Mean Theophilus and his wife Elizabeth Parsons Ware, crusader for justice

From one of Elizabeth Packard’s books (and posted online often due to a play by Emily Mann), although I don’t remember which one it was, unfortunately.

Recently, as I was continuing my research on the Packard family, I stumbled across a play titled “Mrs. Packard” which has been covered by news outlets up the wazoo. I looked into this more and lo and behold, it turned out that these individuals were in my family lineage! After that, I wrote up a Find A Grave entry on Rev Theophilus Packard (who had no entry at the time), the son of Theophilus, which said, in short:

On February 1, 1802, Theophilus was born to Rev Theophilus D Packard and Mary Terrill in Shelburne…Later he would go to Sanderson Academy in Ashfield and to Amherst Academy (later college) from 1821 to 1823, getting a Masters of Arts…He would be ordained as a minister in Shelburne on March 12, 1828. He would stay there with his father until 1853…Theophilus would later be a minister in Mt. Pleasant Iowa from 1855 to 1857 and in Manteno Illinois from 1857 to 1862. Later he would be a minister in Sunderland from 1864 to 1865 and supply many churches from 1865 to 1878…In terms of personal life, he married well-educated woman named Elizabeth Parsons Ware, daughter of Reverend Samuel Ware, on May 21, 1839 in Shelburne, MA…They would have six children: Theophilus, Isaac W, Samuel W, Elizabeth W, George H., and Arthur D. By the mid-1850s, as both Elizabeth and Theophilus, husband and wife, seemed to live in perfect harmony in Western Massachusetts…By 1870, he was living in Manteno, Kankakee, Illinois, and was called a “Presbetarian Minister”…There is one aspect of his personal life which made him, in a sense, famous. His wife, Elizabeth, differed with his Calvinist beliefs as established in church doctrine. Because she refused to recant her beliefs, Theophilus committed…his wife to an asylum on “grounds of insanity” by arguing that she was mentally impaired and unable to care for their children. Elizabeth’s questioning of his “conservative” religious beliefs…was not stopped by her time in an asylum, specifically Illinois State Hospital. From the time of June 18, 1860…she began to chart her way forward of her own independence. After she was let out of the asylum, Theophilus boarded her up in a room of their house. Despite this, she was able to, as the story goes, drop a letter of complaint out her window to her friend, Sarah Haslett, whom appealed to Judge Charles Starr. As a result, Theophilus’s action was annulled by the courts in a trial of Packard vs. Packard…she continued to work for “the rights of the mentally ill” and worked to emancipate married women until her death…being one of the founders of the National Society for the Protection of the Insane and the Prevention of Insanity…This would later become the subject of a play directed by Emily Mann in 2007, titled “Mrs. Packard,” which was be reviewed widely…He would die in Manteno, Illinois on December 8, 1885. His…wife, from whom he was not surprisingly estranged, Elizabeth, would outlive him, dying on July 25, 1897 in Chicago, Illinois.

Expanding on this is the long and detailed obituary of Theophilus’s wife, Elizabeth Parsons Ware which was printed in the San Francisco Chronicle in July 1897:

Mrs. Elizabeth P.W. Packard died at the Hahnemann Hospital this morning after an illness of several days…Mrs. Packard was 81 years old. She married Theophilus Packard at Shelburne, Massachusetts in 1839. After twenty-one years of married life she was taken to the insane asylum at Jacksonville, Illinois, where she remained three years…Her first work for the insane was found in the law passed in this State allowing the insane to communicate by letter with friends and relatives and providing a trial jury for all insane persons before commitment to the asylum…Samuel W. Packard, an attorney of Chicago, is a son. Theophilus Packard, another son, resides in Pasadena, California, where he is the pastor of the Congregational Church. Another son, Isaac Packard, resides in San Diego, California and still another son, Arthur Packard, lives in Avoca, Illinois; Mrs. H.G.C. Gordon of Pasadena is the only daughter…Mr. and Mrs. Packard were the parents of six children, all living at home. Up to this time it would appear that peace and harmony had always reigned in the Packard family. But in the winter of 1859 to 1860, Mrs. Packard became a member of the Bible Class of the church and being a lady of culture and education and of strong will, she soon found herself in conflict with other members of the class upon religious doctrines and this conflict at last developed between herself and her husband…Her eldest son, Theophilus, upon attaining his majority, applied for her release and she was discharged as incurably insane. Upon reaching her home at Manteno, her husband still regarding her as insane, she was locked up in a room and kept a prisoner for several weeks…She managed to communicate with some friends in the neighborhood and requested them to undertake some legal means to protect her from her husband…The case was on trial from January 11 to January 18, 1864. At 10 o’clock PM of that day the jury retired for consultation and after an absence of seven minutes, returned into Court. The Court then ordered the Clerk to enter the following order: It is hereby ordered that Mrs. Elizabeth P.W. Packard be relieved from all restraint incompatible with her condition as a sane woman...Rev. Mr. Packard is still living at Manteno, with relatives, enfeebled in body and mind. The affair here narrated destroyed his usefulness and ended his career as a pastor. Mrs. Packard has written her experiences and published one or two books on subjects pertaining to insanity, which have had an extensive sale, whereby she has accumulated a fortune of several thousand dollars.

But there is more than just that and Elizabeth’s wikipedia page. One article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, in 1864, has a short ad about the Packard v Packard trial

Apart from the strange and varied articles on Theophilus, there is a litany of articles about the case itself (and Elizabeth). One is an article by Maggie Maclean. Within this, she writes that

Elizabeth Packard was a social reformer whose experiences in a mental hospital began her quest for protective legislation for the insane and improved married women’s rights…Elizabeth Parsons Ware was born on December 28, 1816 in Ware, Massachusetts. At the insistence of her parents, she married minister Theophilus Packard on May 21, 1839…Though she was a religious woman, after many years of marriage Elizabeth found herself at odds with her husband’s teachings…Elizabeth Packard spent…three years at the Jacksonville State Hospital, where she was regularly questioned by her doctors but refused to agree that she was insane or to change her religious views…Elizabeth gradually won over most of the staff at the hospital and was even given a set of keys because of the duties she assumed there. She wrote constantly, telling the story of the injustice she was suffering…When her oldest son turned 21 in 1863, he had legal authority to remove her from the asylum, and convinced his father to agree…She came home to a dirty and disorganized house, her daughter having been forced to take over the housework and child care at the age of 11. But Elizabeth’s “moral insanity” had not abated in Theophilus’ eyes. He had placed locks on everything, so that Elizabeth could not even get food or clean linen without his permission…The trial of Packard v. Packard began on January 13, 1864. Theophilus Packard claimed that his wife was insane and that he was therefore entitled to confine her at home…Elizabeth Packard’s lawyers, Stephen Moore and John Orr, responded by calling witnesses from the neighborhood that knew the Packards but were not members of Theophilus’ church…On January 18, 1864 the jury reached its verdict in seven minutes. “We, the undersigned, Jurors in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth P.W. Packard, alleged to be insane, having heard the evidence… are satisfied that [she] is sane”…Elizabeth returned home to find that Reverend Packard had sold their house in Illinois and left for Massachusetts with her money, notes, wardrobe and their young children…Though they never divorced, Elizabeth Packard never returned to her husband, but the underlying social principles which had led to her confinement still existed…Despite strong opposition from the psychiatric community, she campaigned to pass laws in Illinois that required a jury trial to prove insanity…Through her book sales she became financially independent…Due to her efforts and the influence of her books, 34 bills were passed in various state legislatures, including a law passed by the Illinois legislature in 1869 which required a jury trial before a person could be committed to an asylum…Elizabeth Packard then turned her efforts to the emancipation of married women…Elizabeth Packard wrote, lectured and lobbied on these issues and was instrumental in passing a married women’s property law in Illinois. This was a personal fight: the right of a married woman to retain custody of her children and her property…Traveling by railroad, Packard spent the following fifteen years organizing in 25 other states. She was able to use her influence to change the laws changed in many of those states, with a greater emphasis on rights of the “insane” as the years went by…Packard’s life demonstrates how dissonant streams of American society led to conflict between the freethinking Packard, her Calvinist husband, her asylum doctor, and America’s fledgling psychiatric profession.

Other articles I found included a read-out of her case against her husband (Packard v. Packard), with the decision on January 18, 1864 that “Elizabeth Packard was declared sane and her liberty was restored.” I also found another summary of Elizabeth’s life, adding interesting details that Maggie Maclean talked about:

It never occurred to Elizabeth Ware Parsons Packard that one day she would be an advocate for rights of women and psychiatric patients. Yet that is what she became after being forced into a situation where she saw mentally ill people every day, how they lived, and how they were treated…For the next three years, Elizabeth, was confined to the Illinois State Hospital at Jacksonville, Illinois, which was at that time commonly called an “Insane Asylum”…Elizabeth Parsons Ware (December 28, 1816 – July 25, 1897) was born in Ware, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, Her parents were Reverend Samuel Ware and Lucy Parsons Ware. The parents had named her Betsey at birth. Betsey changed her name to Elizabeth in her teens when she already knew the woman she wanted to be and felt ‘Betsey’ was not reflective of her goals in life. Samuel Ware was a minister of the Calvinist faith. He was a wealthy man, well respected in society and a man of great influence…Elizabeth’s mother, Lucy, was just as dedicated to her children’s education as Samuel was. Lucy, however, did not have the strong constitution that Samuel had. Samuel was very open-minded and was able to look to the future — whereas, Lucy often dwelled within herself and the past…Theophilus Packard (February 1, 1802 – December 18, 1885) was born in Shelburne, Massachusetts. He was a minister of the Calvinist faith. His father was also a devout Calvinist and raised Theophilus in a very strict manner and doctrine of faith…Theophilus had long been friends with Samuel and Lucy Ware. He knew Elizabeth only as a daughter of friends, they were never romantically involved and there was no customary courtship…The very firm hand with which Theophilus controlled the marriage and restricted his wife, began to weigh heavily on Elizabeth…Once back home, Theophilus again made Elizabeth a prisoner, this time in her own home. He locked her up in the nursery and securely locked the only window shut with nails and screws. Theophilus intercepted all mail addressed to Elizabeth and refused to let any of her friends visit her…The packed courtroom exploded in applause and cheers. The women present crowded around Elizabeth, hugging and praising her, all handkerchiefs out and soaked with tears. It took quite awhile for the outburst of joy and sentiments to be quieted and for all to be seated again. When order was restored, Elizabeth’s attorney made the motion that his client be discharged from confinement…When she arrived at her home, she found that all was gone and new residents were living there, who refused to let her in…Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was a remarkable and courageous woman. She crossed boundaries, questioned laws and tackled religious, cultural, and complex political beliefs…People like Elizabeth had much influence on the stigma of mental illness in society which has changed a lot since the early days of psychiatric treatment.

Beyond this there is is much more. [1] The Newberry Library has, in its online collections, the inside cover of Elizabeth’s book, Great Disclosure of Spiritual Wickedness!!, and a photograph of Elizabeth in 1866 which is within her book that year titled Marital Power Exemplified in Mrs. Packard’s Trial.

Then there are books I found on the subject including:

Apart from my other search results [2], I found a listing of Theophilus’s works on the Internet Archive and Elizabeth’s as well. The listing of Elizabeth’s books are as follows:

  • The exposure on board the Atlantic & Pacific car of emancipation for the slaves of old Columbia, engineered by the lightning express; or, Christianity & Calvinism compared. With an appeal to the government to emancipate the slaves of the marriage union. Volume I. (Chicago, The Authoress, 1864) Read at HathiTrust.
  • The great drama, or, The millennial harbinger / (Hartford : The authoress, 1878-1879), also by Cairns Collection of American Women Writers. Read at HathiTrust and Internet Archive published it in  Vol 1 and Vol 2 which are the same book but with differing intros.
  • Marital power exemplified in Mrs. Packard’s Trial, and self-defence from the charge of insanity, or, Three years’ imprisonment for religious belief, by the arbitrary will of a husband, with an appeal to the government to so change the laws as to afford legal protection to married women  / by E.P.W. Packard (1866 and 1870). Read at HathiTrust (1st version in 1866),Internet Archive (1st version in 1866), HathiTrust (2nd version in 1870), Internet Archive (2nd version in 1870), or as a Gutenberg ebook (2nd version in 1870).
  • Modern persecution, or Insane asylums unveiled, as demonstrated by the report of the Investigating committee of the legislature of Illinois / By Mrs. E. P. W. Packard … Pub. by the authoress. (Hartford : Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1875). Read at HathiTrust and Internet Archive.
  • Modern persecution, or married woman’s liabilities : as demonstrated by the action of the Illinois legislature. ([Chicago] : Packard, 1874, ©1873). Read at HathiTrust and Internet Archive.
  • The mystic key : or, The asylum secret unlocked. (Hartford : [s.n.], 1886). Read at HathiTrust and here.
  • The prisoners’ hidden life, or Insane asylums unveiled : as demonstrated by the report of the Investigating committee of the legislature of Illinois, together with Mrs. Packard’s coadjutors’ testimony / (Chicago : J. N. Clarke, 1868), also by Sophia N. B. Olsen. Read at HathiTrust (1st version), HathiTrust (2nd version) and Internet Archive. The 1st and 2nd versions are the same, from what can be seen from comparison of the table of contents, it was just re-issued in 1871.

I am thinking of reading all of those works and write about them on this blog.

I end with a photo from a production of Mrs. Packard, dramatizing her plight and the mean, sexist, nature of Theophilus:


[1] These includes a page on the Ware Families website on Theophilus, another article on Elizabeth Packard, an academic article calling Elizabeth a “Nineteenth-Century Crusader for the Rights of Mental Patients,” and others saying she engaged in “historic heroism.” I also found a small mention of the Packards in other sources like the Cooley Family Papers, history of Amherst College, how Theophilus (the father of the Theophilius) was drawn to “animal magnetism,” and a mention of Elizabeth in an article titled “Women and Madness in the 19th Century,”along with in a book about the “history of marriage.” There’s also an interestingly titled academic article by Paul A. Lombardo, written in 1991, titled “Mrs. Packard’s Revenge.” Also see blogposts titled “Elizabeth Packard, Proposal and Annotated Bibliography,” and “Anti-Insane Asylum Society | E. Packard,” along with “The Perception and Treatment of Insanity in Southern Appalachia” which mentions Elizabeth and her case, and a small mention of Packards in the Henry W. Haynes papers of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

[2] These include: two laws mentioning an unknown Theophilus (likely the 1st Theophilus) here and here; pages talking about the 1st Theophilus here, here, and here. Also I found a Theophilus (possibly the son of the Theophilus noted in this article) in Los Angeles in the 1880s as noted here, here, here, and here along with undoubtedly the 1st Theophilus in this article in the Gazette of the United States in 1796.

2 thoughts on “Mean Theophilus and his wife Elizabeth Parsons Ware, crusader for justice

  1. Pingback: The 1897 probate of Elizabeth P.W. Packard and her son Samuel | Packed with Packards!

  2. Pingback: “E.P.W. Packard was a badass”: The story of this well-known reformer | Packed with Packards!

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