Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine, on 4th April, 1802. At the age of 12 she went to live with her grandmother in Boston. Within two years she was teaching in a school in Worcester.
In 1821she opened her own school for girls in Boston. Over the next few years she wrote school textbooks and a hymn book. Dix ran the school until 1834 when suffering from tuberculosis she decided to retire.
Dix spent the next few years studying the conditions in prison and insane asylums in Massachusetts. She discovered that a large number of people suffering from mental illness were confined in prisons and were receiving no medical treatment. Even in mental asylums the patients were often confined in cages and bound with ropes and chains. Shocked by what she discovered, Dix decided to compare conditions in these institutions with other countries. She visited Europe and from 1842-1845, Dix travelled more than 10,000 miles during her investigations.
In January, 1843, Dix submitting to the Massachusetts legislature a detailed report on her investigations. Her ideas influenced the reform of the Worcester Insane Asylum. Her book, Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States was published in 1845. By 1854 Dix had helped to establish mental hospitals in eleven states. She had also founded hospitals in Russia, Turkey, France and Scotland.
On the outbreak of the American Civil War Dix was appointed as superintendent of women nurses for the federal government. Over the next four years she was responsible for the recruitment, training and placement of 2,000 nurses treating members of the Union Army.
After the war Dix resumed her work for the mentally ill. This included travelling widely in Europe and Japan. Dorothea Dix died in Trenton, New Jersey, on 17th July, 1887.