Full Name: Dorothea Lynde Dix
Profession: Nurse and Social Activist
Why Famous: Dix worked with the poor mentally ill, and led a sustained campaign with the US Congress and local legislatures that ended in the development of the first mental asylums. At the beginning of her campaign she examined the state of care for 'insane persons' in Massachusetts, and delivered a report to the state legislature: " "I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience."
After several years of campaigning, her signature initiative Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, which would have set aside 12.2 million acres of federal land for the benefit of mentally ill patients, passed both houses of Congress before being vetoed by President Franklin Pierce. She went to Europe and campaigned vigorously for the betterment of conditions in asylums across the continent, even meeting Pope Pius IX.
During the American Civil War she was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army, over Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. In this position she attempted to set standards for Union nurses, and sought to avoid young, attractive women in hospitals, fearing they might be exploited by doctors and patients alike. Though she had many conflicts with her superiors, and resigned in 1865, she remained a popular figure in the South for her even treatment of both sides.
In 1881 she moved into New Jersey State Hospital, where the state government had set aside a room for her to use as long as she lived. She died in 1887.
- 1861-05-29 Dorothea Dix offers help in setting up hospitals for the Union Army