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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was born on April 4, 1802 in the town of Hampden, Maine and spent most of her childhood in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Her itinerant worker father Joseph was frequently away from home, and her mother suffered from debilitating bouts of depression. The oldest of three children, Dorothea ran her household and cared for her family members from a very young age.

Though Joseph Dix was a strict and volatile man prone to alcoholism, he did teach his daughter to read and write, fostering Dorothea’s lifelong love of books and learning.

At the age of twelve, Dorothea sought refuge with her wealthy grandmother in Boston to get away from her alcoholic and abusive parents.

She established her own school in Boston, running it successfully until 1834, when a tubercular illness, a recurring affliction, forced her to give it up.

In 1841 Dix volunteered to teach a Sunday school class at the jail in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. The thoughtless confinement of mentally ill persons in cells with criminals disturbed her deeply. After touring similar jails throughout Massachusetts she revealed in a public report the shocking conditions she had found. As a result of the reaction to her report special hospitals for mental patients were built in more than 15 states and the movement spread to Canada and Europe.

Dix circa 1850-55

A Unitarian in her younger days, Dix became increasingly conventional in her Christianity though she generally felt closest to God when busying herself in her reform work among the mentally ill.

Dorothea Dix was appointed to set up a nursing service for wounded union soldiers during the Civil War.

Louisa Alcott was a nurse under Dorothea Dix during the Civil War. Alcott recalled that Dix was respected but not particularly well liked by her nurses, who tended to “steer clear” of her.

At the age of 79 Dorothea Dix moved into the New Jersey State Hospital, Morris Plains. The state legislature had designated a suite for her private use as long as she lived. Although an invalid, she carried on correspondence with people from England, Japan, and elsewhere. Dix died on July 17, 1887. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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