This Week's Story

Elizabeth Packard is forced to spend her first night in Jacksonville Insane Asylum in 1860.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

I shall put you into the asylum! part three

The train belched steam and sparks. A crowd of people watched it depart. Their faces were serious; some were tear-streaked. A new passenger sat inside the train with her head pressed to the seat in front of her. Her body was bent in pain. In a day she would be arriving at the Jacksonville Insane Asylum. Her husband sat beside her. Mr. and Mrs. Theophilus Packard!

The statistics on these two were not encouraging. After twenty-one years of marriage her husband was now taking her to a mental asylum for choosing to think her own thoughts, to speak her own words, and to share them with people around her.

As she was taken to the train, her husband had explained, “It is for your good I am doing this I want to save your soul…I want to make you right.”

“Husband, have not I a right to my opinion?”

“You have a right to your opinions if you think right.”

Wife Elizabeth Packard was raised as a child to be a silent listener. This continued into her marriage for several years. Theophilus was the couple’s mouthpiece.

She had been well-educated for a female child and teenager in the nineteenth century. She attended Amherst Seminary and studied classics, literature, and mathematics. At age nineteen she taught school in a girls’ school.

At age twenty-one she married her father’s friend Theophilus, who was fifteen years older than she. He was unimaginative, controlling, and gloomy. A minister, devout, but not joyful in his relationship with God!

Elizabeth was sociable, an avid learner, an excellent cook, a lover of teaching and her six children. She enjoyed making a home lovely, gardening, and was committed in her faith in God.

Until she attended the first Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848, she did not seek freedom for herself in private or public. That began to change. By 1860 she had become committed to expressing her convictions. She and Theophilus did not agree in their views about God, women’s rights, or slavery.

Their home was split. The church Theophilus pastored was being split by doctrinal differences. Elizabeth challenged her husband’s beliefs and stated them in a Bible class of the church. She was eloquent. He was not. She was for the freedom of slaves. Her husband would not take a clear position. She wrote essays and read them aloud. She was not a controller, but she did want freedom of speech and religion. Her husband then used his legal rights and committed his wife to an asylum with the agreement of its Medical Superintendent.

At the Jacksonville Insane Asylum Elizabeth was taken to the Seventh Ward. A nauseating odor filled it. Every bed was taken. She was placed in a tiny room with a hard settee and given plain biscuits for supper. A bell rang; lights went out; and quiet came briefly.

Then came sounds from the four floors below…cries, songs, tears, screams, and strange laughter.

Elizabeth did not go home the next day, or the next year; but she did not give up.

Barbara Steiner, and I, Todd Warren, have shared this true story with you of a crusader. Join us for part four and visit

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