Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix
A Voice of Change and
Reform…from 1802-1887
Early Life
• Born in Hampden, Maine,
grew up in Boston.
• Suffered from depression
• Abusive Home Life, left at
age 12 to live with
• 1821-1836 opened multiple
schools for children- Taught
for 24 years
• Moved to London, England
to seek cure for health
– Suffered from what is now
known to be tuberculosis
– Met prominent Quaker family
who believed government
should play a large role in
social welfare
• Was exposed to British
“Lunacy Reform Movement”
• Returned to America in 1840
to examine Massachusetts
– Traveled to many other states
– Dix was instrumental in
founding the first public
mental hospital in
• Appointed Superintendent
of Army Nurses during Civil
War (a.k.a. Dragon Dix)
• Following war resumed
crusade to reform improve
care of prisoners and
mentally ill
• Most influential reformer of
asylums in the U.S.
Historical Antecedents &
• Influenced by Pinel’s ideas about
mental illness
• Religious woman who believed in
humanity as a treatment
• Shift in how society viewed mental
• Civil War times influenced how she
treated all her patients: equally, with
precise attention and high standards.
“Whatever is done,
must be done solely
by myself”
-Dorothea Dix
Facing Obstacles…
• Edward Bangs
• “The insane do not feel
heat or cold”
-Dorothea’s second
– Dorothea clearly was
cousin that helped
outraged by this claim and
with her first career
wanted to make the
as a teacher.
conditions for the mentally
• “Mystery Disease”
ill more humane.
– She knew she had to do
-Dorothea struggled
something herself or else
with a number of
nothing would get done.
health problems that
– Delivered report of the
restricted her ability
outrageous conditions to the
to work.
Massachusetts Legislature.
And Overcoming Them…
• Helped countless
other states across
the country
• 5 million dollars in
land grants
• Superintendent of
the Union army
during the Civil war
• Revolutionized how
people thought of the
mentally ill
Dorothea Dix’s Methodology
• When she would inspect an
asylum, she would:
– Complete detailed research
on the conditions in the
location of the asylum.
– Present the results of her
findings to the appropriate
legislative body.
– Garner the support of
influential people and law
– Publish her results in
– It was also noted that the
reason she was successful in
the South was because she
ignored the subject of slavery.
Level of Involvement
• When organizing the
set-up of a new asylum,
she would:
– Pick out the location for
the hospital
– Plan the details of the
– Choose the asylum
Greatest Achievement…
• One of her greatest
achievements was putting
together a bill for the
United States Congress.
– This bill provided
permanent funding for care
of the mentally ill using
federal land grants.
– The bill was passed by both
houses of Congress in 1854,
but President Franklin Pierce
vetoed it.
– President Pierce reasoned
that this bill would open up
a Pandora’s Box, and that
people would still be
demanding federal aid.
“She was instrumental in the
founding or expansion of more than
30 hospitals for the treatment of
the mentally ill”
-Reports of Asylum Reformer
Dorothea Dix
Past, Present &
Future…Influences on
Psychology & Reform
• She played a prominent role in both the national and
international realm, challenging the idea that people
with mental illnesses could not be assisted.
• Despite diminished resources and little funding for
new programs, Dix initiated new projects and
supervised the “Restoration and improvement of
existing facilities” in the U.S. from 1867 to 1881.
• Her philosophical outlook:
– a commitment to empiricism, an emphasis on the
importance of historical context, and a pluralistic
interpretation of causality
– Has survived in science to this day
Neglected in
• Not mentioned in the bulk
of scholarly texts (5/53
textbooks & 10% of history
• Dix did not place her name
on the majority of her
published works
• Extremely humble
woman…not to mention the
fact she was a woman
• She didn’t have a heavy
scientific theory explaining
how the brain worked so
the general public was not
interested in her findings.
• Brown, Thomas J.. Dorothea Dix: New England reformer. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press,1998.
• Bumb, Jenn. "Dorothea Dix." Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of
Mind and Society. Webster University. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <http://>.
• Dix, Dorothea. ""I Tell What I Haw Seen” The Reports of Asylum Reformer
Dorothea Dix." American Journal of Mental Health 96.4 (2006): 622-624.
• Dix, Dorothea Lynde. Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United
States. Boston: Printed by Monroe & Francis, 1845.
• Meyers, Barbara. "The Spirit of Dorothea Dix: Unitarians, Universalists and the
Mentally Ill ." Starr King School 1.1 (2002): 1-22. Starr King School for the
Ministry. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.
• Reddi Ph.D. MHES, Vasantha. "Biography of Dorothea Lynde Dix." The Center for
Nursing Advocacy. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
• Schultz, Duane P., and Sydney Ellen Schultz. A History of Modern Psychology. Ninth
Edition. New York: Academic Press, 1969.

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