Dorothea Lynde Dix

  • American

Lay Advocacy for the Mentally Ill

Dorothea Dix, a school teacher, was the foremost advocate for the humane care of the mentally ill during the 19th century. Her efforts are credited with the establishment of 32 state mental hospitals throughout the United States.

In 1841, Miss Dix visited a Boston jail to teach a Sunday School class. There she found mentally ill people confined under inhumane conditions. She embarked on a lifelong journey to advocate and procure help for the mentally ill. Her methods included personal visits to jails, almshouses, hospitals, and wherever they were confined, and she carefully documented her findings. She used the interest and influence of prominent citizens and legislators to introduce written "memorials" into state legislatures in which she described the conditions she found, the first being in Massachusetts in 1843. The memorials often led to funds being appropriated to improve or establish mental hospitals.

By 1850, Miss Dix had aroused sufficient public support for her endeavors, and bills were introduced into the Congress for federal lands to be apportioned to the states whose sale would provide funds to create or support facilities for the mentally ill. The bill passed in both Houses of Congress in 1851 but was vetoed by President Franklin Pierce on the basis that the care of the mentally ill was a state, not federal, responsibility.

Miss Dix also visited mental establishments in Great Britain, Ireland, and the European mainland, including visits with the Pope. She exerted influence wherever she went in publicizing conditions of care for the mentally ill and advocating for improved care.

She spent her final years as a resident guest at The Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey, a psychiatric hospital founded through her efforts. - US National Library of Medicine

Themes with Dorothea Lynde Dix


Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
1847/00/00 Dorothea Dix appears before the Alabama Legislature to plead for the establishment of a state hospital for the insane Vocation Alabama Insane Hospital Tuscaloosa, AL
1852/02/00 After a second visit by Dix to the Alabama Legislature, a bill is passed that establishes the Alabama Insane Hospital appropriation of $100,000 Vocation Alabama State Capitol Montgomery, AL
1855/01/15 Charles H Nichols opens the Government Hospital for the Insane to its first patient. As the first medical superintendent, Dr Nichhols collaborates with the social reformer Dorothea Dix to establish a model institution. Vocation St Elizabeths Hospital Washington, DC
1860/00/00 On the advise of Dorothea Dix, Dr Peter Bryce, is named superintendent of the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane Vocation Alabama Insane Hospital Tuscaloosa, AL
1862/12/13 Louisa Alcott becomes a Union nurse at Georgetown's Union Hotel Hospital, Washington, DC (lost). Dorothea Dix assigns her to Matron Hannah Ropes who will die of typhoid fever. Alcott calls it the Hurly Burly Hotel. Vocation My Red Cap (Short Story) Georgetown
1887/07/17 Dorothea Lynde Dix dies in her apartment at Trenton State Hospital Died Trenton Psychiatric Hospital Trenton
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