The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

The Woman They Could Not Silence is author Kate Moore’s follow-up to her bestseller The Radium Girls, and I found it just as compelling as its predecessor. I stayed up past midnight to find out what would happen at the end, which is something that doesn’t happen often with nonfiction books!

The titular “woman they could not silence,” Elizabeth Ware Packard, was a housewife and mother of six in 1860 when her husband, a Presbyterian minister, forcibly committed her to an insane asylum. The evidence he provided was that she was disobeying him and not following his religious instruction. At the time, it was possible for a husband to have his wife committed without any medical or judicial determination of her insanity–if he said she was insane, she was. Elizabeth eventually spent three years in the asylum at Jacksonville, Illinois.

She learned in the asylum that she was one of many entirely sane women who were committed by their husbands, generally for disobedience and free thinking. She also learned that women who were truly mentally ill were regularly abused and their conditions left entirely untreated in the so-called hospital. When she supported other women’s charges of abuse and attempted to better their conditions, she was herself punished.

When she eventually gained her freedom–due to some combination of her own efforts and the asylum superintendent’s frustration with her–she devoted herself to exposing the horrific abuses in the asylum system, as well as changing the unjust laws that allowed husbands total legal control over their wives. She wrote books, went on speaking tours, and lobbied legislators for the rest of her life.

I found Elizabeth Packard’s story both horrifying and uplifting, and told in Moore’s signature narrative style it was up-put-down-able. Anyone interested in women’s rights–in the past and today–will find it a compelling read.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (303.48 MOO)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

X
X