Off-script

NCPA April 3, 2024

Dorothea DixBorn on this day in 1802 was Dorothea Dix, a native of Hampden, Maine, and a tireless advocate for those suffering with mental illnesses. She lobbied legislators to create the nation’s first asylums (and later served as a superintendent of Army nurses during the Civil War). She traveled the country, carefully documenting the living conditions and lifestyles of Americans on the spectrums of various psychoses who at that time were typically confined to places like attics, cellars, or shacks. Dix provided reports to Congress as background information in what would become the Land-Grant Bill for Indigent Insane Persons, which essentially sought to fund asylums to provide more humane conditions and care. (Arguing that “social welfare” was the responsibility of the states and outside the purview of the federal government, it was vetoed by President Franklin Pierce, illustrating a debate that continues even today about what citizens expect to be the responsibilities of the varying levels of government.) States constructed their own asylums, many of which are defunct today but remain central to her legacy.

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