When talking about the history of psychology, the first thoughts are the founding forefathers who established theories, and those who tweaked methods through trials and experiments. Many of these men pioneered most of the ideas. Well-known names such as William Wundt, Stanley Hall, and Sigmund Freud come to mind when pioneers of psychology is said. It is unfortunate that while these names come to mind are male, not many come to mind that are female. Who are some of the women of psychology? Sadly, not much is known about women in this field. There are women who have impacted our field.
Dorothea Dix is a woman who contributed too many things in her lifetime. She started her life in Hampden, Maine. She became a school teacher and then gradually made a name for herself by becoming a social reformer in the treatment of the mentally ill. Ms. Dix set goals achieved them by any means necessary. Ms. Dix never set down roots very long. She traveled from Europe to the United States constantly checking on the well-being of those institutionalized. She too started her quest later in life. At thirty nine she was initiating change in the United States mental institutions. Fifteen years later, Dorothea had done more than most had done in a single lifetime. Her works sparked change in today’s methodology and care of the mentally ill. She felt that mentally ill patients needed protection as well as care.
Dorothea Dix was born in a small town in Maine in April 1802. She was the oldest of the three children her mother and father conceived. Joseph Dix, her father was a Methodist minister and her mother was very ill though out her childhood. Many writings describe her life as obnoxious and unhealthy as her mother’s health was a constant issue which drove her father to the bottle a bit more than maybe he should have. The Dix family moved from Hampden Maine to Worchester. Her motherly instincts took over and raised her brother and sister who were born in Massachusetts. While she tended to the children, the choices she made due to her father’s illness and her mother’s inability to take care of her siblings turned Dorothea Dix into the woman she was. The fact she was able to write qualified her to attend school. Because of this ability, she rose to the top of the class finding a love for literature; which she came home and taught to her relatives. Since her mother’s health was declining at such a rapid rate, the decision was made to have their Grandmother come and raise the children and off to Boston they went. Dorothea’s parents went to stay with other relatives elsewhere in the United States. Life was different when she was with her Grandmother. She had money now and Madame Dix decided that Dorothea needed to act as if she came from that. Since Grandmother Dix was up in age, she asked her sister to come and teach Dorothea how to step into the role of a young lady. Thus began her passion for teaching (Dorthea Dix, nd).
While residing with her Aunt, her second cousin Edward Bangs began filling her head with ideas of teaching (Dorthea Dix, nd). Since girls were not allowed to attend school in those days (1815), Edward got together 20 students from six to eight and she began teaching at the young age of fifteen. While in Boston, she wrote her works Conversations on Common Things, Hymns for Children, Evening Hours, and Mediations for Private Hours just to name a few. She was not used to being waited on, and seemed to not want to have the finer things. Dorothea returned to Boston to take care of her family, but this did not stop Edward. He followed proposing to her only to have her fears arise at to the expectations of what marriages. She saw how horrible she felt in the relationship with her parents, and called off her engagement to Edward. By the year 1836, Dorothea was always tired, had night sweats chills, hardly wanted to eat, and ran a temperature some nights and an overall feeling of illness. She set out to see the family physician where she was diagnosed her with Tuberculosis. The physician suggested she take a vacation from teaching so off to England she went (Encylcopeadia Britannica Inc, 2009). While there recuperating, she received word that her mother, grandmother and brother all died within forty eight hours of each other. Upon her return to Boston, she received an offer to teach at East Cambridge House of Correction. Not knowing what she was going to face, she accepted and look forward to the challenge. Classes began and to her shock and amazement she became enraged at the treatment of those she was seeing in the institution. The mentally ill were incarcerated with criminals, and the town’s drunks even the mentally ill were confined together that had no heat or furniture and no facilities (Zorich & Viney, 1982). Upon seeing this, Dorothea made a commitment to travel the rest of Massachusetts and visit other facilities claiming to take care of those who are mentally ill. To some of her close constituents, she seem to be odd. Most views said that if a person was found insane or disturbed they were going to stay this way therefore there was no need for treatment. She forged ahead and made strides showing the contrary. While she became a superhero for those who were mentally ill; she improved their living quarters and thus changing the minds of those who care for them. Her efforts and documentation forced Massachusetts to expand Worchester insane asylum.
Because of her efforts in Massachusetts, she set out to change the minds of other states. Her ideas even took hold in Canada, where she improved there conditions as well. Dorothea’s efforts initiated the creation of thirty two facilities in the United States alone.
One would think that after all of this Ms. Dix would be ready to sit in the front porch of her home, and enjoy her mornings and read possibly write more books, no not her. From 1854 to 1856 she traveled in Europe inspecting their facilities for the mentally ill. While there she wrote Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline on the United States in 1845. She still at 59 was not ready to relax. She became appointed to the Army Nurse for the Civil War. This job she took without pay. She looked at the welfare of the nursing staff, went out of her way to get military supplies because the government was not providing them with the equipment needed to treat the wounded. This is where she earned the title “Dragon Dix” because of her fierce determination.
After the war ended, she began visiting other states where she could aid in better treatment for the mentally ill. She established the first state hospital in Trenton New Jersey. When she fell ill in New Jersey, she admitted herself and died six years later in 1887. There is a hospital in Raleigh North Carolina which bears her name after her visit in 1848.
Her twenty year spent working for the humanity of the mentally ill patients and those in incarcerated made her very influential in the eyes of the public. Sadly she is only known to a small percentage of those who study female psychologists. Some say that she would be okay without the notoriety. She did it because of her passion. In 1903 Congress granted a special monument in her hometown and the citation on the statue simply says “Certainly no other woman in modern times has done more to earn the gratitude of people of this country than this self-sacrificing and devoted woman." It certainly rings true. Dorothea Dix influenced how we care for those who are in dire need of care mentally; she fought for what they deserved because it seemed they had no voice to do so. Her never give up attitude is something we all need to take a look at and remind ourselves each day that if it were not for women like Dorothea Dix, where would those suffering from mental illness be today. What a selfless caring woman, a woman before her time who molded our institutions into what they are today.
Dorothea Dix, forgotten Samaritan1937Chapel HillUniversity of North Carolina
Conversations on Common Things: or, Guide to Knowledge, With Questions 1828 Boston Munroe and
Dorothea Dix. Psychological Reports, 1982 Contributions to the history of psychology XXIX 211- 218
Dorthea Dix nd
Life of Dorothea Lynde Dix 1891 Boston Houghton Mufflin
On behalf of the insane poor; selected reports 1842-18621971 New York Arno PressStranger and Travler1975BostonLittle Brown