Dorothea Dix: Advocate of Humanitarian Reform in American Mental Institutions

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Childhood and career

Dorothea Lynde Dix was born on April 2,1802, in Hampden, Main. She was the daughter of an alcoholic farmer and a mentally ill mother. According to The Nursing Advocacy website, she did not have a happy or comfortable childhood. Dorothea had to take care of her younger siblings until she was eventually sent to live with her wealthy grandmother and then her great-aunt in Boston. At only fifteen years old, she began teaching at her own school for small children in Worcester, Massachusetts. She didn’t have much education but she was passionate for teaching so she began reading books from her highly educated grandfather’s library.

In 1821 Dix opened a charity school for young ladies at her grandparent’s home in Boston, but she had to give up her school because she began suffering from tuberculosis and she was also taking care of her sick grandmother. Dix vas ordered by her doctor to rest so, she took a trip to England were she stayed in Liverpool for eighteen months. She returned to the United States in January 1841 but still not well enough to teach. In March she agreed to teach a Sunday school class for women inmates of the House of Correction at East Cambridge. There, she saw how women were kept in filth, dark, damp, and cold, many of whom were mentally ill and retarded, not criminals. She was told that unlike human beings, the insane were not aware of cold or of their surroundings and there is no point in making life more comfortable for them since they would never recover or be cured. Dix spent the next eighteen months inspecting insane asylums, brothels, workhouses, and jails in Massachusetts and saw firsthand how the mentally ill were kept in cages and chains and also suffered sexual abuse by jailers. Aft...

... middle of paper ... after her. Dix was an advocate for the maltreated mentally ill, who were neglected and abused in jail. With a big voice and strong willing she made the change in better and stopped the outrageous maltreatment of innocent people. Dix was a tenacious woman who accomplished much for humanity within her life span. Her work changed the way we treat the mentally ill today. Dorothea Lynde Dix will always remain an important person in the nursing history.

Bibliography of Dorothea Lynde Dix. (2005). The Center for Nursing Advocacy. Retrieved from


Dorothea Dix. (2004). The Great American History Fact-Finder. Retrieved from http://0->.

Dorothea Lynde Dix. (2010). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th Edition, 1. Retrieved from


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