Dorothea Dix

By Mindy Longhurst


Dorothea Dix helped to reform the treatment of the mentally ill throughout the United States and in England.

Dorothea Dix grew up in a home with two younger siblings. Her father was a preacher while her mother struggled with depression. Because of this, from a young age, she helped raise her younger siblings. After traveling to England in 1836 at the age of 34, she came back with a desire to help the imprisoned and mentally ill.

When she came back from her trip, she started working at the East Cambridge prison. In the early 1800s, the mentally ill and imprisoned were all in the same imprisonment facility. Dorothea was appalled by the living conditions. These people were starved, abused and mistreated. Dorothea knew that she needed to do something. She felt like she was accountable to help those individuals. After writing a report about the conditions, she presented the report to Massachusetts legislature.

Soon after, changes were made to expand a state mental hospital. Throughout her career, she created similar changes in other states as well as in England.

During the Civil War, she helped the Union as the superintendent of women nurses. She fulfilled this role for two years before being sent home in 1863.

Even after the war, she continued to fight for social reform for the mentally ill. In her lifetime she did everything she could to help the lives of others.

For more information about the life of Dorothea Dix, please visit

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