Dorothea Dix was born April 4, 1802 into an unstable family. Because of her own tumultuous childhood, Dorothea decided to become a teacher and opened a school for disadvantaged children. A siege of tuberculosis ended her teaching career.
She found spiritual solace in the Unitarian Church. In 1841 she volunteered to lead Bible study in a Cambridge prison. What she saw there changed her life. Mentally ill patients were locked up as common criminals. She was so moved by their suffering that she visited hundreds of towns in the next two years, recording the often-brutal conditions in which mentally-ill people lived. Armed with this data, Dix called for more humane treatment for the mentally ill. Eventually, Massachusetts passed a reform bill in 1843. Dix pressed the issue in other states. She founded or improved over thirty hospitals and also traveled abroad to push reform in other nations.
During the Civil War, Dorothea Dix worked as Superintendent of Nurses, then returned to the reform work about which she was so passionate. She finally retired from public service when she was 79 and died on July 18, 1887.
U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. Retouched photograph. [No date found on item.] Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-9797