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Sep 2, 2008

ASSISTANCE TO THE INCARCERATED MENTALLY ILL ("AIMI") WORKS IN THE TRADITION OF DOROTHEA DIX, who was a great human rights advocate on behalf of the indigent mentally ill during the 19th Century.  Here is her story as presented by several sources.

Dorothea Lynde Dix (April 4, 1802 - July 17, 1887)
Excerpt from psychiatry article at 

In 1841, Dorothea Dix, a 39-year-old teacher and pioneer inthe field of social work, volunteered to teach a Sunday school class in a jail outside of Boston. While at the jail, she was shocked to see large numbers of mentally ill prisoners held under inhumane conditions. She observed inmates who appeared to be mentally ill chained in cages, held in cells without heat, and saw them beaten with rods by their jailers. Ms. Dix, whose own father suffered from mental illness, was moved by compassion for their plight and began a crusade to create a system of care for mentally ill prisoners across the eastern United States.  She successfully lobbied state legislatures, and 30 public psychiatric hospitals were created. In 1880, 40 years after she began herefforts, a census taken in U.S. jails found that only 0.7% of inmates suffered from mental illness.

HISTORY SEEMS TO BE REPEATING ITSELF.  There is again a substantial number of mentally ill individuals behind bars. In a review of the established literature, studies place the overall prevalence of mental illness in jails . . . (See link above for full article)


Excerpt from
Dorothea Lynde Dix
by Vasantha Reddi, PhD

An early nursing pioneer, Dorothea Lynde Dix was a noted humanitarian, reformer, educator and crusader. She is perhaps best known for her patient advocacy in fighting to improve the conditions of jails and mental asylums in North America and Europe.

  • Early US nursing pioneer--predecessor and contemporary of Florence Nightingale
  • Strong advocate for the mentally ill and for prisoners
  • Civil War Superintendent of Union Army Nurses

Advocate for the Mentally Ill and for Prisoners

Departing a 24-year career as a school teacher, Dorothea Dix began her second career at the age of 39 when she embarked on a career as a nurse. Dix was not educated as a nurse, but modern nursing did not yet exist. In fact, Dix became one of modern nursing's pioneers, pursuing the core value that drives the provision of all other nursing care: patient advocacy.

In March 1841, she visited the Cambridge House of Corrections to teach Sunday class for women inmates. The scenes she encountered there, which were nearly identical to those at "mental health" facilities she had toured throughout North America and Europe, totally changed her for life. Mentally ill people were kept in the same facilities with prisoners, chained in dark enclosed spaces, lying in their own filth, without adequate clothing, and abused physically and sexually.

Dix took the matter to court and fought serious battles, some of which she won. She then began her drive for improvement of jails and care for the mentally ill throughout Massachusetts.  In 1843, she asked the Massachusetts legislature for reforms to end the inhumane conditions of the mentally ill. In 1845, Dix wrote Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States.  This work discussed the reforms she wanted the government to implement, including the education of prisoners and the separation of various types of offenders.

During the following decades, her tireless crusade extended far and wide, including outside of the United States.  She helped to establish 32 new hospitals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Maryland. She also helped establish a government hospital, which later became St. Elizabeth's in Washington, D.C.  And between 1843 to 1880--the main years that she spent advocating for the mentally ill--the number of hospitals for the mentally ill increased almost ten-fold, from 13 to 123.  

"Where new institutions were not required, she fostered the reorganization, enlargement, and restaffing--with well-trained, intelligent personnel--of already existing hospitals."  

This achievement indicates that her work led to vast improvements in the fledgling profession of nursing. Her efforts eventually resulted in the founding of special facilities for the insane and destitute in the United States, Canada, and at least 13 European countries. She also sent a document to the United States Congress asking that five million acres be given to be used for the care of the mentally ill. Dix was a woman far ahead of her times, advocating a role for the national government in such care.

Final Years

After the war, Dix dedicated the rest of her life to improving the lives of the mentally ill, before retiring at the age of 82. Her 41 years of empathy for the mentally ill can be summarized in her own words:

"If I am cold, they are cold; if I am weary, they are distressed; if I am alone, they are abandoned."

Dorothea Lynde Dix died in 1887 at the age of 85 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia offers the following links on Dorothea Dix at this link:

  • Early Life                   
  • Antebellum career                 
  • Civil War and later years            
  • See also                  
  • Further reading            
  • References                 


See MENTALLY ILL MISTREATED IN PRISONS, by Human Rights Watch, at this link:

(Please notify me if any links are redirected. Cointelpro sometimes prevent my links from working and changes my tags.  Tags should be:  Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill, AIMI, Mary Neal, Larry Neal, Dorothea Lynde Dix, Human Rights Watch, Dog Justice, Prison Profiteering )

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Posted: Tuesday September 2, 2008, 2:30 am
Tags: humanrightswatch larryneal maryneal assistancetotheincarceratedmentallyill dogjustice aimi prisonprofiteering dorothealyndedix [add/edit tags]

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Nancy M. (201)
Tuesday June 22, 2010, 11:04 am
Great History lesson Mary. Thanks for all the work you do.

kaisuorvokki m. (26)
Sunday July 11, 2010, 11:39 am
Thank you, Mary! She is one of my favorite historical persons.


Mary Neal
female, age 59, divorced, 2 children
Atlanta, GA, USA
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