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Packard v. Packard

Reverend Packard's Case Against His Wife

Reverend Packard was a Calvinist minister with an austere interpretation of his faith, and he claimed his wife's religious views had convinced him of her insanity. Dr. Christopher Knott, who had spoken with Elizabeth prior to her commitment to Illinois State, testified that "Her mind appeared to be excited on the subject of religion. On all other subjects she was perfectly rational . . . I take her to be a lady of fine mental abilities . . . I would say she was insane," he concluded, "the same as I would say Henry Ward Beecher, Spurgeon, Horace Greeley and like persons are insane."

Dr. J. W. Brown had been falsely introduced to Elizabeth as a sewing machine salesman several weeks before, and had surreptitiously interviewed her during what she thought was a sales pitch. She had described her husband, Dr. Brown testified, as wishing that "the despotism of man may prevail over the wife," but it was during their discussion of religion that he "had not the slightest difficulty in concluding that she was hopelessly insane." Elizabeth Packard, Dr. Brown said, had claimed to be "the personification of the Ghost." Moreover, "She found fault that Mr. Packard would not discuss their points of difference in religion in an open manly way instead of going around and denouncing her as crazy to her friends and to the church. She had a great aversion to being called insane. Before I got through the conversation she exhibited a great dislike to me."

Abijah Dole, the husband of Reverend Packard's sister, Sybil, testified that he knew Elizabeth had become disoriented because she told him that she no longer wished to live with Reverend Packard. Dole also testified that Elizabeth had requested a letter terminating her membership in her husband's church. "Was that an indication of insanity?" Elizabeth's lawyer, John W. Orr, inquired. Dole replied: "She would not leave the church unless she was insane."

Sybil Dole also testified against Elizabeth, stating that "She accused Dr. Packard very strangely of depriving her of her rights of conscience--that he would not allow her to think for herself on religious questions because they differed on these topics."

Sarah Rumsey, a young woman who had briefly served as a mother's helper for the Packards, also gave evidence of what she considered Elizabeth Packard's insanity: "She wanted the flower beds in the front yard cleaned out and tried to get Mr. Packard to do it. He would not. She put on an old dress and went to work and cleaned out the weeds . . . until she was almost melted down with the heat . . . Then she went to her room and took a bath and dressed herself and lay down exhausted . . . She was angry and excited and showed ill-will."

Finally, a certificate concerning Elizabeth's discharge from the Illinois State Hospital, issued by superintendent Dr. Andrew McFarland, was read. It said that Elizabeth Packard was discharged because she could not be cured. Reverend Packard's lawyers rested their case.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Packard v. Packard - Significance, Reverend Packard's Case Against His Wife, Mrs. Packard Defends Her Sanity