Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix

David L. Gollaher, Author Free Press $28 (538p) ISBN 978-0-02-912399-7
With single-minded determination, Dix (1802-1887), a New England school teacher, succeeded in drawing national attention to the appalling treatment of the mentally ill. In this exhaustive study, Gollaher, president of the California Health Care Institute, describes Dix's investigations of jails and almshouses where the mentally ill were cruelly imprisoned in filthy conditions. Her detailed reports of these visits, some dramatically embellished, resulted in the founding of state asylums. She also campaigned unsuccessfully to have federal land set aside for national facilities. With the onset of the Civil War, Dix was appointed Superintendent of Women Nurses for the Union. Although she did not want the country to break apart, Dix's compassion for the mentally ill, according to this portrait, apparently did not extend to everyone: she didn't believe slavery was wrong, and she held a deep prejudice against Roman Catholics. According to Gollaher, Dix identified with the helplessness of the mentally ill because of an abusive childhood, and her commitment resulted in important reforms. Photos. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
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