Designed by Tim Liebler, Calvin Simmons Middle School
Freda Lin, formerly at Urban Promise Middle School
Brit Badgley,Claremont Middle School


Using the biography of Dorothea Dix is a great way to challenge students to decide what characteristics a person must have to be considered a hero. Dix is mainly known and praised for her accomplishments in improving the conditions of prisons and the mentally ill. However, her actions and views on important issues such as race and religion challenge students to see her as a complex historical figure. This lesson asks students to first look at Dix’s work around the mentally ill and then to examine her beliefs and actions around other mid-nineteenth century issues. This comparison provides a rich discussion on what qualities heroes should have and whether any flaws are tolerated in heroic figures. Although Dix focused her efforts solely on the sick and mentally ill, studying Dix also allows provides a window for examining additional mid-nineteenth issues in American history - such as immigration, slavery, and abolitionism.