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Dorothea Lynde Dix

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Her life

She was born in Hampden, Maine, had two younger brothers. She had a rough and unhappy childhood, but had some schooling after leaving home and living with her Grandmother Dix in Boston or with her Great Aunt in Worcester, Mass.

At the age of 14 she started teaching school, eventually teaching children, including her brothers, in the Dix mansion. Eager to help poor girls in the neighborhood, she opened an afternoon school for them in the Dix hayloft. However, all this was too exhausting for her, she had to give it all up and rest.

A young minister at Harvard, knowing Dorothea through Dr. Channing's church, asked her advice on who could go to the jail on Sunday afternoons to give the women inmates a Sunday School lesson.

Dorothea decided she would go, even though she was not well. This experience opened up a life's work for her, for she found women who were in a cold, filthy jail, their only crime was that they were insane. She felt it was a calling from God, to be their "voice" to obtain better conditions for the mentally ill.

The East Cambridge court was in session, so she had presented a case for better living conditions for the insane in jails. This was passed, which gave her encouragement to investigate other jails, almshouses of correction.

It took her 18 months to visit all the jails, etc. in the cities and towns in Massachesetts, then she had a case to bring into court, her friends in the legislature succeeded in getting the bill passed. As a result other states, then countries asked her to come to help with the same problem.

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So starting in March 1841, she devoted her life and income to be the "voice" for the mentally ill.

This work took her to Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Jersey, Italy and Turkey. In a letter to her friend in Liverpool, England, she recounted that she had. traveled more than ten thousand miles, visiting penitentiaries, county jails, houses of correction, more than 500 almshouses and other institutions.

After visiting so many states, she realized that the care of mentally ill persons was a national problem. She asked Congress to set aside twelve million acres for the use of the mentally ill, and for the deaf, dumb and blind. She and her friends pursued this vigorously until it was approved by both houses of Congress in 1854.

But by then the President was not Millard Fillmore anymore, who had seemed to favor it, but Franklin Pierce, who vetoed it. In her disappointment, she went to England to visit her friends.

When the Civil War began, she volunteered her services. Lincoln appointed her superintendent of the army nurses, June 1861. This phase of her life she asked to be omitted from her biographies. She accepted no pay, only a small red, white and blue ribbon, which she could wear on her lapel.

When no longer able to travel, she retired to the Trenton, N.J. state hospital, where she had a small apartment. She died at the age of 85 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

The national Dorothea Lynde Dix Association established a Dorothea Lynde Dix park in Hampden, Maine, where a flag flies every day in her memory.

Her religion
Dorothea Lynde Dix

Her father was an itinerant Methodist preacher in Maine, but her life at home became so unbearable that she ran away at 12 years, She went to her Grandmother Dix's home in Boston. Here she had to attend her Grandmother's church with her.

But she heard about the wonderful Dr. Wm. E. Channing and went to his services to hear his concept of a loving rather than an avenging deity. She felt drawn to this gentle, reasonable man; she attended his church and went to small meetings in his home, where she could meet others of his denomination. She felt a "oneness" with Channing and the other Unitarians.

When she taught school in Grandmother Dix's home, she would rise at 4:00 A.M. in the summer, read the Bible for an hour, prepare her lessons then do the work of the day.

She had a close relationship with the Channings, they invited her to accompany them when they went to their summer home on Narraganset Bay in Rhode Island, to be the governess for their children .

In Dorothea's school, her major emphasis was always in the formation of character: high morals, a religious faith based on a joyous not frightening concept of God and a stern sense of duty.

At her funeral the clergyman spoke briefly and fittingly from the Bible: "I was hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in, naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye came unto me."

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