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The Life of Dorothea Dix.

The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease: April 1997 - Volume 185 - Issue 4 - p 282
Briefly Noted

GOLLAHER, DAVID. Voice for the Mad: The Life of Dorothea Dix. New York: The Free Press, 1995. xi + 528 pp. $28.00.

This intimate biography, based on hitherto unexamined letters and diaries, is aimed at the educated public. However, it will be of great interest to psychiatrists and other students of human behavior, volunteers, and advocates in the mental health field and increasingly militant consumers, i.e., users of mental health services. Dorothea Dix was a pioneer advocate for mental hospitals in an era when “insane” people were confined in brutal circumstances at home, in almshouses, or prisons. Her personal story and the emotional roots of her advocacy are explored in the context of public attitudes toward the mentally ill, governmental and philanthropic attempts to provide for them, the inspiration of liberal religion embodied in Unitarianism for those trying to remedy social ills, and the status of women in the Victorian age. Throughout, there are glimpses of Dix's capacity to relate to those mentally ill persons with whom she spoke. With her own problematic personality and repeated periods of severe depression, she seemed to have the empathy and capacity for identification with these individuals, often found in others who, themselves, have suffered illness. Her capacity to argue convincingly for the importance of protective and therapeutic institutions led to her being called “Queen of the Asylums.” Unfortunately, her assumptions were based on the ideal of a well-funded institution with a well-trained and caring staff. This ideal has not been achieved.

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