Dorothea Dix – One of the Great Women of the 1800s
Once in a while a truly exceptional person has made a mark on the growth of mankind. Dorothea Dix was an exceptional woman. She wrote children’s books, she was a school teacher, and she helped reform in prisons. Some of her most notable work was in the field of making mental health institutions a better place for the patients that lived in them. Dorothea Dix gave a great deal to humanity and her achievements are still being felt today, especially in the treatment of those with mental disabilities. Dix started out though with very humble beginnings.
Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine in 1802. Her mother was not very mentally stable and her dad was an abusive alcoholic. The Dix moved from Maine to Vermont just before the British War of 1812. Then, after the war they moved to Worcester, MA. While in Worcester, the Dix had two more children, both boys. The family would eventually break apart because of the mother’s mental state and the father’s drinking.1
Dorothea Dix and her two brothers ended up moving to Boston to live with their grandmother on their father’s side Dorothea Lynde, who was the wife of Dr Elijah Dix.2 Dix helped with the rearing of her brothers as she had done in her parents’ home. The grandmother tried to instill her Puritan ways of Boston’s wealthy into Dix’s mind. Grandmother Dix tried to turn young Dorothea into a nice proper girl from Boston, but that wasn’t in the cards for young Dix. The grandmother had given her dancing lessons and even her own private seamstress. Dix was not into this style of life and she would give some of her clothes away, and food to the poor; which had infuriated her grandmother. This angered the grandmother enough to send young Dix to live with the grandmother’s sister; her Aunt Duncan.3 Grandmother Dix had hoped this change might help. Dix remained there for a couple of years; she seemed to become well adjusted so she returned back to Boston to a new beginning in her life.
When she returned to Boston she asked her grandmother if she could start another school in her grandmother’s dining room. After a bit of opposition, her grandmother agreed. There, she taught until 1835, but she became sick with tuberculosis and also exhaustion had set in. Because of her illness she closed the school and then traveled to Europe to recuperate, under the advice of her friends and family. She again returns to Boston, months later, but this time she found herself with a very large inheritance that would allow her to love comfortably for the rest of her life.4
She realized that she was not the type to sit back and do nothing, so she accepted an invitation to teach at a Sunday school at the East Cambridge Jail in East Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1941. That’s when her quest began. She was shocked when she saw that mentally ill patients were being put into the jails, and even more appalled at the conditions they were put in. This is where Dix helped humanity...