Born in 1802 in Hampden, Maine, Dorothea Lynde Dix became a fierce advocate for the poor and the mentally ill, who worked to create the first mental asylums in the United States.
Dix was raised partly by her wealthy grandmother in Worcester, Massachusetts – there, Dorothea became a teacher, and spent time teaching the poor children of her city. She travelled extensively and witnessed the common solution for dealing with the mentally ill at the time – putting them in prisons alongside violent criminals.
Through the later half of the 19th century, Dix worked to expand care for the mentally ill beyond, “the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.” (Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts, 1843)
Dorothea Dix’s work helped build a system of institutions across the country – in what was seen at the time as a move for the better.