Dorothea Dix

History gives us a lot of examples of significant men in the field of psychology. Have you ever wondered where the women are? Women have had significantly less power throughout history, and this has silenced many of their voices. However, Dorothea Dix was determined to make her voice heard. 

Dorothea Dix Dorothea Dix

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Table of contents

    Dorothea Dix, dorothea dix plaque, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Dorothea Dix plaque.

    Dorothea Dix: Biography

    Dorothea Lynde Dix was born on April 4th, 1802 in Hampden, Maine in the United States. Dix seems to have had a troubled childhood. It is believed that both of her parents suffered from alcohol addiction and that her father was abusive. Because of this, she was sent to live with family in Boston, where she continued her education and developed a love for teaching. Dix worked industriously and, in a few short years, began teaching, designing curriculum, and opening schools in Boston and the surrounding areas.

    Even though her household wasn't the best she learned many things from her father that would later influence many of her life choices. As a young girl, her father taught her how to read and write. Because of this, once she entered school she was way ahead of everyone else. Dix developed a passion for reading and teaching and she taught her brothers how to read as well.

    Health troubles caused Dix to reduce the time she spent in the classroom. During this period, she wrote several foundational and educational books that found great success in the classroom. Her poor health continued to interrupt her teaching career and even forced her to close her schools. However, following her illness, she took a trip through Europe that would give her renewed direction in life.

    Dorthea Dix: Beginnings of Reform

    During her travels, Dix was inspired by young reformers in Europe. She took up their passion for the welfare of prisoners, medical patients, and those with mental disorders. When she returned to the United States, Dix spent time visiting and assessing the state of care in prisons and mental institutions across the country. She found conditions and treatment in these facilities to be shockingly inhumane and ineffective. Dix reported her findings to local politicians and urged for better facilities and treatment standards.

    At the time, prisons adhered to no regulated standards of management or care. Those suffering from mental disorders were often lumped into the same correctional facilities as aggressive criminals. Prisoners received more abuse than remediation in these places. Dix’s reports were filled with stories of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poor sanitation, and insufficient food and resources.

    Dix's health was in a decline at the time but despite this, she managed to visit every state on the east side of the Mississippi River! In total, Dix played a major role in founding 32 mental hospitals, 15 schools for the feeble-minded, a school for the blind, and numerous training facilities for nurses.

    Conditions were not much better at mental health institutions. This was a time when patients were beaten, bled, or restrained in the name of treatment. All of these things inspired Dix to push for reform in the way mental health patients and prisoners were treated. This led to the development of more humane therapeutic practices and better facilities. As a result, the number of patients in these facilities began to decrease.

    Dorothea Dix: Psychology

    Dorothea Dix contributed to the field of psychology by inspiring drastic reform in the treatment of patients and the quality of mental health facilities. If not for her advocacy, our notion of mental patients and mental health care may never have evolved.

    Dix's passion for better conditions for the mentally ill may have come from her own psychological struggles. She struggled with depression throughout her life, perhaps due to certain traumas she endured. Dix experienced considerable instability in her early life, leading to her being raised by extended family members. She also experienced declining health from a young age and had a history of alcoholism in her family.

    Dix also helped change public opinion regarding addiction and women who had children out of wedlock. At the time, alcoholism was viewed as a moral failing that victims brought upon themselves. Women who conceived without marrying were shunned and considered undeserving of care or assistance. Dix argued that all are deserving of care, regardless of the current public opinion on these topics.

    Dorothea Dix: Accomplishments

    When the Civil War broke out, Dix volunteered as a nurse. A short time later, she was appointed as the Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army. She was the first woman to hold such a prestigious position. She treated patients, appointed nurses, and oversaw the nursing staff. At a time when women did not have much agency or status in the workplace, she received considerable pushback from male doctors.

    Nevertheless, she persisted in advocating for better opportunities and more education for women.

    Dix took her mental health advocacy across the United States, and eventually across the Atlantic Ocean to England and continental Europe. She advocated for change in Scotland and England and even managed to petition Queen Victoria. She sent petitions to Pope Pius IX in Italy and continued her efforts in France and Turkey.

    Dorothea Dix dorothea dix, photo of Dorothea dix hospital, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Dorothea Dix Hospital

    Dorothea Dix: Reform movement

    Dorothea Dix helped lead a major reform movement in the treatment of psychological patients.

    Dix's grandmother passed in 1837 and left her with a sizable inheritance. This enabled her to devote all of her time and energy to reform work. Her advocacy lead to more humane and effective treatments that helped to reduce the number of people admitted to institutions and drastically reduce the time that patients spent there.

    In the 18th and early 19th centuries, it was common for people to pay a fee to enter mental health institutions solely to gawk at the patients as if they were animals in a zoo. Patients were often stripped of their clothing, shackled, or brutalized. It was a common belief that mental couldn't feel cold or pain as a result of their mental state.

    This atrocious treatment, no doubt, perpetuated the illness and instability of the patients.

    Dorothea cataloged everything she saw in these asylums. At the time, it was not common to hear women speaking of such harrowing imagery in public. Because of this, her testimonies had even greater effect on the public and on the political community.

    Dorothea Dix: Significance

    Dorothea Dix often receives marginal attention in history books or textbooks. It's true that her involvement in the mental health field didn't specifically bring us to a better understanding of mental disorders. It did, however, demonstrate that more humane care directly impacts a patient's treatment.

    Dix achieved a lot in her lifetime. She was well-educated and opened several schools before her health began to decline. At a time when women were thought to be too fair for grotesque images of suffering, Dorothea spoke up about the injustices she witnessed at institutional facilities.

    Women had very little political power at the time.

    The only way for a woman to make her political voice heard was to submit pamphlets to the state legislature. Every pamphlet that Dix submitted had to be read aloud by a man since women were barred from speaking in front of the legislature.

    Through Dix's efforts, she succeeded in opening a hospital in New Jersey in 1881. Her petitioning helped open the hospital and fund the building effort. It was at this same hospital that she received treatment at the end of her life.

    Dix is credited as being the leader of the mental health reform movement. She founded and reformed over 30 mental health facilities. She helped to change the public opinion that the mentally ill were lost causes that should be kept separate from the rest of society. Dix advocated for the "moral treatment" of the mentally ill that brought more compassionate care to the treatment of mental conditions.

    Despite all of these accomplishments, Dix was self-conscious of the personal attention her work brought her. She refused to have her name attached to any of the hospitals are care facilities she helped to open. She demonstrated a great passion for justice and equality.

    Dorothea Dix - Key takeaways

    • Dorothea Dix was born on April 4th, 1802 in Hampden, Maine in the United States.
    • Dorothea Dix contributed to the field of psychology by inspiring drastic reform in the treatment of patients and the quality of mental health facilities.
    • Dix advocated for change in the United States, England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Turkey.
    • Dix founded and reformed over 30 mental health facilities.
    • Dix advocated for a "moral treatment" or the mentally ill.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 - "File:Plaque to Dorothea Dix, Royal Edinburgh Hospital.jpg" by Stephencdickson is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
    2. Fig. 2 - "Dorothea Dix Hospital" by Pithon314 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Dorothea Dix

    What is Dorethea Dix best known for?

    Dorothea Dix is best known for her reform work and advocacy for better mental health treatment and facilities.

    How did Dorothea Dix contribute to reform?

    Dorothea Dix contributed to mental health reform by visiting facilities and petitioning state legislators to exact change. 

    How did Dorothea Dix help the mentally ill?

    Dorothea Dix helped the mentally ill by advocating for better treatment and mental health facilities. 

    What did Dorothea Dix want to change?

    Dorothea Dix wanted to change the quality of treatment and mental health facilities to make them more humane and effective. 

    How did Dorothea Dix change prisons?

    Dorothea Dix changed prisons by advocating for them to improve conditions and be more humane.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Dix was sent to live with family in ________, due to her tumultuous family situation.

    Dix advocated for reform in all of these countries except __________.

    True or False: Dix petitioned the Queen of the United Kingdom.

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