Dorothea Lynde DixDorothea Lynde Dix
American Philanthropist
1802 – 1887

Dorothea Lynde Dix, an American philanthropist, born at Hampton, Maine. Her parents were poor and shiftless and at an early age she was placed with her grandmother in Boston, which was patronized by the well-to-do families; and soon afterwards she also began teaching poor and neglected children at home. But her health broke down, and for some years she was chiefly occupied with the writing of books of devotion and stories for children. Her Conversations of Common Things (1824) had reached its sixtieth edition by 1869.

About 1841 she became interested in the condition of gaols and almshouses, visited many institutions, and invested especially the treatment of the pauper insane.

By 1847 she had travelled [sic] from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, and had visited eighteen state penitentiaries, three hundred county gaols and houses of correction, and over five hundred almshouses. Her labors resulted in the establishment of insane asylums in twenty states and in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and in the founding of many additional gaols and almshouses conducted on a reformed plan. In 1854 she secured the passage by Congress of a bill granting to the states 12,250,000 acres of public lands to be utilized for the benefit of the insane, deaf, dumb and blind;; but the measure was vetoed by President Pierce.

After this disappointment she went to England to rest, but at once became interested in the condition of the insane in Scotland, and her report to the home secretary opened the way for sweeping reforms. She extended her work into all the important European countries, even to Japan where asylums for the insane were established through her influence. At the outbreak of the Civil War she gave her services to the Federal Government, and after the war, continued her labors on behalf of defectives. She died at Trenton, New Jersey on July 17, 1887.

In 1903 a bill was favorably received in Congress appropriating $10,000 for a monument to her at her birthplace. The report of the House Committee declares:

“Miss Dix occupies a conspicuous place in history as a philanthropist. Certainly no other woman in modern times has done more to earn the gratitude of the people of this country than this self-sacrificing and devoted woman. Her services during the Civil War as chief of the hospital nurses of the United States, and her wonderful success in establishing institutions for the insane throughout the country, place her among the noblest of examples of humanity in all history.”


Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.

Quote by Dorothea Lynde Dix