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He oppressed her, and state takes his name off mental health center

Elizabeth Packard's struggles force state to rename McFarland Mental Health Center
National Women's History Museum
Elizabeth Packard's struggles force state to rename McFarland Mental Health Center

In 1860, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was committed to the Illinois State Asylum and Hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville by her husband. She was diagnosed as “crazy’ by doctors, including Andrew McFarland, who – until August 9, 2023 had a state mental health institution named for him. On Wednesday, the Springfield facility became – on signage and common usage – Packard Mental Health Center by the proclamation of Gov. JB Pritzker, who presided over a renaming ceremony.

Gov. JB Pritzker signs a proclamation to rename Springfield mental health center
Maureen McKinney
NPR Illinoiz
Gov. JB Pritzker signs a proclamation to rename Springfield mental health center

Pritzker said, “Despite having been unequivocally and demonstrably sane, Elizabeth Packard spent three years imprisoned in that asylum, undergoing mistreatment after mistreatment and witnessing others subjected to the same.

“In 1867, she successfully advocated for and attained passage of the bill of protection of personal liberty, guaranteeing a public hearing for any person proposed to be institutionalized for what was then referred to as insanity,’’ he said.

For social justice activists and at least one state historian – the rededication was long overdue.

Author Kate Moore in 2021 published The Woman They Could Not Silence about Packard’s struggle in 2021. It details Packard’s involuntary commitment and McFarland’s participation in her mistreatment.

In January 2023, an online petition was created, calling on the state to rename the facility.

”Elizabeth Packard, or Parsons Ware Packard, was someone that should be celebrated and commemorated, and we are so glad to see that she's getting the recognition that she deserves, especially for her work in social justice. Elizabeth was a passionate and intelligent woman who ended up being an advocate for women's rights, as well as social justice reformer in her own right,” Interim Illinois State Museum Director Jenn Edginton said.

CEO of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault Carrie Ward said, “This name change is a tangible and a powerful reminder that for far too long, women's voices and wishes were ignored in deference to the decisions of others, often, but not always, men who were in a position to control them, and determine their fate frequently to their detriment. ICASA supports the rights of all women to make decisions regarding their own physical, mental and emotional health. And the quest for equality is ongoing.”

Packard was an inspiration and a reminder of the need for quality care for people with mental illness, Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said.

In a prepared release, Moore said: “I am delighted for Elizabeth that this mental health center is being renamed in her honor, and I have no doubt she would be thrilled too. In her lifetime, she was denigrated and dismissed as a madwoman because she stood up for those in need, but today we honor her courageous stance and her remarkable achievements."

“It is fitting, too, that Elizabeth’s name replaces that of her tormentor and doctor, McFarland. She always warned him she was not mad, simply ahead of her time, and today, at long last, her truth is heard. Truly the woman they could not silence, Elizabeth deserves this honor deeply and I am so grateful to the Governor and the State for recognizing this very special woman.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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