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Dix, Dorothea (1802–1887)

Le'Ann L. Solmonson


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Dorothea Dix is considered to be one of the most influential reformists of the nineteenth century, yet she is also one of the most unrecognized. Dix devoted a significant portion of her adult life to advocating for those who were unable to speak up for themselves. Her persistence resulted in successful advances in the treatment of prisoners, the indigent, and the mentally ill. There are conflicting reports of Dix's childhood and early adult life. This is most likely a result of her reluctance to discuss the events of her harsh early years. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother suffered from depression. This left Dix to take care of the household and her two younger brothers. In 1841 Dix volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for a group of female inmates in a Cambridge, Massachusetts jail and was appalled at the conditions she discovered there. Inmates were all housed together, regardless of the reason for their incarceration. Criminals, indigents, the mentally retarded, and the mentally ill were living in filthy, unsanitary conditions. Upon inquiry as to why there was no heat, the jailors told Dix that the insane did not feel cold or heat. Dix successfully advocated in the court system for more humane conditions in the Cambridge jail. This experience prompted Dix to begin an investigation of other jails, prisons, and almshouses in the state. She traveled throughout the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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