Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Lynde Dix was born in the town of Hampden, Maine, and grew up in Worcester and Boston. She became a teacher and then a social reformer for the treatment of the mentally ill. At the age of thirty-nine she volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for women inmates at East Cambridge Jail. It was there, seeing the deplorable conditions of the jail and the mentally ill mixed in with prostitutes, drunks, and criminals that she began her crusade to change how the mentally ill were being treated. By the time she was fifty-four she had covered half of the United States and Europe inspecting institutions for mistreatment. She played a major role in founding 32 mental hospitals and 15 schools for the feeble minded.

She traveled from state to state collecting data on poor houses and alms houses. For each state she visited she would prepare a memorial bearing her carefully documented findings. The memorial was then delivered to the state government by a friendly and well-known political figure. For over a decade her memorials were presented in state after state, often with gratifying results.

During the Civil War, Dix was appointed Superintendent of Union Army Nurses. Unfortunately, the qualities that made her a successful crusader (independence, single-minded zeal), did not lend themselves to managing a large organization of female nurses. At odds with Army doctors, she was gradually relieved of real responsibility and would consider this chapter in her career a failure. At the war's conclusion, Dix returned to her work on behalf of the

mentally ill. At the age of 80, she gave in to physical infirmity and went to live in the guest rooms of the state mental hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, an institution she helped to establish more than three decades before. She lived there five years, then died on July 18, 1887.

How she  influenced the hospital:

In 1845 Dix presented a memorial to Pennsylvania lawmakers which resulted in the establishment of the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital and Union Asylum for the Insane that same year. She was instrumental in the founding of the hospital and she continued to show interest in the hospital even after it was open to patients. She collected a fund from the citizens of Philadelphia for the benefit of the patients; with this she furnished them with a bowling alley, two buildings for reading rooms and museums, horses and a carriage, magic lanterns with slides, musical instruments, and books. In consideration of the great services Dix rendered, in 1853 the board of trustees authorized the superintendent to receive and treat without charge any one person recommended for admission by Dix. One patient recommended by her entered the hospital March 6, 1853, and remained until her death in 1895. After the death of Dix the trustees of the Philadelphia fund presented the hospital with her life-size portrait; this portrait still hangs in the Administration Building to this day (2009).



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