Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)
Dorothea Dix is known as one of the most influential social reformers of the nineteenth century. In 1841 Dix, then a teacher, volunteered to teach a Sunday school class to the women in the East Cambridge Jail in Massachusetts. When she entered the jail to teach, she was appalled at the conditions the inmates were forced to endure. At the time, mentally ill people were viewed as incurable and generally unaware of their surroundings. As a result, they were often housed in filthy conditions without heat. After witnessing the deplorable state of the East Cambridge Jail, Dix began visiting and documenting the conditions in jails and almshouses. She took detailed notes and presented her data to the Massachusetts legislature. This led to the expansion of the Worcester State Hospital. After completing her work in Massachusetts, she took her crusade to every state east of the Mississippi River. She founded several hospitals and schools for those with mental illness as well as specialized schools for nurses. Her reforms were put into practice in Europe as well. In 1887, she passed away in a hospital she had founded.
- This article is excerpted from the NWHM Spring 2003 Newsletter
- Image from Rutgers University