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The History of Dorothea Dix Essay

Related Topics: Nursing Health Women Mental Health

Pages:7 (2009 words)



Topic:Dorothea Dix

Document Type:Essay


Women, War and Nursing

Part 1

The role of women, war and politics impacted the growth of the nursing profession primarily through the work of women like Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross and known as the Angel of the Battlefield during the Civil War, as she never hesitated to visit soldiers to comfort them and bring whatever aid should could, even though she was only a self-taught nurse at the time (Howard & Kavenick, 1990). Women had a limited capacity to take part in the war as a soldier (though some did); to serve their country and assist the men who did fight, they would act as nurses and deliver medical supplies, as Barton often did, even in the most dreadful of conditions. War and social politics put women in a position to help out the only way they could—and that was to provide nursing.

Black women especially were involved in nursing in the early days and the inclusion of minority women, particularly black women improved the development of nursing as a profession, as it became clear that a nursing standard was needed that all these helpful women could adhere to in order to deliver quality care. Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first black woman to study and train to be a professional nurse in the U.S. She graduated from nursing school in 1879 and helped to fight against discrimination and assist other minority women to receive an education in nursing so that they could have a profession in the nursing field (Darraj, 2009). Black women thus helped to define and promote the development of nursing as a profession by being at the forefront of the movement. With few opportunities to engage in meaningful work, nursing presented itself as an obvious choice for women regardless of their racial and ethnic background.

Part 2


This paper provides a description of the historical figure in nursing, Dorothea L. Dix (1802-1887). She was a Civil War era nurse and served as the Superintendant of Army Nurses. One of her major contributions to the field of nursing was to establish the first mental asylums in the U.S. thanks to a long but hard-fought battle with the U.S. Congress, where she lobbied to create these asylums for individuals suffering from mental health issues. This paper will describe her education, the time in which she lived, and her impact on the profession of nursing.

Dorothea L. Dix was born in 1802 in Maine to a father who was a bookseller and preacher in the Methodist church and a mother who was a housewife (Tiffany, 1890). Dorothea was not content in her home life as a child, as her father was abusive and her mother who had a drinking problem, caused to some extent by her husband’s abusive ways (Brown, 1998). D. L. Dix left her home in her adolescence and took up residence with her grandmother, and later in her young adulthood, she opened a school that was supported by her grandmother’s wealthy friends. Dix cared for neglected and undernourished children, partly because she knew what it was like to be in that sort of situation and partly because she had a natural inclination to show care to others thanks to her deeply empathetic and sympathetic nature (Modak, Sarkar & Sagar, 2016). She also wrote a number of books, including one of the first books to be published in the U.S. that served as a dictionary of flowers. She wrote children’s books, books on devotion, and books on reform. She was an active thinker and dedicated to making a difference.

However, her health suffered and she had to give up her school—but in 1831 she was back at it with another school, this one in Boston, which she ran for five years before again her health caused her to have to cease. To recuperate she traveled to Europe and there she met a number of reformers who appealed to…

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…result of her deeply held Protestant beliefs. Still, Dix continued to look after the wounded, including the wounded of the enemy—the Rebels in the South.

After the war, Dix continued to found hospitals and advocate on the behalf of those in need. She never stopped pushing for reform and she was always working with the state governments to obtain assistance for hospitals and social welfare. It was her belief that the government had a duty to provide care for those in need.

Dix represents in her person the type of social advocacy that nurses today are expected to demonstrate. She set the tone for how a nurse can stand up for those in need, who cannot stand up for themselves. As an advocate for those suffering from mental health issues, she won great renown and respect, for she was a driven and tireless worker on their behalf, helping them to obtain proper care (for the 19th century) and working on their behalf to get the state to supply funds that would allow hospitals to grow and develop and be able to provide care for them.

In conclusion, Dorothea Dix was an important person in the history of the field of nursing for her devotion to the underserved population of mental health patients, who were being locked up and imprisoned in jails where their mental health issues were being ignored and not treated. She sought better conditions for them so that their issues could be properly assessed and the interventions available at the time could be administered. She did clash with some around her, but her ideals and principles were always at the fore of her mind. She never wanted to give up on them and she received constant support and inspiration from her reform-minded Quaker friends in England. Had it not been for them, Dix never would have had the idea to set about reforming the world of health care in the U.S. But because she did, she is remembered today as…

Sample Source(s) Used


Brown, T. J. (1998). Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer (Vol. 127). Harvard University Press.

Darraj, S. M. (2009). Mary Eliza Mahoney. Infobase Publishing.

Fantel, H. (1974). William Penn: Apostle of Dissent. NY: William Morrow & Co.

Gollaher, D. L. (1993). Dorothea Dix and the English origins of the American asylum movement. Canadian Review of American Studies, 23(3), 149-176.

Hardy, S., & Corones, A. (2017). The nurse’s uniform as ethopoietic fashion. Fashion Theory, 21(5), 523-552.

Hathway, M. (1934). Dorothea Dix and Social Reform in Western Pennsylvania, 1845-1875. Western Pennsylvania History: 1918-2018, 17(4), 247-258.

Howard, A. & Kavenick, F. (1990). Handbook of American women’s history. New York, NY: Garland.

Modak, T., Sarkar, S., & Sagar, R. (2016). Dorothea dix: A proponent of humane treatment of mentally ill. Journal of Mental Health and Human Behaviour, 21(1), 69.

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