Dorothea Dix was born on April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). Dorothea did not have a happy childhood as her mother was not in good mental health, her father an abusive alcoholic, and she had to help care for her smaller brothers (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). She went to live with her wealthy grandmother in 1814, there she became a schoolteacher and established an elementary school in her grandmother’s home in 1821 (Parry, M.S. 2006). Dorothea became severely ill in 1839 with tuberculosis and had to stop teaching, she went to England and stayed with William Rathbone (Parry, M.S. 2006). While in England she was introduced to prominent social reform advocates who were trying to correct the treatment of the mentally ill and the poor in England (“4 Nursing Role Models,” 2018).
Dorothea’s health improved, and she returned to the United States. In 1841 she volunteered to teach a Sunday school class to female inmates at the East Cambridge Jail, there she was horrified at what she saw (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). Because of what she saw in the jail she started looking at other jails, places that took in mentally insane people in Massachusetts and put together a carefully worded document that would be delivered to the Massachusetts legislature (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). She won legislative support and funds for the expansion of a hospital and did the same in every state on the east side of the Mississippi river (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). She championed for better treatment of the mentally insane, blind, and the “feeble minded” (as they were called) in a time when no one thought they mattered and did this in a time when women did not matter. She played a major role in founding 32 mental hospitals, 15 schools for the feeble minded, a blind school, and numerous training facilities for nurse (“Dorothea Dix,” n.d.). During the civil war Dorothea was named the Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army (“4 Nursing Role Models,” 2018).
We still have many changes to make in mental health, but because of Dorothea Dix people who are different were given a voice and a chance to live in better conditions. Today people can live productive lives while managing their mental health, “feeble minded” people are able to go to school and are taught how to take care of themselves. Because of Dorothea, nurses can pursue a career in mental health (“4 Nursing Role Models,” 2018).