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Play Tells Tale of Woman Silenced for Her Beliefs

In 1861, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was forcibly removed from her home and committed to an insane asylum in Jacksonville, Ill.

Her crime? Questioning her husband's religious teachings.

A conservative Calvinist minister of the old school, the Rev. Theophilus Packard strongly disagreed with his wife's liberal thinking. After 21 years of marriage, he feared she would endanger the spiritual welfare of their six children and had her committed without a public hearing.

Her story is the subject of the new play Mrs. Packard, written and directed by Emily Mann. Mann, whose plays often focus on giving voice to the voiceless, says she was drawn to the story because Packard was silenced in her own day, and is known today only to those who pore over history books.

During her three years of incarceration, Packard meticulously documented the abuses that women suffered in the asylum and eventually exposed them in a series of books. The superintendent of the hospital, Dr. Andrew McFarland, transferred her to the 8th ward for the violent and hopelessly insane after Packard refused to change her religious views or agree with her husband.

After she was freed and declared sane, Packard made her living as a writer until her death at 81. It took her nine years to gain custody of her children.

The cast features Kathryn Meisle in the title role. Her Broadway credits include A Touch of the Poet with Gabriel Byrne and The Constant Wife with Lynn Redgrave, among others.

Mrs. Packard had its debut at the McCarter Theater Centre in Princeton, N.J., in the spring, and it ends its run Sunday at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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