In celebration of the play Mrs. Packard being performed by the ISU School of Theatre, Milner Library invites the community to view items of period clothing and historic photographs on display in an exhibit at the library and ponder the story behind the production. Based on a true story, Mrs. Packard illuminates the struggle of women everywhere to have a voice in their own destinies.
How can the voiceless be heard? Early in the morning of June 18, 1860, Reverend Theophilus Packard had his wife, Elizabeth, forcibly removed from their home and committed to the state-run insane asylum in Jacksonville, Illinois. A conservative Calvinist minister of the old school, Reverend Packard strongly disagreed with his wife’s liberal thinking and feared she endangered the spiritual welfare of their six children. The grounds for Elizabeth’s incarceration rested solely on her husband’s declaration of her insanity, and not on a public hearing—such were the laws in Illinois (and many other states) at that time. Elizabeth remained true to her principles in the face of intense hardship, including separation from her beloved children. Struggling against a dysfunctional, patriarchal system, Elizabeth Packard eventually freed herself after being imprisoned in the Jacksonville Insane Asylum for three years. She championed the rights of women and those in need of mental health services, ultimately leading to the reform of the Illinois state law.