Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview

Dorothea Dix and Mental Health Reform

ELISABETH LASCH-QUINN

"I am the Revelation," Dorothea Dix once wrote, "of hundreds of wailing, suffering creatures hidden in your private dwellings, and in pens, and cabins,-- shut out, cut off from all healing influences, from all mind restoring cares."1 Nineteenth-century reformer, author, teacher, and Civil War superintendent of nurses, Dix helped usher in a revolution in the way Americans thought of and treated those considered mentally ill. Incensed by her firsthand observations of the living conditions of the insane confined in her local jail, she began a lifelong project of examining such conditions and bringing them to public attention primarily through her memorials, which were presented for government action by members of the legislatures of the various states. These elaborate testimonials raised general awareness of the most shocking and tangible details of cruel treatment and confinement, and through the nineteenth-century reformer's method of moral suasion, Dix managed to compel legislatures to appropriate funds for the construction of new hospitals for the treatment of the insane and for improvements to extant ones, thus abetting the transition to institutionalization already under way. Dix's reform work struck her as the humanitarian imperative of her life: "I am the Hope of the poor crazed beings who pine in cells, and stalls, and cages, and wasterooms," she wrote. 2

When Dix promoted institutions for the insane, she pictured benevolent hospitals in which treatment would be the province of enlightened doctors who saw madness as a disease, albeit one with a moral component. Far from the authoritarian and inhumane psychiatric hospital of the modern American cultural landscape--as depicted, for instance, in Ken Kesey One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest--or the overcrowded place of confinement, not cure, described by discouraged asylum superintendents, Dix's ideal asylum was a place of kindness, order, and decency. Part of a larger movement that sought to revise older ways

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Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Catharine Beecher and Domestic Relations 1
  • Notes 16
  • Bibliography 17
  • Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Black Abolitionism 19
  • Notes 38
  • Bibliography 40
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Woman's Rights Movement 41
  • Notes 51
  • Bibliography 53
  • Dorothea Dix and Mental Health Reform 55
  • Notes 69
  • Bibliography 71
  • Frances Willard and Temperance 73
  • Notes 82
  • Bibliography 83
  • Jane Addams and the Settlement House Movement 85
  • Notes 97
  • Bibliography 98
  • Ida Wells-Barnett and the African-American Anti-Lynching Campaign 99
  • Notes 110
  • Bibliography 111
  • Jessie Daniel Ames and the White Women's Anti- Lynching Campaign 113
  • Notes 123
  • Bibliography 123
  • Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement 125
  • Notes 136
  • Bibliography 137
  • Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement 139
  • Notes 151
  • Bibliography 152
  • Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women 153
  • Notes 164
  • Bibliography 165
  • Index 167
  • About the Editors and Contributors 171
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