Women's History Month: Dorothea Dix

Due to the depression she encountered, as a result of her unfortunate experience with an alcoholic and abusive father, Dorothea Dix was a social reformer who dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of individuals with mental illnesses.

Although she was born in 1802, a time before women’s independence, Dix was very ambitious and determined. By age fourteen, she already started her first school and gained a reputation as a capable teacher and strict disciplinarian. Five years later, she opened yet another school for Boston’s rich and elite, while tutoring the poor and neglected students in her own home.

After falling ill from major depressive episodes, Dix was forced to close her school and move to Europe to recover. It was there that she was introduced to William Rathbone, a wealthy humanitarian who fought for better care of the mentally disordered of England, and his family. He influenced Dorothea’s ideas on the moral and effective treatment of America’s mentally ill.

From her first tour of the despicable mentally ill ward of a prison in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1841 to the outbreak of the Civil War, Dix traveled the United States lobbying for the rights of these patients. Her efforts resulted in many studies, bills, and changes in legislation that improved the lives of those suffering from a mental illness. Her hard work also resulted in the formation of many hospitals, including one in Trenton, New Jersey.

“There are few cases in history where a social movement of such proportions can be attributed to the work of a single individual” -Ann Stone

According to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 54% to 84% of battered women suffer from PTSD, 63% to 77% of battered women experience depression, and 38% to 75% experience anxiety. All of these, to some capacity, can be considered a mental illness. It is crucial for women who are victims of domestic violence to seek counseling services to help them get through the mental impact the abuse left behind. Dorothea Dix single-handedly started the movement that allows WomenRising’s Youth and Family department to offer in-home and on-site supportive counseling as well as crisis intervention and management to prosper from crisis to self-sufficiency.