About Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Dix was by far one of the most influential people during the 1800s. She was a strong woman who believed in empowering people of all kind. She influenced and enforced the proper and needed care for the mentally ill, along with prisoners. She provided nurses and help to the Civil War soldiers from the north within the first week of the war beginning. She also taught and spread her ideas by building schools and writing books so children and others to better understand her thought process and opinions on the world and how we work. Dorothea Dix was one of the most influential women in history despite the gender roles and restrictions she faced in her life.
Dorothea Dix was born in Maine in 1802. Her father was barely home and her mother was suffering from severe depression, Dorothea was the person in charge in her household. The oldest out of three she felt it was her duty to take care of her siblings. Later on, her wealthy grandmother had her move with her to Boston. It was in Boston where her grandmother encouraged her to obtain an education. Dorothea loved reading and writing and she was enjoying getting a higher education, so much that she established schools in Boston to teach the youth. Although she had good intentions Dorothea's own health and needs kept interfering with her work. She decided to close her final school in 1836 and focus more on her writing. It was the same year that she traveled to England and was intrigued by the thought of assisting the mentally ill. She took up a job teaching inmates in East Cambridge and when she saw the conditions of their living space she was appalled. This is what started it all for Dorothea.
She had been exposed to the effects of mental illnesses at an early age. Her mother suffered from depression and her younger brother seemed to show symptoms of autism but was never diagnosed. She knew that you couldn't treat people who were ill the same as everyone else. They needed assistance and they needed to be understood. "Your minds may now be likened to a garden which will if neglected, yield only weeds and thistles: but if cultivated will produce the most beautiful flowers, and the most delicious fruits"(Dix). She believed that the mentally ill should be cared for in a proper manner if they were to be neglected it would cause such damage to them that could've been prevented or at least guided to a healthier level. She got a job in a prison to teach inmates, but while in there, she noticed their living spaces and it distracted her from her teaching. She couldn't focus on their education without feeling sorry for them and having to be in such conditions without say. She saw how the criminals had been mixed in with the insane and didn't think it was right, neither groups were receiving the proper care. There was no separation and no worry or respect for either. She started to snoop around the facility and take notes on everything she saw, when she got enough she went to the public and demanded they take action and apply proper precaution and care to those people. She informed them of what she saw, the people inside were tortured. They were starved, chained, physically and sexually abused, left without clothes or sanitation, no heat, and no space for personal recollection(history.com). The public was shocked by what she said, they couldn't believe that people could be in such conditions, regardless of the committed crimes. But what really shocked the public was that the insane were mixed with the prisoners. They didn't think either group was safe, but together it sounded deadly. She continued to bother the legislature of Massachusetts and she was successful. They saved money and started to expand the hospital and prison. She didn't want to stop in Massachusetts, after seeing what she could do with her words of experience she couldn't get the feeling of justice out of her blood. She wanted to help more people whom she knew needed it. She continued to spread her influence to Rhode Island, New York and even made its way across the water to Europe. All over more hospitals and prisons were taking the people they were watching into consideration and treating them more like humans rather than waste products. Dorothea has written many books about her experiences inside the facilities she visited and it spread the word even more. This was later called The Asylum Movement. Later on, more and more people from all over would be fascinated by mental illnesses and try to understand them and assist the people who were diagnosed with said illnesses.
After her success with The Asylum Movement, she volunteered herself in the civil war one week into the war beginning. She was sent out to find nurses who were willing to volunteer with her and assist the army. They were going to need help. Once she had done her job she was clearly the woman in charge, the other nurses understood that and stood clear of getting in her way. She was very strict and orderly about what would happen and how it had to be precise and exact in order to keep the soldiers alive and well to her standards. She was addressed as the superintendent of the women nursing staff, which made her the first woman to have such high placement in a federal field. Although she was well respected she was also disliked and feared by her staff. She often got into heated arguments with army officers and generals. After months of exhaustion from the war but also from Dorothea, she was released and sent home in 1863. They respected her passion for the wounded but they also felt that at times it was too much.
Dorothea was an author of many books. She felt the need to share her knowledge and experience with the world so they could too learn and express their opinions. She wrote many books reflecting her time while she was a nurse/volunteer in the war. She also expressed her experiences of encountering the mentally ill and prisoners. She logged most of what she saw and how she felt throughout the books and shared her point of view as a normal person on the inside of the walls of the insane. She often wrote hopeful passages of how if people were cared for properly then they could be stable enough to function properly. "With care and patience, people may accomplish things which, to an indolent person, would seem impossible(brainyquote)". She believed that all people who were struggling mentally could be aided and she wanted her words to be spread across the world. She wrote to inform but also to make people remember what she had to say. She always had very brave statements and claims that many women in the 1800's would never let leave their mouth for the public. She didn't care if people thought she was a stuck up woman who just wanted to whine and holler her needs, she wanted to encourage woman and younger girls to come out of the shadows of the men around them and speak their truth. She never passed the opportunity to tell people how she felt. When she was involved with the war she often came into conflict with the men for being too open and bold with her statements. "Men need knowledge in order to overpower their passions and master their prejudices(brainyquote)". She knew the power she had and she never hesitated to use it to her advantage.
It was very visible from her early ages to the very end that Dorothea Dix was a very determined and persistent woman and she accomplished things that started the path to woman empowerment and molded the view of mental illnesses and mental care.