Our collection focuses on first person narratives and stories, personal correspondence and published texts; we also include rich biographical accounts and stories when these reflect the authentic voice in deeds and words. We hope to share with you the breadth of experiences and perspectives from our distant and our more recent past, those people who contribute to the richness of our history, each in her or his very particular way.

"Before I entered an insane asylum and learned its hidden life from the standpoint of the patient, I had not supposed that the inmates were outlaws, in the sense that the law did not protect them in any of their inalienable rights." – Elizabeth Packard

Elizabeth Packard (1816 - 1897)

Elizabeth Packard (1816-1897)
One of North America's first ex-insane asylum inmate activists,
confined from 1860-63 in Illinois State Hospital for the Insane, Jacksonville.

Elizabeth Packard was locked up in a state insane asylum in Illinois from 1860 - 1863 because she disagreed with some of her husband's religious views, had different ideas than he did about how to raise their children, and also because she opposed slavery while he was in favour of it. For daring to have such opinions, she spent three years confined as a madwoman.

In a series of publications and numerous public speeches, she recounted what happened to her and why laws and conditions in asylums needed to be changed. Some reports credit her years of work to getting 21-34 laws changed across the United States around these and related matters dealing with inmates' rights. She also visited asylum inmates in various states to offer her personal support. The American Bar Association, in a 1968 report, said that Elizabeth Packard was responsible for changes to commitment laws in Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts and other states as well. She was crucial to raising public consciousness in North America about the treatment of asylum inmates during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Some publications by Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard:

by Don Weitz of Toronto.