Early in the 1800s, the first mental asylums in the United States were built. They were nothing like asylums of today. Many inmates were people the family simply wanted out of the way. And it was easy to get someone committed.
We would be in trouble because a woman who read novels qualified as insane. A wife who didn’t obey her husband, for instance could be lobotomized. If you were ill or handicapped, zap, you’re committed.
If you weren’t insane when you were committed, I’m sure you soon would be. Treatment methods didn’t include anything close to humane. They ranged from steam baths to “steam away the madness” to cold water sprays. Patients were treated as things rather than humans.
|This was invented as a tranquilizer chair to|
keep patients from harming themselves until quiet.
Would being strapped into this calm you?
Thank goodness for Dorothea Lynde Dix! Dorothea achieved a remarkable amount of good works in her eighty-five years. Her efforts resulted in reform in the mental asylums and prisons.
Her efforts on behalf of the mentally ill and prisoners helped create dozens of new institutions across the United States and in Europe and changed people’s perceptions of these populations. Her own troubled family background and impoverished youth served as a galvanizing force throughout her career, although she remained silent on her own biographical details for most of her long, productive life.
Dorothea Lynde Dix was born in Hampden, Maine, on April 4, 1802. Joseph Dix, her father, was an itinerant Methodist preacher who was frequently away from home, and her mother suffered from debilitating bouts of depression. Both her parents were alcoholics. Dorothea was the eldest of three children and ran her household and cared for her family members from a very young age. Joseph Dix, though a strict and volatile man, taught his daughter to read and write, fostering Dorothea’s lifelong love of books and learning. Still, Dorothea’s early years were difficult, unpredictable and lonely.
|One of the first asylums in|
the United States, early 1800s