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Dorothea Lynde Dix

“It was a cold, blustery day on March 28 . . . ” so I wrote in my first biography “Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix.” The year was 1841 – 175 years ago – when Dix “arrived at East Cambridge jail to teach Sunday school to the prisoners. But, first, with her characteristic curiosity, she insisted on having a tour of the jail. To her horror she discovered two indigent mentally ill women confined in cages made of rough boards – disheveled, shivering people whose only crime was their illness. No stove heated their bare, filthy pens. Why was there no heat, Dix asked the jailer. Because ‘lunatics’

don’t feel the cold, he replied.” Thus began Dorothea Dix’s legendary forty-year crusade for the humane treatment of people with mental illness. Year after year, the indomitable Dix traveled thousands of miles by stagecoach, boats, horseback, and trains to investigate and expose the horrendous conditions and advocate and ensure reforms. It’s not wonder I was drawn to write about DLD: my father was a psychiatrist and we lived for many years on the grounds of a state mental hospital. “Redbook” magazine once published a story about us titled “The Strangest Place to Find a Happy Family.” (Although I didn’t find it a strange place & my family was no more or no less happy than any other.) The photo is of the Dorothea Dix Park, located on the land where the Dix house once stood in Hampden, ME. The plaque reads: “In Memory of/Dorothea Lynde Dix/ who by devoted care to sick and wounded soldiers/during the Civil War earned the gratitude of the Nation,/ and by her labors in the cause of prison reform and of humane treatment of the insane/ won the admiration and reverence of the civilized world.1802-1887/Her Birthplace.” DLD once proclaimed: “It is time that people should have learnt that to be insane is not to be disgraced; that sickness is not to be ranked with crime.”

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