Dorothea Dix – 1802-1887
A schoolteacher since the age of 14, Dix was asked in 1841 to teach a Sunday school class in the East Cambridge (Massachusetts) House of Correction. While there, she was appalled by the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill, who were jailed with criminals and without regard to age or sex. They were often left naked, in darkness, sometimes chained, frequently flogged.
Dix began a campaign to reform the treatment of the mentally ill, and in 1843 submitted to the Massachusetts legislature a detailed report of conditions in the state’s institutions. Over the next 40 years, Dix inspired legislators in 15 states and Canada to establish state hospitals for the mentally ill. Her work spread to Europe as well. By the time of the Civil War, Dix had earned such a formidable reputation that she was made superintendent of nurses for the Union army.