Against the Tide: Women Reformers in American Society

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

the simple matter of moral righteousness that she considered it, the treatment of the insane she favored was only one of the possible alternatives.

Dix's moral appeals on behalf of the insane underpinned her particular view that institutions provided the best treatment, that the state and the national government should assume responsibility for matters of individual welfare, that the treatment of the mentally ill rightly fell to the medical establishment, and that asylums could provide the benefits of a well-ordered family. The persuasiveness of her appeals, the extensiveness of her own fieldwork, and the tirelessness of her lobbying efforts made a huge impact on the direction of mental health reform. The securing of funds from the state would have been met with much fiercer resistance had not Dix disarmed the opposition with her stature, argument, and unassailable moral stance. Above all, perhaps, her life was devoted to defining decent treatment of troubled individuals as a moral issue; indecent treatment that later emerged in many contexts, including in the asylum, did so in spite of her efforts.

In sum, Dorothea Dix helped usher in a major shift in public opinion that designated insanity as the special province of asylum superintendents and doctors, a discrete condition requiring special and humane treatment, and an affliction best treated in institutions apart from society. Her shortcomings and those of the movement for mental health reform lay in the belief that their plans for change needed to entail a wholesale rejection of earlier customs as well as their failure to distinguish colonial custom from early national practice.

Dix and fellow reformers were blind to the possibly devastating effects of the larger movement toward incarceration even of the nonviolent insane, the subsequent expansion of the population considered insane, the invasion of the psychological realm necessitated by the new institutions and treatment, and the replacement of individual, family, and community obligations with governmental and institutional responsibility. Unquestioning faith in the new forms and a certain righteous impatience helped complete a revolution in the way Americans thought about madness. Thus were buried the best along with the worst customs of long past generations--to the detriment of future ones.


NOTES
1.
Dorothea Lynde Dix, "Memorial to the General Assembly of North Carolina" ( 1848), quoted in Helen Marshall, Dorothea Dix: Forgotten Samaritan (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1937), 15.
2.
Ibid.
3.
Mary Ann Jimenez, "Madness in Early American History: Insanity in Massachusetts from 1700 to 1830," Journal of Social History 20 (Fall 1986): 35.
4.
Ibid., 36.
5.
Dix, "Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts" ( 1843), in Dix, On Behalf of the Insane Poor: Selected Reports ( New York, 1971), 4.
6.
Jimenez, "Madness in Early American History,"36.

-69-

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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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