Dorothea Lynde Dix
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