Dorothea Lynde Dix was an American advocate on behalf of the indigent mentally ill who, through a vigorous and sustained program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums. During the Civil War, she served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.
Born: April 4, 1802
Birthplace: Hampden, Maine
Father: Rev. Joseph William Dix
Mother: Mary Bigelow
Occupation before War:
School Teacher in Boston, Massachusetts
School Teacher for poor and neglected Children
1824 – 1830: Author of devotional books and Children Stories
Governess on Beacon Hill for family of William Ellery Channing
Witnessed her first slave in St. Croix
1831: Established a model School for girls in Boston, Mass.
Friend of Elizabeth Fry, Samuel Tuke and William Rathbone
1840 – 1841: Investigated care for mentally ill in Massachusetts
Lobbying to expand the state mental hospital in Worcester, Mass.
1844: Visited jails and almshouses in New Jersey
Helped to authorize an asylum
Documented condition of mentally ill in New Hampshire & Louisiana
1846: Traveled to Illinois to study mental illness
1847: Helped establish first mental hospital in Illinois
1848: Traveled to North Carolina to get reform for mentally ill
1853: Helped with founding of Harrisburg, PA. State Hospital
1853: Studied the mentally ill in Novia Scotia
Traveled to Sable Island helping a shipwreck rescue
1854: Investigated Conditions of mental hospitals in Scotland
1857: Managed building of asylum in the Channel Islands
Civil War Career:
1861 – 1865: Superintendent of Union Army Nurses
She Set strict guidelines for Union Army Nurses
She believed in equal treatment for Union and Confederate Soldiers
1865: She resigned as Superintendent in August
Life after War:
Helped raise funds for national monument of deceased soldiers at Fortress Monroe
Continued her crusade to improve care of prisoners, disabled and mentally ill.
Evaluated war damage in South of facilities
1881 – 1887: Lived at New Jersey State Hospital in private Suite
Died: July 17, 1887
Place of Death: Trenton, New Jersey
Age at time of Death: 85 years old
Burial Place: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts
She convinced skeptical military officials, unaccustomed to female nurses, that women could perform the work acceptably, and then recruited women. Battling the prevailing stereo types-and accepting many of the common prejudices herself-Dix sought to ensure that her ranks not be inundated with flighty and marriage-minded young women by only accepting applicants who were plain looking and older than 30. In addition, Dix authorized a dress code of modest black or brown skirts and forbade hoops or jewelry.
Even with these strict and arbitrary requirements, relaxed somewhat as the war persisted, a total of over 3,000 women served as Union army nurses. Called "Dragon Dix" by some, the superintendent was stern and brusque, clashing frequently with the military bureaucracy and occasionally ignoring administrative details. Yet, army nursing care was markedly improved under her leadership.
Dix looked after the welfare of both the nurses, who labored in an often brutal environment, and the soldiers to whom they ministered, obtaining medical supplies from private sources when they were not forthcoming from the government. At the war's conclusion, Dix returned to her work on behalf of the mentally ill.
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