Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Doreathea Lynde Dix, born April 4, 1802

Dorothea Lynde Dix (as a child called "Dolly") was born April 4, 1802, in the town of  Hampden, Maine.  She was the first child of three born to Joseph Dix and Mary Bigelow Dix. Her father was a poor book dealer and lay Methodist preacher.  Joseph Dix, born in 1778, was considered the black sheep of his family. At the age of nineteen, he was expelled from Harvard for numerous infractions of the rules and nonpayment of his bills. This trend of failure continued his attempts at an apothecary apprenticeship, selling books, farming, and becoming a land merchant.

Joseph Dix had married Mary Bigelow on January 1, 1801, against his parents' wishes, and had left home in Boston to settle on what were then "wilderness lands" in Maine, owned by his father, Doctor Elijah Dix.  Dolly's mother suffered from many illnesses, including depression, and was bedridden for much of her early childhood.  Her father was an abusive alcoholic. 

Dolly took charge of her family and began to care for her two younger brothers, Joseph and Charles. Later in life she acknowledged that she had never had much of a childhood.  Her father was a religious fanatic and distributor of religious tracts who made Dolly stitch and paste the tracts together, a chore she hated. 

Almost the only bright spot in Dolly's early life had apparently been the visits with her beloved Grandfather Dix. He was murdered when she was only seven years old.

The family moved to Vermont around the time of the War of 1812, and then to Worcester, Massachusetts  In 1814, at the age of 12 , Dolly and her brothers went to live in the Boston home of her wealthy 70-year old grandmother, Dorothea Lynde, wife of Doctor Elijah Dix. 

Dolly would not conform to the lifestyle of her grandmother. She was sent away at the age of 14 to  the Worcester home of her grandmother's sister, Mrs. Duncan, after giving her new clothes to beggar children outside the front gates.  During the time Dolly lived with her aunt, she met her second cousin, Edward Bangs, while attending a party.  He was very attracted to her; he was 14 years older than she was, but as they discussed plans they had for their futures, she immediately told him of her plans to be a school teacher. He suggested she begin her teachings at a "little dame school."  He explained to her that girls could be taught by other women, but girls were not allowed to be taught in public schools. Edward found a location for Dolly's classes, an old store located on Main Street. During the fall of 1816, she faced her first class of 16 pupils, all between the ages of 6-8. She ran the school for 3 years and was grateful to Edward for his help.
Edward Bangs
Edward, 31, had fallen in love with Dolly, who was 18, and proposed marriage. Although she accepted, her parent's marriage had made her apprhensive about the experience. She never set a specific date for the wedding, and eventually returned Edward's engagement ring.
In 1821, Dolly's father died in New Hampshire. That year, she established her own school in Boston, which was patronized by the well-to-do families. Soon afterwards she also began teaching poor and neglected children at home. 

She ran the school successfully until she was stricken with a tuberculin disease, which forced her to give up working. She was an invalid for some time. In addition, she took care of her sick grandmother.

She was 59 years old when the Civil War began.

Map of Boston, Massachusetts
By the early 1820s, Dix had found her religious home among Unitarians. Dix established an extensive network of friends in the Boston Unitarian community. Anne Heath, a member of the Federal Street Church, became a lifelong friend and confidant. Heath, like Dix, would never marry, but unlike Dix, had grown up in a stable extended family and found contentment in domestic activities. Their extensive correspondence, spanning a period of over 50 years until Heath's death in 1878, provides a window into Dix's inner world. This world was filled with deep appreciation for poetry, literature, history, and nature, but marred by loneliness, alienation, and self-deprecation.

Dix had a deep suspicion of doctrines and creeds. She disliked the abstractions of theology and felt nearest to God when she was involved in specific actions that resulted in measurable good effects.

From 1824 to 1830 she was chiefly occupied with the writing of books of devotion and stories for children. Her Conversations on Common Things (1824) reached its sixtieth edition by 1869. 
William Ellery Channing
In 1830 she served as governess for the children of William Ellery Channing. pastor of the Unitarian Federal Street Church in Boston, during the family's trip to St. Croix, Virgin Islands.  She hoped the climate would improve her health. Returning to Boston in 1831, she established a school for girls, and conducted it successfully until 1836, when her health again failed.

In hopes of a cure, in 1836 she traveled to England, with a letter of introduction from Channing.  Dix moved to Liverpool, England where she stayed at Greenbank, the home of  philanthropist William Rathbone III. 
The Rathbones were Quakers and prominent social reformers; at Greenbank, Dix met men and women who believed that government should play a direct, active role in social welfare. She was exposed to the British lunacy reform movement, whose methods involved detailed investigations of madhouses and asylums.  She remained with the Rathbones for about a year and gradually regained strength.
Greenbank, the Rathbone Home in Liverpool, England
In 1837, following the death of her grandmother, Dix returned to the United States. (Her mother and grandmother died within two days of each other while Dix was in England).  Still not strong enough to resume teaching, she supported herself during a period of recuperation and limited travel with funds from the Dix estate, and her savings and royalties from the sale of her books.

In March, 1841, John Nichols, a ministerial student, frustrated with his efforts to teach a Sunday class for women incarcerated in the East Cambridge jail, thought that a woman might better do the task. He approached Dix for advice. She decided to teach the class herself. What she encountered in the jail shocked her and changed her life. The jail was unheated. Those incarcerated were not segregated; hardened criminals, feeble-minded children and the mentally ill all occupied the same quarters. Dix secured a court order to provide heat and to make other improvements.  Her experience in the East Cambridge jail made Dix wonder about conditions in jails and almshouses in less populated areas of Massachusetts. She was particularly distressed to learn that the mentally ill were commonly housed with felons. She prepared herself to embark upon a mission of reform, to call for decent accommodations for those suffering from mental and emotional disease.

Dix conducted a statewide investigation of how her home state of Massachusetts cared for the insane poor. In most cases, towns contracted with local individuals to care for people with mental disorders who could not care for themselves, and who lacked family and friends to provide for them. Unregulated and underfunded, this system produced widespread abuse. After her survey, Dix published the results in a report to he 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." The outcome of her lobbying was a bill to expand the state's mental hospital in Worcester.

Dix traveled from New Hampshire to Louisiana, documenting the condition of pauper lunatics, publishing reports to state legislatures, and devoting enormous personal energy to working with committees to draft the enabling legislation and appropriations bills needed to build asylums. In 1846, Dix traveled to Illinois to study mental illness. While there, she fell ill and spent the winter in Springfield recovering. As she recovered, she worked on research, and submitted a report to the January 1847 legislative session, which adopted legislation to establish Illinois' first state mental hospital.

State Hospital, Raleigh, North Carolina
In 1848, Dorothea Dix visited North Carolina and called for reform in the care of mentally ill patients. In 1849, when the North Carolina State Medical Society was formed, the construction of an institution in the capital, Raleigh, for the care of mentally ill patients was authorized. The hospital, named in honor of Dorothea Dix, opened in 1856.

She was instrumental in the founding of the first public mental hospital in Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg State Hospital.
Harrisburg State Hospital
She helped to establish 32 new hospitals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Maryland.  She also helped establish a government hospital, which later became St. Elizabeth's in Washington, D.C.  Between 1843 to 1880, the main years that she spent advocating for the mentally ill, the number of hospitals for the mentally ill increased almost ten-fold, from 13 to 123.

Her efforts eventually resulted in the founding of special facilities for the insane and destitute in the United States, Canada, and at least 13 European countries: England, Scotland, France, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

Her influence with Arinori Mori, the Japanese chargé d'affaires in Washington, D.C., led eventually to the establishment of two asylums for the insane in Japan.

Millard Fillmore 
The culmination of her work was the Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, legislation to set aside 12,225,000 acres of Federal land for the benefit of the insane and the remainder for the "blind, deaf, and dumb"), with proceeds from its sale distributed to the states to build and maintain asylums. President Millard Fillmore favored the act, but it did not reach his desk before his term was over.  

President Franklin Pierce
Dix's land bill passed both houses of Congress, but in 1854 President Franklin Pierce vetoed it, arguing that the federal government should not commit itself to social welfare, which was properly the responsibility of the states. 

Dorothea Dix, ca. 1850s
Stung by the defeat of her land bill, in 1854 and 1855 Dix traveled in England and Europe, where she reconnected with the Rathbones and conducted investigations of Scotland's  madhouses that precipitated the Scottish Lunacy Commission.  From 1854-56 she traveled in 14 countries and instigated many changes. Upon finding deplorable hospital conditions in Rome, Dix managed to get an audience with Pope Pius IX. Having verified the accuracy of her reports, the Pope undertook a series of improvements.

During the American Civil War, Dix, at the age of 59, was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses by the Union Army. Dix set guidelines for nurse candidates. Volunteers had to be between the ages of 35 and 50 and had to be plain-looking. They also had to wear drab and unhooped black or brown dresses and were forbidden to wear jewelry or cosmetics. Dix did this to avoid sending vulnerable, attractive young women into the hospitals, where she feared they would be exploited by the men there (doctors as well as patients). Dix would often fire volunteer nurses she hadn't personally trained or hired, earning the ire of supporting groups like the United States Sanitary Commission.

As noted by George Templeton Strong, treasurer of the Sanitary Commission, “She is energetic, benevolent, unselfish, and a mild case of monomania. Working on her own hook, she does good, but no one can cooperate with her, for she belongs to the class of comets and can be subdued into relations with no system whatever.”

George Templeton Strong
Because of her autocratic style, Dix was nicknamed "Dragon Dix," and she often clashed with the military officials.   At odds with Army doctors, Dix feuded with them over control of medical facilities and the hiring and firing of nurses. She also had to deal with doctors and surgeons who did not want female nurses in their hospitals. To solve the impasse, the War Department introduced Order No.351 in October 1863. It granted both the Surgeon General, Joseph Barnes, and the Superintendent of Army Nurses, Dix, the power to appoint female nurses. However, it gave doctors the power of assigning employees and volunteers to hospitals.

Although Dix did muster the resolve and stamina required to pursue these enormous tasks throughout the war, and worked without salary, she lacked the social skills of an effective administrator. In her reform efforts she had worked autonomously and was thus poorly prepared for the bureaucracy she encountered in a military establishment. She was often at odds with doctors over their drinking habits and their neglect of sanitation. Wounded soldiers called her an "angel of mercy," but the nurses thought her rigid and imperious.

Her even-handed caring for Union and Confederate wounded, assured her memory in the South.  Her nurses provided what was often the only care available in the field to Confederate wounded. Georgeanna Woolsey, a Dix nurse, said, "The surgeon in charge of our camp...looked after all their wounds, which were often in a most shocking state, particularly among the rebels. Every evening and morning they were dressed."

Georgeanna Woolsey
Another Dix nurse, Julia Susan Wheelock, said, "Many of these were Rebels. I could not pass them by neglected. Though enemies, they were nevertheless helpless, suffering human beings." 
Julia Susan Wheelock

When Confederate forces retreated from Gettysburg in 1863, they left behind 5,000 wounded soldiers who were then treated by Dix's nurses.  Cornielia Hancock wrote about what she saw—"There are no words in the English language to express the suffering I witnessed today."  Louisa May Alcott was another Civil War nurse hired and trained by Dix.
Louisa May Alcott
After the war, Dix helped to trace missing soldiers, wrote letters to families concerning the status of their sons and helped soldiers secure their pensions.

She resumed her crusade to improve the care of prisoners, the disabled, and the mentally ill. Her first step was to review the asylums and prisons in the South to evaluate the damage done to their facilities.

She found prospects for success now dimmed by massive immigration, a swelling population of the insane poor and much depleted state treasuries. Hospitals earlier built were now overcrowded, understaffed and in disrepair, well on the way to becoming as poor as the jails and almshouses they had replaced.

She contracted malaria in 1870 and was forced to abandon much of her traveling, although she continued to write and lobby for her causes.

Dorothea Dix
In 1881, Dix moved into the New Jersey State Hospital, Morris Plains, where the state legislature designated a suite for her private use as long as she lived. Although an invalid, she still managed to correspond with people from England to Japan. 

New Jersey State Hospital, Morris Plains
After a long illness, Dix died on July 17, 1887, at the age of 85. 

She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Grave of Dorothea Dix

No comments:

Post a Comment