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Feminist Leaders
Dorothea Lynde Dix
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"In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly imprressed that there must be something for me to do."

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April 4th 1802- July 17th 1887


Dorothea Dix was a passionate social activist of the 19th century, who tried to reform societies ideas about the treatment of psychiatric patients,prisoners, women and all other groups of people facing discrimination in society.

Dorothea Dix was born in 1802 in Hampden, Maine to a poor family of a Methodist preacher. Her childhood was distrupted by her father being an alcoholic and constantly having to move from location to location. The treatment she received from her father was so harsh, at times she even stated that she had no parents and was an orphan child. Dorothea then left her parents to live with her grandmother instead and started going to teaching school when fifteen.
Although Dorothea was taught during her childhood that Methodism was the way of God, as she grew older she opposed those teachings and adhered to those of Congregationalism. The teachings of Unitarinism also had a significant influence on her beliefs, since a focal belief is that by performing good actions you therefore have complete control over your own salvation. From this idea Dorothea was able to realize that everyone is equal and deserves the same rights.

From an early age Dix educated herself by reading during her spare time and observing her surroundings. Throughout her adolescent years she developed a liking for the natural sciences. As a result of this when twenty two years old, she wrote and published her version of a children's encylopedia, " Conversations on Common Things, With Questions", focusing on science. During the 1820's she also published a few other books including "Hymns for Children".

Dix was able to use her strong religious influences and education to her benefit once she realized what she wanted to do with her life. In the spring of 1841 Dorothea was given the opportunity to begin her own Sunday School in a Massachusetts jail for women. After viewing how gruesome and harsh the conditions were for imprisoned women, she made it her goal to change the standards of all prisons. For three years Dix went around various prisions and other mental institutions, only to find the same poor living conditions she saw previously teaching the women in Sunday School.

Once her research stopped she took her findings to a surprised Massachusetts legislature and insisted on having these conditions improved. She fought for the patients rights to a humane and clean living environment, with the women she first saw in East Cambridge as her inspiration. As a result of her dedication and drive, on a local level, Massachusetts mental facilities were renovated and expanded to accomodate their patients. On a national level, Dix traveled around various states to open thirty two mental heath hospitals and assisted with legislative reform in fifteen other states.





Dorothea's life was dedicated to helping others who were less fortunate than herself (including Native Americans and African Americans) and made her mark in doing so. She was looked at as a hero by her peers and was always willing to fight for someone's rights. Dorothea Dix died in a Trenton, New Jersey hospital in July of 1887, at the age of 85.