Research Proposal Part II

Research Proposal:

The period from the 1830’s-1860’s was known as the era of Jacksonian Democracy.  This was the period that came on the heels of Jeffersonian Democracy which was defined by the development and expansion of the American nation.  Jacksonian Democracy was starkly different in some ways.  The Jacksonian Era was primarily defined by the expansion of a democratic spirit.  Specifically, with emphasis on broadening the public’s participation in the politics of their government.  In particular, the 1840’s and 1850’s were a period of political, social, and religious reforms of many different kinds.  Senator Thomas Hart Benton championed America’s Manifest Destiny.  Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass fought and championed the end of slavery in America.  At Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony helped to launch the Women’s Rights Movement, demanding that women be given the right to own property, keep their own wages, and most astonishingly that they be granted the right to vote.

It was in the ether of this era, that another unique individual would rise to prominence.  A tall, driven, autocratic woman from Maine, who would become a champion for those whom most of society viewed as hopeless and undesirable.  Her name was Dorothea Lynde Dix.  Her cause: defending the indigent insane.  She was so driven, so devoted to her cause, that she seemed possessed by a great force.  So much so, that some thought her mad herself.  Perhaps the best way to describe what I hope to address in this paper is expressed by David Gollaher:


“More important, there is an excellent basis for addressing the questions that intrigued those who knew Dorothea Dix: What inspired her to take up her cause?  What hidden aspects of her own experience drew her to the mad?  Why would a woman of her standing choose to spend her days among the homeless insane?  She never directly answered these questions.  She was a perceptive woman—keenly self-aware and, in equal measure, self-controlled—with a genius for self-presentation (ix-x)”


This challenge is further aided by other challenges, more contemporary.

Contemporarily speaking, whenever one hears Dix’s name it is usually in relation to the Civil War.  This does not diminish her role as a reformer, nor as a person of historical significance.  In this other equally worthy cause her integrity and dedication shone through equally on both counts.  What is fascinating is that when people consider her role, historically, it is relegated to something of an anecdotal thumbnail sketch.  This raises the question of why she has been either ignored or bypassed as opposed to other historical figures.  These are precisely the things I will seek to explore in this paper.


Primary Source:

Dix, Dorothea Lynde & David L. Lightner. Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.

This primary source offers some of the most useful insights into the nature of Dix’s work, philosophy, and her personality.


Secondary Sources:

Baker, Rachel. Angel of Mercy: The Story of Dorothea Lynde Dix. New York: Messner, 1955.

This is the oldest secondary source I could find.  My hope is that this will offer some insight into how the historiography of Dix’s life has evolved since its publication.

Bly, Nellie. Ten Days in a Mad-House. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.

This book details Nellie Bly’s exploits of an asylum in 1887, the year that Dix died.  I think this will help in showing how reform takes time.

Brown, Thomas J. Dorothea Dix: New England Reformer. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Given that this was published in New England, where Dix is from, it will be interesting to consider how she is represented by the publishers.

Colman, Penny. Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix. White Hall, Va: Shoe Tree Press, 1992.

This biography will help to supplement the substance of other biographical materials.

Geller, Jeffrey L. & Maxine Harris. Women of the Asylum: Voices from Behind the Walls, 1840-1945. New York: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1994.

I think that this composition will help prove useful in examining the experiences of women held in these institutions during the era in which Dix was holding her crusade.  It will speak to how women were seen by society.

Gollaher, David L. Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix. New York: The Free Press, 1995.

This biography is well written and thoroughly researched.  It offers a narrative flow that make the reader relate to the material well and may serve useful in informing the writing of the paper.

Grob, Gerald N. Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill. New York: The Free Press, 2011.

Grob’s work offers an insight into the nature of how care for the mentally ill has evolved and offers a window by which we can begin to understand how and why Dix became involved.  What was going on when she got into reforming this type of work? (accessed September 23, 2013).

This offers some primary source data that provides insight into the nature of both Dix’s work and her approach to lobbying. (accessed September 23, 2013).

This again offers some insight into the nature of Dix’s work and also suggest what others thought of her.

Laird, S. Louise. “Nursing of the Insane.” The American Journal of Nursing 2, no. 3 (Dec., 1901): 170-180. (accessed September 9, 2013)

Since this was published at the turn of the twentieth century it may serve as useful in determining what, if anything, changed.

McCandless, Peter. Moonlight, Magnolias, & Madness: Insanity in South Carolina From the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

McCandless offers some insight into how Dix was viewed and venerated by people across the country.  Specifically, it is worth noting how Dix’s service in the South was long remembered.

Miller, Dorothy & Esther Blanc. “Concepts of “Moral Treatment” for the Mentally Ill:Implications for Social Work with Post Hospital Mental Health Patients.” Social Service Review 41, no. 1 (Mar., 1967): 66-74. (accessed September, 9, 2013).

In class discussions we have discussed how doctors stressed the importance of moral treatment along with medical treatments.  I’m curious to see if this is something that Dix helped to encourage.

Muckenhoupt, Margaret. Dorothea Dix: Advocate for Mental Health Care. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2003.

This is another biographical source that will serve to supplement other biographical materials.

Reiss, Benjamin. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

This source offers a detailed description into the practical and physical dimensions of what shape these institutions took.

Porter, Roy. Madness: A Brief History. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2003.

Drawing upon eyewitness accounts of doctors, writers, artists, and the mad themselves, Roy Porter tells the story of our changing notions of insanity and of the treatments for mental illness that have been employed from antiquity to the present day.  This might help to provide atmosphere in describing the spirit of a time.

Schlaifer, Charles, and Lucy Freeman. Heart’s Work: Civil War Heroine and Champion of the Mentally Ill, Dorothea Lynde Dix. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

This helps to emphasize Dix’s work and efforts for reform at nursing and hospitalization during the Civil War.

Schultz, Jane E. “The Inhospitable Hospital: Gender and Professionalism in Civil War Medicine.” Signs 17, no. 2 (Winter, 1992): 363-392. September 9, 2013).

This helps to describe the nature of how women were viewed during the era of America’s Civil War.  Considering the nature of Dix’s work and her personality, it would be interesting to consider how she got things done and how she altered people’s perceptions.

Shryock, Richard H. “A Medical Perspective on the Civil War.” American Quarterly 14, no. 2 (Summer, 1962): 161-173. (accessed September 9, 2013).

This source offers insight into the nature of medicine and the kind of difficult conditions that people had to contend with.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Stranger and Traveler: The Story of Dorothea Dix, American Reformer. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

This being an older resource may prove useful in exploring the historiography of Dix’s life.


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