Dorothea Dix and the Asylum Movement
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In the mid-1800s, the notion of appropriate physical and psychological treatment for the mentally infirm was nonexistent. Instead, individuals believed to be suffering from mental diseases or disorders were cast aside, locked away in some dark, dank part of society where they were essentially forgotten about. This sort of treatment had been the norm for generations, and it wasn’t until the years just prior to the American Civil War that a woman had the courage to speak out against these human rights violations.
Dorothea Dix, after touring various asylums throughout the nation, learned a great deal about the way the mentally ill was treated. Housed in almshouses, asylums, workhouses, and private homes, these individuals had all rights stripped from them and were treated worse than a pack animal. In the 1840s, Dix made a case for state-supported treatment to reform these individuals, focusing her efforts first in Massachusetts. Ultimately, she would be responsible for inciting a number of elements of change.
- First and foremost was the creation of five hospitals in America to provide appropriate medical treatment to those in need. She would later take this argument to Europe and successfully fight for humane treatment methods before the Pope and Queen Victoria.
- Secondly, after Dix’s crusade, society looked at individuals with mental diseases or disorders in a different way, recognizing at the most rudimentary of levels that this was a biological condition that could not be avoided. Just as an individual born with a physical deformity should not be cast aside by their fellow man, neither should those born with mental disorders.
- Dix's notion of asylum reform was instrumental in ensuring a humane to those in need was always a critical component of American society, something we as a culture value today.