Dorothea Dix

Some Background Information...

Dorothea Lynde Dix was and author, a teacher, and a reformer. Her efforts towards the mentally ill and prisoners helped create dozens of new institutions across the US and Europe. Dorothea was charged during the American Civil War with the administration of military hospitals. She established a reputation as an advocate for the work of female nurses. Dix volunteered her services one week after the civil war began, in 1861. She was also appointed to organise and outfit the Union Army hospitals and to manage the nursing staff that the war would require.
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Dix's Early Life

Dorothea was born in Hampden, Maine, in 1802. Her father, Joseph, was a frequent traveler Methodist preacher who was away from home often, and her mother suffered from crippling periods of depression. Dorothea ran her household and cared for her family members already at a very young age. At 12 Dorothea moved to Boston, where her grandmother took care of her and encouraged her interest in education. Dorothea eventually established a series of schools in Boston and Worcester, designing her own curriculum and supervised classrooms as a teenager and young woman.

In the 1820s when Dix became extremely ill, forcing her to suspend her work very often. She began to write, and her books sold very rapidly.

By 1836, Dix's severe health conditions caused her to close her latest school.

The Asylum Movement

The same year that Dorothea traveled to England, she approached an interest in the treatment of the insane; she took a job etching inmates in an East Cambridge prison, where conditions were so awful and the treatment of the prisoners were so inhumane that she was concerned for their improvement. Prisoners, at the time, were unhygienic with violent criminals housed side by side with the mentally ill. Dorothea visited every public and private facility she could access, documenting the conditions she found. She then presented her documentation to the legislature of Massachusetts, demanding that officials take action toward reform.

As a result of Dix's efforts, funds were set aside for the expansion of the state mental hospital in Worcester; she eventually expanded her work into Europe.

The Civil War

Dorothea volunteered her services one week after the civil war began, in 1861. Shortly after her arrival in Washington, in April of 1861, she was appointed to organize and outfit the Union Army hospitals and to oversee the vast nursing staff that the war would require. As superintendant of women nurses, she was the first woman to ever serve in such a high capacity in a federally appointed role.

Dix's Later Life

After the war, Dix returned to her work as a social reformer. She traveled extensively in Europe, evidently unhappy with her experience during the war, and continued to write and offer guidance to what was now a worldwide movement to reform the treatment of the mentally ill. Old hospitals were redesigned according to Dix's ideals, and new hospitals were founded according to the principals she promoted. After a long life as an author, advocate, and an agitator, Dorothea died in 1887 at the age of 85 in a hospital in New Jersey that had been established in her honour. She is now buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Primary Source

These are some quotes by Dorothea Dix that I used as a primary source.