Biography >> Civil War
- Occupation: Activist and social reformer
- Born: April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine
- Died: July 17, 1887 in Trenton, New Jersey
- Best known for: Helping the mentally ill and working as Superintendent of Army Nurses during the Civil War
Where did Dorothea Dix grow up?
Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine on April 4, 1802. She had a difficult childhood as her father was gone much of the time and her mother suffered from depression. As the oldest child, she took care of the family's small one room cabin and helped to raise her younger siblings. When she was 12 years old, Dorothea moved to Boston to live with her grandmother.
Education and Early Career
Dorothea was an intelligent girl who loved books and education. She soon found a job as a teacher. Dorothea loved to help others. She often taught poor girls for free in her home. Dorothy also began to write books for children. One of her most popular books was called Conversations on Common Things.
Helping the Mentally Ill
When Dorothea was in her early thirties, she traveled to England. While in England she learned about the plight of the mentally ill. She discovered how mentally ill patients were often treated like criminals or worse. They were put in cages, beaten, chained, and tied up. Dorothea felt like she had found her calling in life. She wanted to help the mentally ill.
Dorothea returned to the United States on a mission to make life better for the mentally ill. She started out by doing her own investigation into the treatment of the mentally ill in Massachusetts. She took detailed notes describing all she saw. Then she presented her report to the state legislature. Her hard work paid off when a bill was passed to improve and expand the mental hospital in Worcester.
Working off her initial success, Dorothea began to travel the country lobbying for the improved care of the mentally ill. She went to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, and Louisiana. Legislation was passed in many of these states to improve and build mental hospitals.
The Civil War
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Dorothea felt the call to help. With her contacts in the government she became the Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union. She helped to recruit, organize, and train thousands of women nurses.
Requirements for Nurses
Dorothea set specific requirements for all female nurses including:
- They must be between the age of 35 and 50
- They must be plain-looking and matronly
- They could only wear plain dresses of the colors brown, black, or gray
- There were not to wear any ornaments or jewelry
After the Civil War, Dorothea continued her work for the mentally ill. She died on July 17, 1887 at the New Jersey State Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. Dorothea is remembered today for her hard work and focus on improving the conditions for the mentally ill. She helped improve the lives of thousands of people.
Interesting Facts about Dorothea Dix
- She managed to get a major bill to help the mentally ill passed through the U.S. Congress only to have it vetoed by President Franklin Pierce.
- She never married.
- She was heavily influenced by her religion which taught to take action in helping others.
- She did not want credit for her work, she just wanted sick and mentally ill people to get help.
- While working as a nurse for the Union, Dorothea and her nurses also helped sick and wounded Confederate soldiers.
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Biography >> Civil War