For Women’s History Month, A More Perfect Blog will feature profiles of influential and heroic female leaders from our middle school curriculum, Being An American: Exploring the Ideals That Unite Us. Use the profiles to start a class discussion on what makes a hero and how each of the people we describe is heroic.
Dorothea Dix courageously fought for people who could not fight for themselves. Dix traveled to almost every state in the Union and visited over 9,000 people suffering from mental illness. She saw them cast out of society and largely ignored. She visited them in poorhouses, jails, dark cellars, and hovels. She saw many of them chained, frozen, starving, or neglected. Appalled by their treatment, she became a crusader.
From 1842 to 1887, Dix led a one-woman campaign for compassion. She wrote and spoke publicly about what she had seen. She was convinced that many patients, if treated well, could be cured. She also thought the government had a responsibility to help. Dix was successful in lobbying state legislatures. She was well-connected, soft-spoken, and persuasive.
In a time when women could be jailed for voting, Dix courageously championed her cause. She raised public awareness. Congress debated many of Dix’s petitions. Her petition led to the construction of a state hospital in Massachusetts. Twelve other states and the District of Columbia followed suit. Dorothea Dix forever changed the way Americans care for the mentally ill.
CREDIT: “Dorothea Lynde Dix.” Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number, LC-USZ62-9797