“In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do” — Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Lynde Dix was born on this day in Hampden, Maine, USA in 1802. Today is 211th anniversary of her birth.
She was the oldest child of Joseph and Mary Dix. Joseph was an itinerant Methodist preacher and sometime laborer. He was also an alcoholic and an abusive father. “Her mother was not in good mental health” [Webster.edu] so by the time her two brothers, Joseph and Charles, were born Dorothea was taking care of the house. She also cared for her brothers.
During the war of 1812 the British took control of Hampden and the family moved Vermont. She also spent much of her early life in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father taught her to read and write when she was little, “when she entered school she was way ahead of everyone else. This developed a passion for reading and teaching, as she taught her brothers how to read as well” [Ibid]
When she was about 12 it was decided that her parents could not care for the children (her mother was suffering from severe, incapacitating headaches and her father’s alcoholism was spiraling out of control) so the Dorothea, Joseph and Charles went to live with their Grandmother Dix in Boston. Madame Dix was a wealthy woman and life in the Dix Mansion was far cry from the poverty at home. But her grandmother had a very narrow vision of what well brought up young ladies did and did not do. They DID take dancing lessons and wear fine clothing. They DID NOT give food and clothing to children begging at the front gate. When Dorothea was 14 Madame Dix asked her sister, Dorothea’s great-aunt, Mrs. Duncan, to take in the girl and teach her how to be a proper young lady. That relationship fared better, but Dorothea did everything she could to get back to her brothers.
Dorothea wanted to be a teacher and with the help of an older cousin, Edward Bangs, she opened a Dame School for young ladies. “In the fall of 1816, at age fifteen, she faced her first twenty pupils between the ages of six and eight. She ran this school of sorts for three years.” [Ibid]
She continued teaching and began a formal school for older children in a cottage on her grandmother´s property. The school was named “the Hope” and it served the poor children of Boston whose parents could not afford a formal education. At this time, Dorothea wrote her first book, Conversations on Common Things. This encyclopedia for children was quite popular and sold many copies.[Learning to Give.org]
in 1826 she had to close the school because of health problems. It took her several years to recover, during this time she “wrote four more books including Hymns for Children and American Moral Tales for Young Persons.” [Ibid] Although she took on a governess job and later returned to teaching her bouts with illness recurred. She had tuberculosis, and had to eventually give up teaching. On advice from her doctors she took a long trip to England to recuperate. There she stayed with the Rathbone family. The Rathbones were Quakers and social reformers.
While in England she toured the York Retreat insane asylum. It was built by William Tuke in 1796 as was a state of the art facility for the mentally ill.
The idea that full recovery could be made if the mentally ill were treated and cared for compassionately was a principle Dix never forgot and brought to every aspect of her work. [Ibid]
When she came back to the U.S. she was asked to teach Sunday school at the East Cambridge Jail.
She discovered the appalling treatment of the prisoners, particularly those with mental illnesses, whose living quarters had no heat. She immediately went to court and secured an order to provide heat for the prisoners, along with other improvements. [Biography.com]
She embarked on a 2 year fact-finding mission, touring every facility for the mentally ill in the state. The appalling conditions she found at East Cambridge Women’s Jail (no heat, no light, scant clothing, no furniture, scarce sanitation…) was the rule rather than the exception. Much to the chagrin of those running the facilities “she compiled a detailed report and submitted it to the legislature in January 1843.” .[Learning to Give.org] A bill to remedy the abuses was quickly passed.
Dorothea set her sights on neighboring states and soon had New York and Rhode Island reforms underway. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas were next.
In 1848, Dix submitted a bill to Congress that called for five million acres to be set aside for the use of building mental institutions to care for the ill. … For the next three years, the bill was passed back and forth. Finally, in 1854, it passed both the Senate and House, but President Franklin Pierce vetoed the bill. President Millard Fillmore was a supporter of Dorothea Dix and, in 1852, signed an executive order to begin construction of a hospital that would benefit Army and Navy veterans . [Ibid]
When the Civil War broke out..
“she volunteered her services and was named superintendent of nurses. She was responsible for setting up field hospitals and first-aid stations, recruiting nurses, managing supplies and setting up training programs” [Biography.com]
As her health continued to deteriorate she entered the state hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, a hospital she help establish. She spent 6 year there before passing away on July 17, 1887.
In all she played a major role in founding 32 mental hospitals, 15 schools for the feeble-minded, a school for the blind, and numerous training facilities for nurses. Her efforts were an indirect inspiration for the building of many additional institutions for the mentally ill. She was also instrumental in establishing libraries in prisons, mental hospitals and other institutions. [Webster.edu]
- Today’s Birthday: DOROTHEA DIX (1802) pioneer in the movement for humane treatment of the insane (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- “Man is not made better by being degraded.”-Dorothea Dix (ileneonwords.com)
- Today’s Birthday: DOROTHEA DIX (1802) pioneer in the movement for humane treatment of the insane (asolitarytorture.wordpress.com)
- Dorothea Lynde Dix: Mental Illness Reformer (tbchick2011.wordpress.com)