Title: Modern Persecution
Written by: Jennifer Cole
Type: Feature Film
Genre: History, Thriller
Logline: A bright, passionate woman must find her way out of an insane asylum after being summarily dumped there for questioning her husband's religious doctrine.
Synopsis: Speaking up in Bible class is a risky proposition in an 1860s Calvinist church for Elizabeth Packard, the Reverend's wife. Mrs. Packard knows this, but a combination of a passion for her religion and an bright mind forces her to question the church's doctrine. While some in the Bible class welcome her ideas, others, including the Reverend Theophilus Packard find them threatening. The Reverend decides that his wife's questioning is a sign of a "diseased brain." His solution? Her permanent admission to an insane asylum. Reassured by a neighbor that a person could not be committed without a trial, Mrs. Packard rests easy, ignorant of the fact a married woman is not a person under the law. Rather, she is the sole property of her husband.
While in the uniquely vulnerable position of taking her bath, her room is broken into by the town sheriff, two medical doctors, and Rev. Packard himself. She is kidnapped and carted off to a mental hospital in Manteno, but not before the neighbor who had so ill-advised her realizes what is happening and gathers the neighbors Paul Revere-style to head them off at the train station.
The confrontation at the train station results in a public spectacle as Mrs. Packard refuses to willingly enter a train car destined to take her to her imprisonment. Under advisement of the sheriff, representing the law of the 1860s, a group of men must carry her on to the train while the crowd looks on helplessly.
Upon her arrival, Mrs. Packard meets a respectful young attendant, Miss Tomlin, who struggles to grant Mrs. Packard's several requests for simple creature comforts. After a first calm night at the asylum, Mrs. Packard meets with Reverend Packard and the Superintendent, Dr. McFarland. This meeting at once gives her hope( thanks to Dr. McFarland's seemingly reasonable attitude) and despair due to her husband's insistence that she remain in the asylum indefinitely. Mrs. Packard grieves for her five small children, torn from their mother's love.
While at the asylum, Mrs. Packard makes the best of an impossible situation by working to improve conditions there. She puts a great deal of effort into cleaning and organizing both her ward and a number of the patients. At first it appears that Dr. McFarland is treating her as a boarder rather than a patient. Unfortunately, her position of favor is jeopardized when she must spurn his romantic advances. She further puts herself in jeopardy by writing a scathing letter criticizing Dr. McFarland's leadership.
In retaliation, Dr. McFarland moves her to a filthy ward with the most violent, unstable patients. She continues her mission to improve the lives of the patients. These patients, however, are dangerous and her life is often in jeopardy. Aside from the attendant Mrs. Tomlin, the patients her must navigate Miss Bonner, a cruel, sadistic attendant with no empathy for any of the inmates.
Three years into her incarceration, Mrs. Packard requests to "fire a few guns at Calvinism" for the hospital's board of trustees. In a rare moment of charity, Dr. McFarland agrees. Because she is such a gifted speaker, her allotted 15 minutes becomes 50, and the board members unanimously agree that Mrs. Packard is not insane, but a victim of a spiteful husband.
Because she has no rights under the law, she requests to stay on at the asylum as a boarder. At first this is agreed to, but as the mercurial Dr. McFarland is prone to sudden changes of heart, she is released to her husband who simply keeps her captive in her own house.
This time, the neighbor who misled her discovers her plight and manages to secure her a trial. Though she is found sane, her troubles are not ended. Reverend Packard has stolen her dowry, sold off all of their things, and taken the children to Massachussets. If she were to follow, she would again be subject to her husband's wishes as the court would not recognize Illinois's decision.
Mrs. Packard stays for a time with a neighbor as she self-publishes a book about her experience. Her books and persuasive speaking is instrumental in changing the laws pertaining to the possession of women by their husbands.
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