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How a woman’s struggle with lockdown in Jacksonville in the 1800s makes sense today

A British author has something to say about women’s rights in contemporary society, and she does so by telling the story of a 19th century woman whose husband called her crazy.

“Why does it take so long for women to be heard and believed? Asked Kate Moore, author of The Woman They Couldn’t Silence. “Basically, for centuries, every time women have used our voices to express themselves… people say we’re crazy.”

Moore, who also wrote “The Radium Girls” about women who fought for workers’ rights after suffering radium poisoning in a job they had been assured to be safe, came up with the idea of his last book in 2017.

The Jacksonville Public Library will offer a free Zoom-based program featuring author Kate Moore at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Moore will discuss his latest book, “The Woman They Couldn’t Silence”. The event will be available for viewing at home with a Zoom link or in the library meeting room. To register and receive information about Zoom or to reserve a place at the library, email Sarah Snyder at [email protected]


This was the year that gave birth to the #MeToo movement, demanding that society listen to women and start tackling issues of sexual harassment and abuse.


“I’m a storyteller at heart, even though I write non-fiction,” Moore said from her London-based home. “I went to look for women. I wanted to write about a true story and the issue of women’s mental health being wielded as a weapon against them.

She found Elizabeth Packard, a housewife and mother of six who lived in Illinois in 1860.

“I went to get a woman’s story,” she said. “I was pretty confident that there must be a woman in the story (that matches the bill). I found it in a randomized trial from the University of Wisconsin. I had come across this google search link. There was a single mention of Elizabeth Packard on four pages.

After searching for Packard by name, Moore “very quickly realized she was going to be the right one,” she said. “She’s amazing. Absolutely fearless.

Packard’s husband Theophilus, feeling threatened by his “intellect, independence and unwillingness to stifle his own thoughts,” claimed she was mad and sent her to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital, the precursor of the Jacksonville Developmental Center, now closed.

While Illinois law required a review of involuntary engagements, there was an exception for husbands, and Packard spent the next three years confined to the facility. Upon her release, her husband locked her in a room in their house until she managed to send a letter to a friend and ultimately win a lawsuit – and her freedom.

“The first two chapters (of the book) have men breaking into her room with an ax and dragging her to an insane asylum,” Moore said. “There is drama in the courtroom. She is brilliant and selfless. It is a privilege to write on this subject.

The book reads like a novel, even if it’s not fiction, Moore said.

“When you write non-fiction and know you are writing a non-fiction book, there is an added tension,” she said. “There is the scary nature of what you read, when you know what you read is true. It is a level that fiction cannot reach.

For example, while Packard’s story involves being sent to an asylum, other women have been forced to undergo “barbaric” medical procedures as “cure,” she said.

“Coming into it, I knew I was writing about the suppression of women by psychiatry,” Moore said. “But I was shocked at the treatment given to some of those who were supposed to be crazy but did nothing more than read a book or study. They pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be a woman, which back then was to be a wife and a mother. ”

Moore also enjoys writing non-fiction because it allows him to dig into history to find details about the weather at the time, the clothes, the way people spoke.

“I think there’s an added intensity to that,” she said of the non-fiction. “I’m trying to make a story out of it, so even if you’re not interested in women’s mental health, not interested in insane asylums, you can take this book and enjoy it.”

It’s not just a story about something that happened 160 years ago, Moore said, noting that people called Vice President Kamala Harris a “crazy woman” when she became for the President Joe Biden’s first running mate and singer Britney Spears “fighting to get out of male chains” from a tutelage that for years labeled her mentally incapable of making her own decisions.

“Time and time again, there are modern instances that mirror the instances that I write about in the book,” Moore said.


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Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson