Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Lynn Dix
Dorothea Dix, born in 1802 in Hampden, Maine, was an American woman activist who during the mid eighteen hundreds lobbied endlessly for the poor and mentally ill citizens of America for the prison and mental institutions as we know today. Essentially, Dix created the mental asylum system which before her work was simply the prison system, for the mentally ill.
Dix, as a child was neglected and resented in the home for her gifted intelligence even at a young age. For this, she ran away at age twelve and lived with her grandmother, and soon after in 1816, with her aunt in Massachusetts. Unusually mature and intellectually gifted at age 14, Dix opened a private school in Worcester. Her pedagogical techniques were demanding and rigid, as they were expected in that day to be, and her school was successful. By 1821, she was again residing with her grandmother in Boston. There she opened a private school which was also open to young girls. Believing the work of a teacher must include community service, she ran a free evening school for poor children, one of the first in the nation. She wrote a number of books for children and parents. Her best known, Conversations on Common Things, published in 1824 and much reprinted, was designed to help parents answer their children's questions such as: "Why do we call this day Monday? Why do we call this month January? What is tin? Does cinnamon grow on trees?" The answers given demonstrated Dix's extensive knowledge of the natural world. Though Dix received little formal education, her appetite for knowledge was insatiable. She attended public lectures, read widely, and made a point of keeping company with knowledgeable people. She studied literature, history and the natural sciences with a special emphasis on botany and astronomy. As a teacher she did her intellectual homework before embarking on any project, a practice she continued and developed with originality in her later work as a reformer. Her quest for...