Dorothea Lynde Dix – Advocate for the Mentally Ill

dorothea dix

Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887)

Jersey gem: Worked with Trenton population

Through her research and advocacy work, Dorothea Lynde Dix played an instrumental role in establishing the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum of Trenton in 1848. It was the first such care facility in the state and served in future years as a model for the humane care of the mentally ill.

Dix realized her compassion for the underprivileged and overlooked of society at an early age. In 1819, at age 17, she started a school for wealthy girls in a room of her grandmother’s mansion but also persuaded the matriarch to set aside another room in the outbuilding for the “impoverished waifs of Boston” (Past and Promise). Dix closed both schools in 1836 to embark on a tour of the jails and houses for the insane in Massachusetts. She wrote of her experiences in 1843 and the account has been considered the first piece of social research conducted in the country.

Dix maintained her vision to build a modern hospital that also offered human care to the insane. This type of institution did not exist in New Jersey and Dix set her sights on changing the current system. She again travelled around the state, met with senators, wrote newspaper articles and persuaded most through her extensive research and compassionate vision. The New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum was established based on her hard work.

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