Written for March 31, 2006
Dorothea Lynde Dix was born Hampden, Maine, on April 4, 1802. Her childhood was rough. Joseph, her father, was an alcoholic, and her mother, Mary Bigelow, was ill (Langston). Her family often moved from place to place, but by age ten, she ran away from home (Hamilton). While living with her grandmother, she became a teacher and founded multiple successful schools. While teaching at a jail, she learned about the abysmal state of mentally ill people, which shocked her. Known for her strong sense of independence, unwavering determination, and resolute sense of duty (Hamilton and “Dorothea Lynde Dix,” American Eras), these qualities, along with other factors, helped Dorothea Dix achieve numerous great things, including becoming the most prominent insane asylum reformer of the 1800s.
One major influence in Dorothea Dix’s life was religion. She grew up with Methodist teachings, and although she tried to reject them, the belief that Christians could reach perfection remained imprinted within her. While living in Boston, she adopted Unitarianism by the encouragement of William Ellery Channing (“Dorothea Lynde Dix,” American Eras). Unitarians believe that a person can affect his or her chances of salvation by doing good deeds. With these beliefs, Dix had even more reason to set and complete goals. Religion had a significant impact on Dix’s life by pushing her to perform good works and accomplish more and more.
Dorothea Dix was aided by several people during her lifelong devotion to asylum reform. One person was, as previously mentioned, William Channing, who influenced her to embrace Unitarianism. Another was Samuel Gridley Howe, a philanthropist who also wished to aid the mentally ill (“Dorothea Dix,” American History). He helped Dix in her efforts to have heating provided and renovations done to the rooms of the mentally ill. State legislators and congressmen also played an important role in Dix’s quest for reform. Since she brought many bills and suggestions to the state governments and even the national Congress (although President Pierce vetoed the bill that would provide funds for mental hospitals [Hamilton]), these politicians’ votes made a huge impact on her success. With the help of these lawmakers, Dix’s goals and dreams were able to come true. These people had power in the government, which enabled Dix’s ideas to come to life. The many people in Dorothea Dix’s life helped her realize her ambitions as a reformer.
By accomplishing so many things in the realm of asylum reform, Dorothea Dix had gained a famous status. Her fame caused others to listen to her. Not only was she well-known in the United States, but she was known internationally as well. Dix was so eminent that she was able to bring her reform efforts to Europe; she inspected hospitals and suggested improvements in England, France, Turkey, Belgium, Scandinavia, and many other nations. Dix even met with Pope Pius to tell him about the troubles she felt about Italy’s mental institutions (Rolka 36). Dorothea Dix’s worldwide recognition helped her to attain many great things throughout America and Europe.
Dorothea Dix was an incredible woman who dared to step outside the normal boundaries that women had in the 1800s. By doing so, she became one of the most accomplished women in history. The compounding of her religious beliefs, personality traits, and the aid of others, Dix was able to successfully meet her goals as a mental health reformer. She became internationally famous, and, through her good works as a reformer, she helped thousands of people with mental illnesses. Dorothea Dix was an outstanding, strong-minded, and unique individual who shaped the history of not only the nation, but of the world.
“Dorothea Dix.” American History. ABC-CLIO. 15 Mar 2006.
“Dorothea Lynde Dix.” American Eras. 8 vols. Gale Group. 15 Mar 2006.
Hamilton, Neil A. “Dix, Dorothea.” American Social Leaders and Activists, American Biographies. Facts on File. 15 Mar 2006.
Langston, Donna. “Dix, Dorothea.” A to Z of American Women Leaders and Activists, A to Z of Women. Facts on File. 15 Mar 2006.
Rolka, Gail Meyer. 100 Women Who Shaped World History. San Francisco: Bluewood Books, 1994.