Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine on April 4, 1802. An early career as a teacher of the underprivileged indirectly led to her role as an influential social reformer. While visiting a jail in 1841 to teach Sunday school, she witnessed the appalling treatment of the mentally ill who were forced to live in the company of common criminals.
Outraged, Dix felt morally compelled to promote humane care for those suffering from mental illness. At a time when these people were often incarcerated in prisons or crowded into small wards at private hospitals, Dix convinced the legislatures of many states to construct public asylums where the mentally ill could live in reasonable comfort, receive therapy, and be encouraged to live more enriched lives. Dix's tireless work publicized the abuse of the mentally ill and was a catalyst for the advancement of humane treatment. Her efforts were directly responsible for the founding of numerous asylums throughout the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe.
Dorothea Dix and Thomas Kirkbride formed a warm friendship through their common interest and goals. Dix's work undoubtedly created circumstances favorable to the proliferation of asylums based on Kirkbride's ideas. In her final years, Dix resided at Trenton State Hospital—an asylum she helped found and home of the first Kirkbride building. She passed away there on July 17, 1887.
Image Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. (detail image)