Miss Dorothea L. Dix.
[From the Galaxy, March 15.]
Who is Miss Dix? The name has, for over a quarter of a century, been a household word in our land, as a symbol of philanthropy, of unselfish heroic devotion in alleviating the sufferings of humanity. Yet how little does the public know of her personality, her habits, where she was born, or where she resides. Like Shakespeare, she has lost her individuality in the greatness of her work. Her presence is felt but not perceived, just as a single grain of subtle perfume fills a whole room, but is itself unseen. Still, Miss Dix is no myth, but only a flesh and blood marvel.
When her achievements are stated in the aggregate they suggest miraculous power, but are in fact, a practical illustration of what one woman can do in thirty years, when inspired by a noble purpose, and working unceasingly for the good of the race.
She has been instrumental in establishing thirty-two public hospitals for the insane: one in Rome, one in Dalmatia, one on the Isle of Jersep, one in Nova Scotia, one in New Foundland, and the remainder chiefly in our own country. With the episode of four years and a half of service in the military hospitals during the rebellion, this stupendous labor constitutes the story of her life. Her career as a philanthropist is all that the world has any right to know, and yet, apart from all vulgar curiosity, it feels a natural desire to learn something of the personnel of this angel of mercy. Her carte de visite is seen in none of the shops, few people seem to have met her, and the sketch given of her in the American Encyclopedia is very incorrect, was written by one who never saw her, and even mistakes the place of her birth.
Boston is the city of her nativity. Her grandfather was a physician, but her father, owing to delicate health, never adopted a profession. General John A. Dix in not, as is often stated in the papers, her brother, but is a near blood relative.
Miss Dorothea L. Dix was once a young lady of the American Athens, in affluent circumstances, and, like a thousand others, in a situation to lead a life of aimless ease. Like Jno. Howard, she had, when young a very frail and impaired constitution. She was sent to England, and on several voyages to warmer climates, to recover her health. When she first arrived in Liverpool she was prostrated with illness, and it was eighteen months before she was able to be borne in the arms of her nurses to the home bound ship. It is probable that she rescued herself from chronic invalidism by her strong will and the inspiration of the philanthropic labors which she began before her girlhood was ended.
One Sabbath, as she was coming out of Dr. Lowell’s church in Boston, the steps were crowded in front, and she overheard two benevolent gentlemen talking about the horrible condition of the jail in East Cambridge, where there was a number of young prisoners awaiting trial. Early that week, although under the care of a physician, she visited this institution and there found, in addition to other inmates, thirty insane persons, in the most wretched state of filth and rags, breathing a pestilential air, shut up in dark, damp cells, and receiving no treatment whatever.
The surroundings of the others confined there were not much better. She began her task by conducting religious services in the jail on the Sabbath, which had been wholly neglected. soon after, she set about relieving the physical sufferings of these unfortunate outcasts of society.
As the accommodations for the insane were insufficient in her own State, she applied to its Legislature, and on the facts being brought to their knowledge, an appropriation was made for enlarging their asylums. In her younger days Miss DIX was very intimate in the family of William Ellery Channing, the celebrated Unitarian divine, but it does not appear that he gave direction to her philanthropic enterprises, for while sympathizing fully with their purposes, he rather opposed her exhaustive exertions, on the ground that she would destroy her health. But she had received a thorough education, which had taught her to rely on her own powers, and when resolve had been deliberately formed, opposition only increased its strength.
After her success in Massachusetts, she went on a visit to Washington, and while there examined into the condition of the insane, and found sad need of reformation. She called on John Quincy Adams, then a Representative in Congress, after having held the highest office in the gift of the nation, and the sympathies of the “old man eloquent” were at once excited. He secured at her suggestion, the passage of a bill making a very adequate appropriation for the cure of the insane in the District of Columbia.
Her life work was now fairly begun. She comprehended its scope and magnitude, she prosecuted it with system, practical method, and indomitable energy. With a quiet persistency that excited no opposition, and a persuasive earnestness which won the support of those whose aid she required, she gave up her home, her friends, quiet; renounced the literary leisure for which she had a decided taste, the joys of domestic life, the fascinating pleasure of society — she consecrated everything which had in it any element of selfishness to the service of humanity.
Alton Weekly Telegraph (Alton, Illinois) Apr 26, 1867
Image from Find-A-Grave
DEATH OF DOROTHEA DIX
The Worcester Woman Who Devoted Her Life to the Unfortunate
TRENTON, N.J., July 20 — Dorothea L. Dix, who acquired a national reputation by her efforts to relieve the condition of the pauper, criminal and insane classes of the country has died of heart disease at the Trenton asylum, aged 85.
She was instrumental in having the asylum founded as well as many other similar institutions throughout the country. While visiting here five years ago, she was taken sick, and the state authorities, in recognition of her services, offered her a home for life at the asylum.
In 1848, MISS DIX petitioned congress for an appropriation of public lands to endow hospitals for the insane in the various states, and in 1854 a bill was passed granting 10,000,000 acres for the purpose but the measure was vetoed by President Pierce.
Miss Dix was born at Worcester, Mass., and for many years resided at Boston, to which city her remains will be sent.
The Fitchburg, Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) Jul 20, 1887