March is Women's History Month
March was delcared Women's History Month in 1987 and is a time to celebrate the accomplishments and impact that women have had throughout history. It is important to remember that women have long been advocates for those with disabilities. One such notable women is Elizabeth Packard who was an advocate for the rights of women and people accused of insanity. She was wrongfully confined by her husband, who claimed she was insane, for over 3 years. At her trial, a jury took seven minutes to find her not insane. Elizabeth realized how narrow her legal victory had been. While she had escaped confinement, it was largely a measure of luck. The underlying social principles which had led to her confinement still existed. She founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society and published several books, including Marital Power Exemplified, or Three Years Imprisonment for Religious Belief (1864), Great Disclosure of Spiritual Wickedness in High Places (1865), The Mystic Key or the Asylum Secret Unlocked (1866), and The Prisoners' Hidden Life, Or Insane Asylums Unveiled (1868).
In 1867, the State of Illinois passed a "Bill for the Protection of Personal Liberty" which guaranteed all people accused of insanity, including wives, had the right to a public hearing. She also saw similar laws passed in three other states. Even so, she was strongly attacked by medical professionals and anonymous citizens. As such, Elizabeth's work on this front was "broadly unappreciated" while she was alive. She only received broader recognition starting in the 1930s by a well-known historian of mental illness, Albert Deutsch, and again in the 1960s from those whom were "attacking the medical model of insanity. She died on July 25, 1897. In her obituary, The Inter Ocean, a Chicago newspaper, described her as "the reformer of insane asylum methods."
PBS will feature a number of documentaries of historical women throughout the month of March. Click here for details.