Dorothea Dix

Isabella Ybarra

What did she accomplish to help the mentally ill?


  • Born on April 4, 1802, in Hampden, Maine she was the oldest sibling with 2 younger brothers.
  • Her family was very poor so she often had to travel to Boston to live with her grandparents
  • She was very religious and began teaching at the age of 14
  • Her poor health, love of reading, and writing may have contributed to her inspiration to teach and help mentally ill people.
  • In 1827 Dix became severely ill with tuberculosis.
  • In the spring of 1836 she collapsed. Suffering frequent pain and soon lost the use of a lung


  • An author, teacher, and reformer Dorothea was taught to read and write by her father, Joseph Dix, a minister. She often left school for long periods of time due to her poor health.
  • At age 19 Dorothea opened a school for young women in Boston.
  • Dorothea later wrote her first book, at age 22, called, Conversations on Common Things.
  • She also wrote many other books including,Ten Short Stories for Children (1827),Meditations for Private Hours (1828), The Garland of Flora (1829), and The Pearl or Affection's Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present (1829).

Dorothea's Findings

  • "Shocked by this experience, Dix consulted with her friend Channing. He advised her to talk with influential men in the community in order to arouse public opinion regarding the plight of the mentally ill. She visited with educator Horace Mann, abolitionist Charles Sumner, and the head of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, Samuel Gridley Howe. Gaining the support of these men, known at the time as "the three horsemen of reform" in Massachusetts, Dix began an eighteen-month tour of poorhouses and prisons in the state. During this time, she visited approximately 500 towns in search of the mentally ill. In many cases she found individuals kept in cages, chained to walls, or otherwise mistreated."
  • She took a job teaching inmates in East Cambridge prison in 1841.
  • Conditions where so terrible and the treatment of prisoners so inhumane, that she began agitating at once for their improvement.

Important Life Events and Contributions

  • She presented her findings to the legislature of Massachusetts. She demanded officials take action toward reform.
  • After the bill was passed in Massachusetts she began lobbying Congress for a national bill to be passed.
  • Dorothea was an activist on behalf of the mentally ill.
  • She helped in the creation of hospitals and schools for the mentally ill and blind.


  • After seeing the horrific conditions in the Massachusetts prison, she spent years getting the legislatures to establish state and national hospitals, schools, and asylums for the mentally ill.
  • Her efforts directly affected the building of 32 institutions in the United States. She created the first generation of American mental asylums. She also helped create 15 schools for the feeble minded and a school for the blind.


  • Dorothea died on July 17, 1887, in Trenton, New Jersey, at age 85.
  • Dorothea Dix was an American activist on behalf of the mentally insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums.

Dorothea Dix's Life Sumarry

Dorothea Dix