The Woman They Could Not Silence [Book Review] #NarrativeNonfiction #WhatsOnYourBookshelfChallenge

February 18, 2022

Do you have Narrative Nonfiction on your bookshelf?

The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore (cover) Image: white text on a black muted background....the small graphic image of a quill and ink below the title

Today for the #WhatsOnYourBookshelfChallenge I’m focusing on “Narrative Nonfiction” (creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction) as I bring you a review of The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore.

Every year, I commit to reading more nonfiction. In nonfiction, I love Memoir, Biography, and Narrative Nonfiction. However, I think narrative nonfiction might be my favorite. After today’s review, I’ve included a few of my favorite “narrative nonfiction” titles.

Do you have a favorite Narrative Nonfiction title or recomendation?

***This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore

Genre/Categories/Setting: Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Biographical, Mental Health, Women’s/Patient’s Rights, Insane Asylum (1860)

My Summary:

In 1860, wives and daughters could be committed to insane asylums by their husbands or fathers without their consent or proper mental health evaluations. Women were property owned by the husband or father. Women could be committed for being too emotional, opinionated, independent, zealous, or intellectual….basically, any woman who can’t be kept “in line.” When Elizabeth Packard is committed to an insane asylum by her husband, she discovers that she is not the only sane woman there. Because she is labeled “crazy,” no one will listen to her appeals or intervene on her behalf and she has no voice to fight for herself because it makes her appear even crazier. Her friends who may know the truth won’t speak up for fear of the same punishment from their husbands. However, after losing her home and her children, Elizabeth has nothing more to lose and is determined to fight for her life and for the lives of innocent women.

Elizabeth Packard

Elizabeth Packard

My Thoughts:

How far we’ve come! What a nightmare scenario for women! I became intrigued with this subject after I read Woman 99 by Greer Macallister. In that story, a daughter is commited to an insane asylum for being too emotional and her sister attempts a rescue. I knew I wanted to read more about women being unfairly committed.

First, What is Narrative Nonfiction?

“Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, is a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The narrative nonfiction genre contains factual prose that is written in a compelling way—facts told as a story. While the emphasis is on the storytelling itself, narrative nonfiction must remain as accurate to the truth as possible” ~Source


Drawing heavily on court reports, newspaper articles, corresponsence, and journals, the author weaves a compelling story around the facts and Elizabeth’s own words. Through Elizabeth’s determination and fearless fighting spirit, she affects change for women. The resulting law reforms brought widespread, long-lasting change in the operation of insane asylums and granted married women the right of jury trial before commitment. Her fight and contributions should be remembered and honored.

Elizabeth is an incessent talker with strong opinions and a strong will. These were textbook examples of female insanity at the time. During her confinement, Elizabeth feels like an asylum is a “storage unit for unsatisfactory wives.” Women are deemed “cured” when they become “quiet, decorous in manners and language.” Using her brilliant mind and her ability to write, Elizabeth is determined “to write her way out of her hellhole if it is the last thing she does.” She demonstrates that “a spirit cannot be killed. With spirit comes hope. With spirit comes strength. With spirit comes the energy to start the fight for justice.”

“Wronged women were not supposed to stand up for themselves. Wronged women were not supposed to come out fighting, or be angry, or battle for injustice to be overturned. Elizabeth’s course was unnatural in [McFarland’s] eyes…and therefore insane.”

Elizabeth’s life is not without controversy. In her attempts to gain her freedom, she has a complicated relationship with McFarland, the director of the asylum, and uses many methods to manipulate, outsmart, and befriend him to achieve her freedom. He becomes her lifelong adversary.

Recommended: I definitely recommend The Woman They Could Not Silence for readers who appreciate stories about the fight for women’s rights and mental health reform and for fans of stories about strong and determined women making a difference. She fought for us all. Thanks to Shellyrae @ Book’d Out for the rec!

Content Considerations: domestic abuse, difficult passages about the mistreatment of patients and the lack of care for the mentally ill

My Rating: 4 Stars


The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

The Woman They Could Not Silence Information Here

Meet the Author, Kate Moore

Author Kate MooreAmong other books, Kate is the author of The Radium Girls, which won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best History, was voted U.S. librarians’ favourite nonfiction book of 2017 and became a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller.

A British writer based in England, Kate writes across multiple genres including history, biography, true  crime and grift, and has had many titles on the Sunday Times bestseller list. Her work has been featured across international media and translated into more than fifteen languages. A born public speaker, Kate regularly tours her books and is equally at home spinning stories onstage as she is writing them on her laptop in London.

A Few of My Favorite Narrative Nonfiction Titles:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Defede
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (part narrative nonfiction, part historical essay)

 I’m linking up with Deb @ Deb’s World and SueDonna, and Jo for the February installment of #WhatsOnYourBookShelfChallenge.

Whats On Your Bookshelf Challenge


Do you enjoy narrative nonfiction?
What is your favorite form of nonfiction?
Is The Woman They Could Not Silence on your TBR or have you read it?

Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Let’s Get Social!

Thank you for visiting and reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along (see subscribe or follow option), promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Find me at:

***Blog posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.



  1. Hi, Carol – Thank you for joining us at ‘What’s On Your Bookshelf’. ‘The Women that they Could Not Silence’ sounds like a fascinating read. Debbie, Sue, Jo and I are just completing our Brontë reads. The topic of women who dared to speak up for themselves in the mid-1800’s has been central to our book discussions.
    From your list, I greatly enjoyed The Warmth of Other Suns. My other favourite Literary Non-Fiction is ‘Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China’
    by Paul French. As I lived in Beijing for 14 years, and regularly walked the areas covered in this book, it was an especially chilling read for me.

  2. This one sounds compelling, confronting, and unlookawayable. It’s horrifying to remember that this really was a thing – and still is in some places. As Donna said, our reading of the Brontes is bringing some of this social climate to life for us and in some cases the themes are still very relevant. Sulari Gentill, an Aussie author wrote a book called Crossing The Lines a few years ago (it won the top prize for suspense that year) with a modern twist on this. I didn’t enjoy it because it was so uncomfortable, but at the same time so incredibly effective. Thanks for linking up.

  3. I hadn’t heard of this term carol but it makes sense now that I’ve read your post. This book sounds so interesting but also scary, thanks goodness times have changed since then! Thanks so much for joining us for #whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge with such an interesting take on reading outside the square!

    • No one needs to read in the horror genre when there are true horror stories in real life. Can you imagine your husband committing you because he didn’t like your opinions?!

      • Your comment made me smile Janet :). He might actually like the thought of being able to do that sometimes!! But I wouldn’t let him.

  4. Wow! This sounds amazing. My great grandmother was sent to the sanatorium after she finally had it with her husband’s abuse and tried to kill him with pan. According to my mom she was very happy there, had a tidy room and was a helpful friend to all the women in her ward. It was a better life. What her husband would offer.

  5. Hi Carol thank you for joining us for the monthly What’s On Your Bookshelf? link party and I’m so pleased you have reviewed a non-fiction. I don’t tend to read many non-fiction unless they are self development however this book sounds like a compelling read. It is dreadful to think of what this woman went through (as others did) and whilst it might not be a comfortable story it should be told. thanks for sharing and I look forward to your contribution next month.

  6. We’ve come a long way, but given what happened to Britney Spears, we haven’t come far enough. Once someone gets labeled this way, their voice doesn’t count anymore, and that’s terrifying.

  7. Excellent review Carol. I have read a few books dealing with this issue and it always angers me to see how men tried not only to control women, but could easily discard them in this way if they tired of them or didn’t want to make the effort to be a good husband. I learned a new term, “Narrative NonFiction” I do have this book and definitely need to move it out from under the pile for one of my March nonfiction titles.

Leave a Reply