Dorothea Dix Biography

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Originally named Dorothea Lynde Dix, she was born in Hampden, Maine during the year 1802. While growing up, however, Dix did not experience a normal childhood, instead she grew up in an unhappy home with neglectful parents. As a result, she suffered from depression at several times and by age thirty three, Dix had a complete physical and psychological breakdown. In order to restore her health, Dix embarked on a trip to Europe in 1836 where she resided in the home of William Rathbone and his family of wealthy, socially conscious liberals. During her stay in England, Dix was frequently in contact with English modern ideas of prison and mental health reform and she had the opportunity to meet several individuals who supported the cause such as, …show more content…
Shortly after, her grandmother, Madame Dorothea Dix passed away. Upon her grandmother’s death, Dix received a large inheritance which allowed her to be financially supported. Because of the abundance of leisure time Dix now possessed, she had begun to devote her time to reform and charitable work which had become her primary interest after her return to America. Being unmarried and without close attachments also gave Dix the ability to sacrifice her personal life for the betterment of her country and consequently she made it her “divine mission” to transform the care of its weakest members in order to save the nation. Dix became the advocate for the mentally ill.
During one of Dix’s charitable acts, she was exposed to the problems that existed in regards to the care of the mentally ill. While teaching Sunday school to a group of female convicts at the Cambridge, Massachusetts jail, she discovered that the insane were being confined to the same quarters as the common criminals. As a result, Dix went on to visit other jails where she had come across more insane persons which were also living among criminals in the same conditions as the insane at the Cambridge, Massachusetts jail. These discoveries only fueled Dix to continue her investigations in Massachusetts
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By 1820, it had already been recognized that mental illness was illness, not sin or depravity, therefore, many institutions across the world had begun to free the mentally ill from excessive restraints and had also begun to establish the concept of humane treatment in institutions devoted to their care. Dix, however, perfected the idea and the new model of care became known as the moral treatment. The moral treatment consisted of removing mentally ill persons from a stressful environment and family conflicts and placing them under a rather benign but autocratic system of organized living. There were regular hours of habits, and the patients were kept occupied with crafts such as gardening and more. Everything was under the close supervision of a superintendent, a physician, and his word was law. In America, institutions in Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Hartford had already established the moral treatment which served a small number of people which were generally well-to do and able to pay for their care. Although the moral treatment mostly worked for private institution because of the high cost, Dix was not discouraged, instead she used her charm and public appeal to raise funds for the promotion of the moral treatment.

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