Dorothea Dix

An HMS American Cultures collaborative production

Dorothea Dix was born to Joseph Dix and Mary Bigelow on the 4th of April in 1802 in Hampden, Maine. At the age of 12 Dorothea moved in with her grand mother to escape from her alcoholic family and abusive father. When Dix was only 14 years old she founded a school for young children. In her late thirties she was volunteering to hold a devotional hour for women in the East Cambridge prison. While visiting the prison she saw many inmates were chained in cold, dirty cells because they were mentally ill. Dix brought this to the publics attention and conditions were made better. Dix had found her purpose in life. She traveled all over enforcing better living conditions in prisons and poorhouses. She traveled over 30,000 miles in a three year period, this included the United States and Europe.

After Fort Sumter took place in April of 1861 Dorothea served the Union Army as a nurse. By June, Dix was made the Superintendent of Female Nurses. She also began a recruitment program. She recruited older, plain-looking women who wore plain-looking clothing as part of a dress code Dix enforced. With these conditions intact 3,000 women served under "Dragon Dix".

Life went back to normal for Dorothea after the war was over. She still traveled and by 1880 she had founded 32 of the existing 123 mental hospitals in the United States. Dix died at the age of 85 on the 18th of April in 1887.

Online Sources:

"Dorothea Dix." New York University: College of Nursing. 24 May 2009 <>
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