Have you ever heard of Dorothea Dix? If you’re passionate about social reform and striving to make the world a better place, you might find her story inspirational.
Dorothea was born in Hampden, Maine, in 1802. At the age of 12, she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Boston, Massachusetts. During her teenage years, she taught at a school for young girls and developed her own curriculum.
Although she had a passion for teaching, she had intense periods of illness and depression that eventually caused her to leave her teaching job in Boston. However, in 1841, a brand new opportunity presented itself, one that would kick-start her career as a social reformer.
Dorothea was asked to become a Sunday school teacher in the East Cambridge House of Correction in Massachusetts.
During her time in the prison, she noticed that there were a lot of mentally ill people that were being treated inhumanely, mixed in with other dangerous inmates, and not receiving the kind of care they needed to get better.
Horrified by this discovery, Dorothea continued to travel around Massachusetts for two years, touring other facilities and finding that they were all running under the same awful conditions. In 1843, she reported her discoveries to the state legislature.
She was incredibly persuasive in pushing that something needed to be done for these people quickly, and eventually, a bill was passed to expand the Worcester Insane Asylum.
Over the next 40 years of her life, Dorothea did this kind of work all across the United States and made significant progress.
She inspired legislation in 15 states that would build state hospitals for the mentally ill and overall helped build 32 institutions. In the 1850s, she did some of this work in Europe and even spoke to Pope Pius IX about the terrible conditions in asylums in Rome.