McFarland Center Name Change Rooted in Jacksonville History

By Jeremy Coumbes on August 9, 2023 at 5:43pm

A Springfield area mental health center now has a new name, and the cause for the change is rooted in a struggle between two former Jacksonville residents more than 160 years ago.

This morning, Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) announced the McFarland Mental Health Center is now officially the Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard Mental Health Center.

The new name was an initiative by IDHS Division of Mental Health staff to honor Packard, who in 1860, at age 43, was admitted to the Illinois State Asylum for the Insane in Jacksonville.

At the time, Illinois law allowed men to have their wives involuntarily committed. Packard disagreed with her husband, a Calvinist priest, over religious doctrine, and on issues including women’s rights and slavery. She spent three years at the hospital before gaining her release.

Following her release, Packard became a fierce and visible advocate for the rights of women and psychiatric patients and successfully advocated for the passage of a “Bill for the Protection of Personal Liberty” in 1867. She also founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society and pushed multiple states to reform their laws to better recognize the rights of mental health patients.

Dr. Andrew McFarland became superintendent of the Illinois State Asylum for the Insane in Jacksonville in 1854 and was one of Packard’s doctors during her time there. McFarland opposed Packard’s efforts for reform, lobbying against the passage of the “Bill for the Protection of Personal Liberty”, as well as against independent state inspections of mental health facilities.

Pritzker said this morning during the ceremony, that changing the name from McFarland, rights a wrong done to more than just Mrs. Packard. “And in 1869, a legislative investigation into the conditions at the Illinois State Asylum under McFarland’s leadership revealed horrific practices used to treat patients- including something that today would have been considered waterboarding.

As a result, in 1870, McFarland was forced to resign and Elizabeth Packard was hailed as one of the greatest change-makers of her time. Nearly one hundred years later, despite the facts of McFarland’s history, when this center was built in 1968, the Illinois Legislature officially named it in his honor. With that designation, the state didn’t just let Elizabeth down, it let down millions of Americans struggling with their mental health.”

Pritzker says the group gathering today felt like an important milestone. “Today we are putting a spotlight on the real hero associated with this institution. Someone who in truth better expresses our proud history of positive reform. Someone who changed our world for the better.”

“”In Elizabeth Packard’s own words- “We should set our light blazing as an example to others and not set it under a bushel.” Well now on this building, her name will literally be lit for all to see.”

On signage and in common use, the facility it will become known simply as the Packard Mental Health Center.

Upon leaving the Illinois State Asylum Dr. McFarland established Oak Lawn Retreat, a private asylum also located in Jacksonville. According to the Sangamon County Historic Society, the time during the legislative investigation into McFarland’s administration of the Illinois State Asylum was controversial, with much of the Jacksonville community and a number of influential newspapers from around the state.

McFarland continued to operate Oak Lawn until his death in 1891 when reportedly suffering from depression, he hanged himself at the facility.