Dorothea Lynde Dix on April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine
Her family life can be described as abusive and nonexistent. Her mother
was not in good mental health and her father was an abusive alcoholic. Almost immediately Dorothea
began to care for her smaller brothers. Later in life she commented that "I never knew childhood" (Schlaifer,
Dorothea planned on being a
schoolteacher. In the fall of 1816, at age fifteen, she faced her first twenty pupils between the ages
of six and eight. From 1822-1836 Dorothea managed to teach her two classes and began writing several
books for children.
Dorothea's second career began when she was thirty-nine years old. In March of 1841 she entered the
East Cambridge Jail. She had volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for women inmates. Upon
entering the jail she witnessed such horrible images that her life, from that point on, was changed
forever. When asked why the jail was in these conditions her answer was, "the insane do not feel
heat or cold". After witnessing these conditions she immediately took the matter to the courts and
after a serious of battles finally won. Dorothea then proceeded to visit jails and almshouses, where
the mentally ill were housed, in other parts of Boston and soon her investigations extended over the
entire state of Massachusetts.
After accomplishing much, she
decided to go after her dream in 1848. She sent a document to the United States Congress asking that
five million acres be set aside and to be used for the care of the mentally ill. However, with this
request she was way ahead of her time by advocating a role for the national government in the care of
the disadvantaged mentally ill. In 1854 the bill passed and was approved by both houses but was vetoed
by President Franklin Pierce. In 1854 she continued to travel and investigate many states she had missed
before. However at the outbreak of the Civil War she put her energies into being the Superintendent of
Union Army Nurses.
finally retired at age 79. Depressed by deteriorating accommodations and programs for the insane,
she did not talk about her work; nor would she cooperate with those who inquired about her life and
career. She died in 1887 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.