missionary of mercy
Interred: Dorothea Dix
Dorothea Lynde Dix (April 4, 1802 – July 17, 1887) was an American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums. During the Civil War, she served as a Superintendent of Army Nurses.*
I am fascinated by the fierceness of American 19th century women pioneers and crusaders, including Harriet Tubman, Dorothea Dix, Loreta Velazquez, Lydia Maria Child, Edmonia Lewis, Harriet Hosmer and many others. In the case of Dorothea Dix, her dedication to improving the lives of the ‘indigent insane’ also dovetails with my interest in diagnosis, treatment and care for the mentally ill in our era. For this piece, I filmed, photographed and recorded sound around Dix’ grave over two years and four seasons; pored over several books, articles, letters, photographs and archival materials about her life and times; and agonized over how to shape this story in a meaningful way in five minutes. It was a pleasure directing actor Kathryn Howell in her voice performance of Dix’ legendary 1843 “Memorial to The Massachusetts Legislature”. In fact, due to gender norms of the time, Dix did not deliver the speech herself. A man had to read it for her. However, after reading about and thinking about Dix for two years, it was clear to me that the passionate, inspiring and commanding thoughts in this piece had to be represented by Dorothea Dix.
Historian Victoria Cain, Ph.D., hosts a brief background piece on Dorothea Dix.