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OUSD Teaching American History Grant II
February 22,. 2005

 ?The Complex Legacy of Dorothea Dix :
The Troubled and Troubling Heroine of Social Reform?

Caroline H. Cox, Department of History
University of the Pacific

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Suggest a resource NEW

  • Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois by Dorothea Lynde Dix, David L. Lightner. link to Amazon

  • On Behalf of the Insane Poor by Dorothea Lynde Dix, University Press of the Pacific, 2001. by Dorothea Lynde Dix link to Amazon
  • Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix by David L. Gollaher
    Makes use of Dorothea Dix's letters from the Harvard Library and thus supercedes all the previous scholarship. This excellent biography is good for a critical look at Dorothea Dix, and her contribution to the mental health movement. The author reminds us that much of what we know about Dix and her public image was carefully cultivated by her.
    link to Amazon

  • The Lady and the President: The Letters of Dorothea Dix and Millard Fillmore by Charles M. Snyder, ed. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1975. Contains a brief biography of both as well as their letters to each other, useful for getting a look at Dorothea Dix's connections and influences in the White House, as well as for primary documents to use. link to Amazon

  • Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer by Thomas J. Brown

  • Among many article-length pieces on Dix are Wayne Viney and K. Bartsch, "Dorothea Lynde Dix: Positive or Negative Influence on the Development of Treatment for the Mentally Ill," The Social Science Journal, (1984) This article discusses the difficulty many modern scholars have with Dix. Dix's scheme to segregate the mentally ill into facilities in which they might be treated and cured was well-intentioned. However, over time, these became custodial facilities with inhuman and filthy conditions. These scholars chide others for blaming Dix for something she could not have forseen.

Websites about Dorothea Dix

  • Notable Women: Dorothea Dix by Mary S. Robinson: pp. 468-472, in The Century; a popular quarterly. / Volume 45, Issue 3; Jan 1893

  • Dorothea Dix: biography from Unitarian Universalist Historical Society A short biography on the website of the Unitarian church. This brief biography of Dix, written by Wayne Viney, is here because Dix was a prominent member of the Unitarian church.

  • Dorothea Dix: biography by Jenn Bumb. Biographical article following Dix's career as a teacher, and her subsequent life as a social reformer.

  • Dorothea Dix: biography by Mass. State House Women's Leadership Project

  • Dorothea Dix: The Extra Mile

  • Dorothea Dix (1802?1887) from the Smithsonian Online

  • Dorothea Lynde Dix: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

  • Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802 ? 1887): Humanitarian Reform and its contribution to the history of psychology by Alison Foley, Simon Fraser university

  • Dorothea Dix & Franklin Pierce (part of NPR series WHAT'S WORK GOT TO DO WITH IT?) In the 1850's, an intense debate over what role the federal government should play in providing services and support to the mentally disabled was carried out in Congress. The issue pitted Dorothea Dix against Franklin Pierce, the President and an outspoken critic of federal involvement in state and local issues (more)
  • NMHA and the History of the Mental Health Movement: brief history of the mental health (mental hygiene) movement

  • The History of Mental Illness This website at Ohio University contains a detailed summary of the history of our understanding of mental illness and the institutional systems created to care for sufferers. The university has a deep interest in this history because the town is the home to the Ridges, one of the largest of the great 19th century asylums and the building's structure, literally, dominates the landscape. It is now the Athens Mental Health Center.
  • Angelina E. Grimké's eloquent statement about policial activism "But perhaps you will be ready to query, why appeal to women on this subject? We do not make the laws which perpetuate slavery. No legislative power is vested in us; we can do nothing to overthrow the system, even if we wished to do so. To this I reply, I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken. You can do much in every way: four things I will name. 1st. You can read on this subject. 2d. You can pray over this subject. 3d. You can speak on this subject. 4th. You can act on this subject. I have not placed reading before praying because I regard it more important, but because, in order to pray aright, we must understand what we are praying for; it is only then we can "pray with the understanding and the spirit also." (excerpt from Appeal To The Christian Women of the South by Angelina E. Grimké)