Wednesday, July 29, 2009

She fought the law, and sometimes won

H-Net has a very handy review of A. Cheree Carlson's new book from University of Illinois Press, The Crimes of Womanhood: Defining Femininity in a Court of Law. Carlson tells the stories of six prominent 19th- and early 20th-century cases involving women. Reviewer Tamar Carroll highlights the case of

Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard, a Presbyterian minister's wife who drew her husband's ire when she took up Swedenborgianism, a mystical philosophy "at odds with traditional Christianity," and tried to convert to Methodism, more amenable to her newfound spiritual beliefs (p. 24). Before she could do so, Rev. Packer had her confined in the "maniac" ward of the Illinois State Hospital, where she remained until the superintendent released her three years later . . . . Upon her release, her husband took away Packard's clothes and locked his unrepentant wife in the nursery of their house; she managed to slide a note out the window frame to a neighbor, who sought judicial intervention.
What happened next? Read the whole thing. Sometimes clever lawyers were able to use 19th-century notions about feminity to win their clients' freedom.

For those of us who graze the banquet table of history, the review usefully contrasts and compares other books and articles on the legal perils of 19th-century women.

Hat tip to Legal History Blog.

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