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Dorothea Dix: The Mental Illness Reform Movement

1039 words - 5 pages

Dorothea Dix was an activist who, in the nineteenth century, worked to help start mental asylums in America. Before she started her work, people who were mentally ill were either put in prison or almshouses (almshouses were what we would call homeless shelters now). If the family of the person who is mentally ill had enough money, they would care for the person in their home. They would hide the person and make them live only inside so no one would see them. In the prisons and almshouses, they were commonly kept chained to walls or floors or in cells smaller than horse stalls. Often, they were not properly clothed. Heating, in any form, usually was not provided for them either. In her speech to the Massachusetts legislature, she states that, “I would speak as kindly as possible of all wardens, keepers, and other responsible officers, believing that most of these have erred not through hardness of heart and wilful cruelty so much as want of skill and knowledge, and want of consideration”(Dix 1). She is saying that she does not believe that the wardens or other ‘caregivers’ are trying to be cruel; they are just doing what they have been taught to do. They did not know any better. She did not want to say anything bad about any of them specifically because of that. She believed it was more of a general problem than a problem primarily caused by the prison wardens.
Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine on April 4, 1802. Maine at the time was part of Massachusetts. Hampden was a very small town of only about 150 people. Most of those residents were very poor, including Dix’s family. Her father was Joseph Dix, a traveling Methodist minister. She very much felt the effects of her father’s strict religion. Her father had her sit for hours sewing religious pamphlets. Dix hated this. Her mother was Mary Bigelow. Dorothea had two brothers, Charles born in 1812 and Joseph in 1815. The first, Charles, caused Mary’s health to decline and made her unable to care for a children. This made Dorothea unhappy. When she was around 13, it is believed that she ran away and rode a stagecoach to her grandmother’s house in Boston. Living with her grandmother allowed her to receive a great education; much better than the one she would have received had she stayed with her parents. After two years of living with her grandmother, she moved to Worcester to live with her aunt. While living in Worcester, she opened a dame school(an early form of elementary school). Soon, Charles and Joseph were also sent to live with Dorothea and her aunt. In 1820, Dorothea returned to Boston because her grandmother requested her.
Dix became interested in Unitarianism, a form of Christianity based on the belief that God exists within each individual person. This religion was just emerging when Dorothea became interested in it. Through this religion, Dix became good friends with Dr. William Ellery Channing. Dix believed that there were six faults that have to be abandoned before prosperity...

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