Dorothea Dix was an American educator and social activist who dedicated her life to ensuring the mentally ill the right to a dignified life. During her lifetime, the insane were treated in the most inhumane and cruel manner possible, frequently being imprisoned and beaten to comply with orders. Their emotional needs were disregarded, and they were regarded as lesser living beings who were denied even the most rudimentary necessities. Dix was one of the first advocates for their rights and was instrumental in establishing mental asylums throughout the United States. She also traveled to other countries to advocate for this cause and worked tirelessly to educate the government and society about the critical nature of humane treatment of the insane. She grew up in a dysfunctional family as a child, with an emotionally unavailable mother and an abusive father. As a result of her own abuse as a child, she developed an empathy for others’ plight. She became a teacher, and while instructing inmates at a local jail, she became aware of the inhumane treatment meted out to the insane. From that point on, ensuring the mental health of the mentally ill became her life’s mission.
Career of Dorothea Dix
In 1821, Career Dix established a school in Boston. Although she taught poor and neglected children in her spare time, this school was primarily for children of wealthy parents. However, she developed poor health, which had an effect on her teaching.
When she was unable to teach, she would retreat to her room and write children’s textbooks and devotional books. In 1824, she published ‘Conversations on Common Things.’
In 1831, she resumed teaching and established a school for girls. She continued teaching for the next five years, but by the end of 1836, she was gravely ill. Her health had deteriorated to the point where she was forced to resign from teaching and travel to England to recuperate.
In 1841, she returned to America and accepted a position as a teacher in an East Cambridge prison. She was astounded by what she saw there—the mentally ill were housed alongside hardened criminals, there was no heat, the place smelled, and the living conditions were appalling.
Appalled by what she witnessed, she went to the Massachusetts legislature and demanded that the insane’s living conditions be improved. She presented a report to the legislature after conducting research on the inhumane conditions in which the inmates were kept.
The report, titled ‘Memorial,’ was presented to the New Jersey Legislature in 1845 by her supporter, Senator Joseph Dodd. While her reform demands garnered widespread support, they were met with opposition from some quarters.
Dix was not discouraged, and she and her supporters continued to write letters and editorials and advocate for the cause. Her tireless efforts paid off in March 1845, when the bill proposing reforms was finally passed.
She also traveled to Louisiana to study the plight of lunatics. She traveled to several states to conduct research on mental illnesses and their treatment. She persuaded the Illinois legislature to establish the state’s first mental hospital.
She traveled to North Carolina in 1849 and was instrumental in the establishment of the North Carolina State Medical Society. In 1856, a facility named in her honor was opened in Raleigh for the care of mentally ill patients.
In 1861, the Union Army appointed her Superintendent of Army Nurses. However, she was not particularly successful in this position and came into conflict with a number of parties, including Army doctors. In 1865, she resigned.
Significant Works of Dorothea Dix
Dix was a woman who was instrumental in establishing mental hospitals throughout the United States, including New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maryland.
Personal History and Legacies
Her second cousin Edward Bangs, who proposed marriage to her, was an ardent admirer. She was engaged to him for a time but later ended the relationship to focus on her social work. She was never wed.
She led a long and fruitful life, the majority of which was spent serving the community. In 1887, she died at the age of 85.
In 1983, the United States Postal Service issued a Dorothea Dix Great Americans series postage stamp in her honor.
Estimated Net Worth
Dorothea is one of the wealthiest Civil Rights Leaders and is included on the list of the most popular Civil Rights Leaders. Dorothea Dix’s net worth is estimated to be around $1.5 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.