trial testimonies, and governmental reports, Moore's latest work brings to life the activist's tireless efforts and the advocacy work she accomplished in the mid-20th century. VERDICT A must-read for anybody interested in women's history or the history of reform in the United States. Like Radium Girls, this volume is a page-turner.—Chad E. Statler, Westlake Porter P.L., Westlake, OH
The author of The Radium Girls returns with an inspiring story of the tireless 19th-century woman who fought against gender-based injustices.
The titular woman is Elizabeth Packard (1816-1897), an Illinois mother of six who took on the legal system after she was involuntarily committed to the Jacksonville Insane Asylum in 1860 by her husband’s request. Elizabeth and her husband, Theophilus, 15 years her senior, initially appeared to have a typical marriage for a mid-19th-century American couple. That all changed as Theophilus, a minister, increasingly saw his wife’s outspoken support of women’s rights as a threat. As Moore demonstrates, while he had “long been in the habit of trying to control” his wife, Theophilus became more concerned when she began to offer more liberal opinions on theology, abolition, and the role of women to parishioners at his church. That led to an ominous threat from husband to wife: “I shall put you into the asylum!” Moore details Elizabeth’s three-year involuntary confinement and the sexist system that allowed husbands to have their wives declared insane without a diagnosis or legal hearing. Despite inhumane conditions, Elizabeth was determined to be declared sane and to become an advocate for women and the mentally ill through her own writings and advocacy. The trial in which she fought to be declared mentally fit was a media sensation, and though she prevailed, “she was now homeless. Penniless. Childless. All she had to her name were the clothes she stood up in and a manuscript she’d been repeatedly told would never see the light of day.” Drawing on sources like letters, memoirs, and trial transcripts, Moore’s well-researched book paints a clear picture of the obstacles Elizabeth faced both during and after her confinement and the cruel resoluteness of both her husband and doctor, who tried to control her at all costs.
A vivid look at the life and times of a little-known pioneer of women’s rights.
"The Woman They Could Not Silence is a remarkable story of perseverance in an unjust and hostile world. This book is rich with detail, powerful, and expertly researched, as Kate Moore describes the near-unbelievable nightmare of an "inconvenient" woman's commitment to a mental hospital and her subsequent fight for freedom against all odds. This book may take place 160 years ago, but it has so much to teach us about gender, misogyny, and medicine today. Thanks to Kate Moore's powerful work, Elizabeth Packard's name will live on in the minds of a new generation of readers." - Susannah Cahalan, New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire and The Great Pretender
"Long overdue and completely worth the wait... This unnerving and inspirational saga from the 19th century still resonates with palpable urgency in the 21st. All credit to Kate Moore's keen research eye and narrative gifts for bringing this ever-relevant story to piercing light, one perfectly suited to this moment in our history." - Denise Kiernan, New York Times bestselling author of We Gather Together
"I have waited fifty years for this full-length biography of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, and Kate Moore's The Woman They Could Not Silence is simply magnificent. It reads like a suspense novel: one is on the edge of her seat at all times; one cannot believe what happens nextand then after that. History comes alive as does the tragedy of women who were falsely judged "mad" and then incarcerated and tortured in 19th century American Insane Asylums. Moore's research is impeccable. She tells us the whole terrifying and thrilling story: the cost of battle, the triumph of cruel and corrupt misogynists, the nature of feminist victory. It is a complicated story and one brilliantly told. After Packard finally won her own freedom, she fought pioneering battles for the legal rights of both married women and mental patients. This book reads like a movie and it should be made into one." - Phyllis Chesler, bestselling author and feminist leader
"With path-breaking research and electric prose, Kate Moore reveals just how crazy marriage laws once wereand one unbeaten heroine helped make them sane." - Elizabeth Cobbs, New York Times bestselling author of The Hello Girls: America's First Women Soldiers
"What a storyand what a telling! Kate Moore has hit another one out of the park. In the best tradition of The Radium Girls, Moore recounts the stunning true account of a woman who fought back against a tyrannical husband, a complicit doctor, and 19th-century laws that gave men shocking power to silence and confine their wives. By challenging these norms, Elizabeth Packard became a heroine on the scale of the suffragists. In Moore's expert hands, this beautifully-written tale unspools with drama and power, and puts Elizabeth Packard on the map at the most relevant moment imaginable. You will be rivetedand inspired. Bravo!" - Liza Mundy, New York Times bestselling author of Code Girls
"The Woman They Could Not Silence tells the captivating story of Elizabeth Packard, a forgotten heroine whose harrowing ordeal in an insane asylum seems straight from the mind of Stephen Kingexcept every word is true. Blending impeccable research with novelistic flair, Kate Moore brings the indomitable Packard to brilliant life, and proves she belongs among our most celebrated women leaders." - Abbott Kahler, author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park
"What an incredible narrative about a singular historical woman. In The Woman They Could Not Silence, Kate Moore once again utilizes her astonishing talent in discovering the important, forgotten women of history. In bringing to life the account of Elizabeth Packard, wife and mother of six, Moore shares the stories of many sane women committed to insane asylums simply because they did not abide by the societal expectations about women and the one woman who successfully challenged these practices. Through these pages, Moore enthralls as she ensures that such women will be silent no more." - Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author
"This book will fill you with rage, despair, and determination. Moore has written a masterpiece of nonfiction, giving voice to the life of Elizabeth Packard, a crusader of humanity, who countless men tried to subdue. With elegant prose, and an epilogue that will leave you reeling, The Woman They Could Not Silence will linger long after the last page is read." - Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
"Heartbreaking and devastatingly importantKate Moore has a rare gift for combining impeccable research and brilliantly mesmerizing storytelling. The Woman They Could Not Silence yanks back the curtain on the tragic and once-hidden injustices that ruined women's livesand gives even more power to the one brave and undaunted voice that refused to be silent. You will cry, and then you will cheer, and then your life will be changed forever." - Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of The First to Lie and Her Perfect Life
"Told with the urgency and passion of a novel, Kate Moore's deeply researched and thrilling study of Elizabeth Packard's fight against the power of psychiatric patriarchy in 19th century America will keep you up at night and illuminate women's ongoing battles for authority and respect." - Elaine Showalter, literary critic, feminist, and author