Western Kentucky University
Dorothea Dix is known is history as a social reformer. Almost everyone who studies psychology knows who she is and what she did. She was a teacher who became influenced by her family, those around her, and even herself. She saw how the mentally ill were treated in prisons and sought out change. Her campaign with legislature helped create new facilities for the mentally ill. Her efforts in reform helped how the mentally ill were viewed and her impact lasts to today. This paper will discuss her early life, research, and how she is still having an impact on the world today.
Dorothea Dix was born April 4th 1802 in Hampden, Maine to Joseph Dix and Mary Bigelow CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). She had two younger brothers and lived on a cottage with her family until she was around 12 years old. Her father was a preacher who was often gone and her mother suffered from depression leading Dorothea to run the house and take care of her mother and brothers CITATION His09 l 1033 (Editors, 2009). Her father was sometimes violent and abusive but also suffered through some depression. He did teach her though, to read and write that grew into a passion CITATION His09 l 1033 (Editors, 2009). She would often stay with her grandmother who had more money than her parents CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). At age 12 she started to live with her grandmother in Boston, Massachusetts during the summers and then permanently moved there when she was 21 years old CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017).
Dix grew up without having a formal education but she still went on to become a teacher. She opened up her own school in her grandmother’s mansion that was geared towards young girls when she was only 19 years old CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). Education in young children became her career as she started to write children’s books and short stories. One of her students was the daughter of an influential man named William Ellery Channing of Boston CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). Dix and Channing would grow close and he was one of her early supporters.
In 1827 Dix’s teaching career ended due to tuberculosis that made her have a severe cough and fatigue. Not only did the illness physically caused issues but it’s suggested by the biographer, David Gollaher that it also caused her to become depressed CITATION Voi06 l 1033 (Parry, 2006). In 1836 after becoming more ill and losing a part of her lung. That’s when she then moved to Liverpool to stay with a friend of Channing, William Rathbone. She stayed with Rathbone for 18 months while she worked on regaining her strength CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). During her time in England she met Elizabeth Fry who helped pass legislation in the UK for humane treatment in prisons. She also met Samuel Tuke who founded Retreat at York for the mentally ill in England CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). Knowing all these reformers and people who she worked with or looked up to, helped her become involved in the process of changing the way mental asylums worked. Seeing her mother and father struggle with their problems, also her own, pushed her to become involved in the work she became famous for. Keeping in mind, during this time women’s rights and education were not a priority, so the fact that she was able to change the way mental health patients were treated was amazing during this time.
Research, Theories, and Accomplishments
In 1841 Dix went to East Cambridge to voluntarily teach Sunday school to the female convicts at the jail CITATION Voi06 l 1033 (Parry, 2006). She was mortified by the conditions the mental ill patients were in. She witnessed the people chained to beds, starved and abused physically and sexually CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). For 2 years she traveled around Massachusetts to visit public and private facilities that housed the mentally ill. She documented the unsanitary conditions the mentally ill were housed in. A famous story of her first encounter at the jail left an impression. The story goes that she asked to examine the jail and her presence caused the jailer confusion to why a seemingly gentle women would want to walk through a dirty and unhuman jail CITATION Dav95 l 1033 (Gollaher, 1995). The jailor first thought she must have been mentally ill herself.
In 1843 she wrote a memorial to the Massachusetts legislature called “I Tell What I Have Seen” describing the horrible conditions that she seen across many facilities. In her memorial she asked for reform and get funding for a state mental hospital that was located in Worcester, Massachusetts which was approved CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). While she was on this successful path to change, she proposed the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane for funding and federal land in other states so they could develop more safe mental institutions CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). Both houses of congress passed the bill but President Pierce vetoed the bill stating that the land and funding should be in the responsibility of the state and not the federal government CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). The veto didn’t stop her from wanting to change how the way mental asylums worked. In the fall of 1854, Dix left the states to go back to Liverpool to continue her campaign for reform and traveled Scotland in the winter of the following year CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016). She visited institutions while she was in Scotland as well as England. Her time there allowed her gather enough evidence to convince Queen Victoria to have someone from her team to investigate the conditions of the institutions that housed the mentally ill CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016). 2 years after that investigation Parliament a law that gave funds to help improve asylums in Scotland. After that she traveled for a year in Europe visiting multiple institutions trying to reform them as well. She returned to the states in the fall of 1856 to continue her work in the United States and Canada, then had a breakthrough in 1860 with the federal government in the states. She wrote another bill to get funds for the New Jersey State Hospital which was approved by both house and senate as well as being signed by President Buchanan.
In 1861 the American Civil war began and one week after it started, Dix put her movement on pause and volunteered her services to the U.S. Army CITATION His09 l 1033 (Editors, 2009). She was the superintendent of the nurses in the army which made her the first female to be appointed in highly ranked federal role CITATION His09 l 1033 (Editors, 2009). One of the doctors shared these words about her during a dedication, “was a very retiring, sensitive woman, yet brave and bold as a lion to do battle for the right and for justice. … She was very unpopular in the war with surgeons, nurses, and any others, who failed to do their whole duty.” CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). She stayed in the army until the fall of 1863 and when she came back to the states she picked back up from where she left off with reforming the mental institutions.
Later life and death
When Dix, came back from the army she went right back to traveling the country and more parts of Europe to keep changing asylums. During this time she also traveled to Japan to set up institutions there. In 1875, an asylum in Kyoto was built to help the mentally ill CITATION And99 l 1033 (Wood, 1999). After traveling to New England and New York at 79 years old, she retired in Trenton, New Jersey. In 1887 at the age of 85, Dix died in an hospital in New Jersey leaving behind a huge impact CITATION His09 l 1033 (Editors, 2009). She is in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dix Hill Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina and more
In 1849 plans and funds were gathered to establish a hospital in North Carolina that was named Dix Hill hospital, named after Dorothea’s grandfather CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016). The hospital grew and in 1875 it was reported that there was 250 men crowded in the hospital with the maximum capacity of 255 people. In the year of 1899 the hospital name was changed to the State Hospital at Raleigh. In 1902 the Dorothea Dix nursing school opened which was originally a nursing school for men but due to the job not paying enough for the men to support their families, they made it into a nursing school for women CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016). As the hospital went through it’s up and downs which included a fire in 1926, it kept expanding with three new buildings added onto the reminder of the original building. And in 1959 the state renamed the hospital again to the Dorothea Dix Hospital CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016). Due to supreme court wanting to deinstitutionalize and have least restrictive environments for patients, the closing of the Dorothea Dix hospital was set to close in 2008 with a new 430 bed hospital to open in Butner, North Carolina. The buildings and land of 308 acres were sold to the city and state in beginning of 2015 where plans to turn the property into a park were made CITATION Tho16 l 1033 (Goldsmith, 2016).
Connection to Today:
Many hospitals for the treatment of mental illness during Dix’s time were dedicated to her across the country because of the influence she made. Because of the path Dix started, today we have more that 6,100 mental outpatient facilities and more that 800 psychiatric facilities in the United States CITATION Hon17 l 1033 (Whiteman, 2017). Not only did she help create new facilities, she helped breakdown the stigma that was around mental illness and helped the world see that people with mental illness are humans too. Her research in traveling to institutions and documenting what she saw was something that was not done in that area, more importantly not done as women. Her work lead to better laws and treatment, even in today’s modern times. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction act of 2008, allowed for psychiatric health care to be as equal or no more in cost of insurance (such as co-pays, deductibles, etc.) as if it were physical or medical treatment CITATION Hea l 1033 (Health Plans ; Benefits: Mental Health Benefits, n.d.). Her influence in the world of mental illness is still looked at today, for good reason.
Dorothea Dix was one of the biggest influences of her time and left a lasting impact on the world. Her help in the reform of asylums changed the way people with mental illness were treated and viewed. She traveled in many places and visited hundreds of institutions changing the way the people were treated. Starting as a teacher, she set a path that would continue for a very long time.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Editors, H. (2009, November 9 ). Dorothea Lynde Dix. Retrieved from History : https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/dorothea-lynde-dix
Goldsmith, T. (2016, October 11). Dorothea Dix Hospital – Interactive History Timeline . Retrieved from North Carolina Health News: https://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2016/10/11/dorothea-dix-hospital-interactive-history-timeline/
Gollaher, D. (1995). Voice for The Mad . New York City : The Free press.
Health Plans ; Benefits: Mental Health Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/health-plans/mental
Parry, M. S. (2006). Dorothea Dix (1802-1887). American Journal of Public Health, 622-625.
Whiteman, H. (2017, May 5). Dorothea Dix: Redefining mental illness. Retrieved from Medical News Today : https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317321.php
Wood, A. G. (1999). Dix, Dorothea Lynde. American National Biography, 1-7.