Quotes of American History: Dorothea Dix on the Treatment of the Insane

Quote Quota Man, December 8 2012

Dorothea Dix, 1850s

"Man is not made better by being degraded." - Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was a lifelong advocate for reform in the treatment of the criminally insane, as well as the Superintendent of Army Nurses during the Civil War. Her efforts led to the construction of numerous hospitals for the care of the mentally ill in many different regions of the United States.

At first Dix's efforts were focused on a state-by-state level. She traveled from one end of the country to the other documenting the dire condition of mental patients and advocating for funding from state governments. Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania all established mental hospitals in part due to her insistence -- such as the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital and Union Asylum for the Insane in Harrisburg (renamed in the 1930s to coincide with modern sensibilities, this became the filming location for Girl, Interrupted).

Dix was less successful on the federal level. The culmination of her work was a federal Bill for the Benefit of the Indigent Insane, which was vetoed by Franklin Pierce in 1854. At the time, the federal government had not committed itself to any social welfare programs, that being a state responsibility, and Pierce wanted to avoid breaking that precedent.

Related Topics

Franklin Pierce, Dorothea Dix

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