Tag Archives: Nurse

Dorothea Lynde Dix: Mental Illness Reformer



U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. ...

U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. Retouched photograph. date found on item. Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-9797 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mental Illness is still a taboo topic in the United States even though 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health disorder every year. Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children receive mental health services in a given year. Though there are strides to make healthcare more accessible to people with mental illness, there was time when they were locked away in jails, chained to walls, sexually assaulted, and starved. For centuries, this was how the mentally ill were taken care of until the 1800’s. There is one person responsible for mental illness reform; her name is Dorothea Lynde Dix.

Dorothea Dix was born in Hampden, Maine on April 4, 1802. She had an unhappy childhood because her mother suffered from depression while her father was an alcoholic priest who traveled a lot, so it was up to Dix to take care of her younger brothers. Her father did manage to teach her how to read and write. When she was 12, she moved to Boston to live with her wealthy grandmother. Her grandmother was strict and punished Dix when Dix donated her new expensive clothes to the poor children on the street. Dix became a teacher at the age of 15, opening a school in her grandmother’s mansion. In her spare time, she wrote books for adolescents. In 1836, Dix stopped teaching due to frequent illness and traveled to Europe with friends. Though she was supposed to be relaxing, she met social reformers investigating asylums and she returned to the Untied States to see how her own state dealt with the mentally ill.

In 1841, Dix volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for women inmates at the East Cambridge jail. At the jail, she saw that prostitutes, mentally ill, and criminals were all housed together in dirty conditions. When she asked why the jail was in a terrible condition, she was told that “the insane do not feel heat or cold.” Dix traveled throughout Massachusetts, documenting how the mentally ill were treated in each town. She saw prisoners being whipped, staved, chained, physically abused, and sexually abused by other inmates and guards. The prisoners were often naked without heat or sanitation. She presented her documentation to the Massachusetts legislation and convinced them to set aside funds for the expansion of a state mental hospital in Worcester. Dix traveled to Rhode Island, New York, and other states repeating her process; she help found 32 mental hospitals, a school for the blind, and numerous training facilities for nurses. When she was done with the United States, she traveled to Europe to help the mentally ill.

She returned to the United States in 1854 to travel to states she had missed, but the Civil War interrupted her goal of mental illness reform. She was appointed the Superintendent of Union Army Nurses, the first woman to serve in such a high capacity in a federally appointed role. President Lincoln asked her to appoint a nurse to take care of his sick son, Tad, who had fallen ill after his brother Willie died. Dix appointed Nurse Rebecca Pomeroy, who provided care to Tad while comforting Lincoln. Dix clashed with army officials and was feared by her female nurses, so she submitted her resignation in August 1865.

After the war, she returned to work as a social reformer until 1881 when the New Jersey State Hospital in Morris Plaines opened. This hospital was the first one created built because of Dix, so she checked herself in due to her poor health. She died on July 17, 1887 at the hospital. Dix never wanted hospitals to be named after her, embarrassed of being praised for her work, but it should be known that it is because of her that people now know that the mentally ill are humans and deserved to be treated as such.


Dorothea Lynde Dix

Mental Illness

Dorothea Dix

Clara Harlowe Barton: American Red Cross



Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year, the American Red Cross responds to 70,000 disasters in the United States; the disasters range from hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and floods. The Red Cross provides food, shelter, and supplies for families and communities to get back on their feet. The Red Cross also helps 150,000 military families and veterans each year by providing training and support to wounded warriors. The Red Cross is also the nation’s leading provider of health and safety courses. The American version of this organization was founded by Clara Harlowe Barton.

Clara Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821, in North Oxford, Massachusetts. When she was 16, phrenologists (studied bumps on people’s head) said a career in teaching would cure her of her shyness. After teaching for a few years, she moved to New Jersey where she found out that New Jersey did not have free schools. She opened up a free school and while only 6 students showed up on the first day of school, she had over 200 students when the school year ended. The people of Bordentown were impressed and donated $4,000 to build a new, larger school. When the school opened in 1853, Barton found out that she would not be the principal because she was a woman. Hurt that she could not be in charge of the school she help create, she quit and moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office. She would be the first woman to have a government job in the United States.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, thousands of wounded Union soldiers headed to Washington, D.C.. Barton quickly realized that the government was not prepared to care for the wounded soldiers. For a year, she pleaded with the bureaucracy to allow her to bring medical supplies to the field. When she was granted permission, she headed to the battlefield. Barton became the “nursing angel” to soldiers in some of the war’s bloodiest battles: Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Grateful soldiers who survived the war would name their daughters Clara. When regimental standard-bearer Sergeant Thomas Plunkett had both his arms blown off (still managed to support the flag staff with his body until another soldier could carry it forward into battle) Barton took care of his wounds and saw that he was placed on a train to D.C.. When he encountered trouble trying to return home, Barton pledged his case to U.S. Senator Henry Wilson, who saw that Plunkett had money and help for the rest of his life.

During the Civil War, Barton received hundreds of letters from families wandering if she knew where their sons were. When the war ended, Barton took charge of identifying and marking the graves of 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the Anderson, Georgia, prisoner-of-war camp. President Abraham Lincoln made her the head of the Missing Soldiers Office, the first woman to become in charge of a U.S. government bureau. The agency located 22,000 missing soldiers from 1865-1868.

In 1869, her doctor recommended her to travel to Europe to relax. Instead of relaxing, she took part in the relief effort during the Franco-Prussian War. While she was helping the wounded, she was introduced to the Red Cross, the organization created in 1864 to provide humane services to war victims. She also learned about the Geneva Conviction, rules that apply in times of armed conflict that seek to protect people who not taking part in hostilities. At the time, the United States had not signed it. Barton returned to the United States to establish the American Red Cross and she pushed the U.S. to sign the Geneva Convection. The Red Cross was recognized by the U.S. government to provide aid for natural disasters on May 21, 1881; after the Johnston Flood (dam broke and killed 2,000 people) Barton and 50 doctors and nurses showed up to take care of the town.She resigned its presidency in 1904 and she died in Glen Echo, Maryland on April 12, 1912.

Clara Barton would rather take care of wounded soldiers during a battle then speak at a meeting, but she was able to overcome her shyness when others needed her to. She became a teacher to overcome her shyness, but instead she made sure that children received free education in New Jersey. When she noticed wounded soldiers outside her house, she rushed to the battlefield to take care of them. When parents wanted to know where their son was, she was put in charge of the agency responsible for bringing 22,000 families peace. Barton never “relaxed” as her doctor ordered her to, she was too busy creating an organization that is now the number one organization to respond to a natural disaster.



Angel of the battlefield

American Red Cross

Clara Barton

Mary Edwards Walker: Medal of Honor



Photo of Mary Edwards Walker

Photo of Mary Edwards Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Medal of Honor in the United States of America’s highest military honor. It was created on December 21st, 1861 in a bill that stated “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and marines as shall distinguished themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” The first Medal of Honor was made on March 25, 1863 to Private Jacob Parrott and the last award was February 11, 2013 to Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha. A total of 3,460 people have received the Medal of Honor. Out of these 3,460 only ONE woman has received the medal; her name is Dr. Marry Edwards Walker.

Marry Edwards Walker was born on November 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York. Her parents, Alvah Walker and Vesta Whitcomb Walker, urged their five daughters and a son to aspire to professional careers. After attending school taught by her parents, she taught for two years before deciding to become a doctor. She enrolled in Syracuse Medical College, graduated in two years, and married fellow physician Albert Miller. The couple set up their own medical practice, but because society was not ready to accept a female physician, the practice fell apart and the couple divorced.

Since Walker grew up on a farm, she realized how inconvenient dresses were to work in. She would spend her whole life making a statement in clothing; she was one of the first to hem her skirt below her knees and to replace her petticoats with long trousers. Before the Civil War, she was a contributor to The Sybil: A Review of the Tastes, Errors, and Fashions of Society and Vice-President of National Dress Reform Association.  

After the Civil War broke out, she headed to Washington, D.C. to become a surgeon in the U.S. Army; she was initially denied. She volunteered at a local hospital and took extra classes to enhance her credentials; in she also started a service to help women find their loved ones in hospitals and founded a safe lodging building for women to stay in. In 1863, she headed to Tennessee on her own to provide medical care to the survivors of the Battle of the Chickamauga. Though she was forced to work as a nurse, due to the army’s need for doctors, she became the assistant army surgeon with the rank of lieutenant. She would cross into Confederate Territory to treat diseases until she was captured on April 10, 1864. She was held in Richmond, Virginia because it was believed she was an Union Spy. She was released on August 12 in a prisoner exchange program. Instead of going home, she served as the head of a hospital for female Confederate prisoners in Louisville, Kentucky. The last weeks of the war she spent running a home for orphans in Clarksville, Tennessee. After the war, she was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Generals William Sherman and George Thomas. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill to present her the medal.

After the war ended, she gave lectures about the women’s rights movement: education, marriage, abortion, equal pay for equal work, and military pensions for Civil War nurses. She would receive a military pension, but it was only half of what men were receiving. But due to her wearing male clothing and believing that the constitution did not need an amendment to allow women to vote, that it was already guaranteed in the constitution, she was shunned by women. In 1890, she returned to the family homestead in New York, running the farm and working on women’s rights. In 1917 on a trip to Washington, she fell on the Capitol’s steps and suffered injuries that she would die from two years later at the of 86. That same year, her Medal of Honor was revoked for lack of proper War Department documentation. She died alone at her home. and was buried in a black suit, an American flag draped over her casket.

Mary Edwards Walker spent her life trying to make the world a better place. She became a doctor to help others, but was forced to spend her life fighting for the chance to help others because society was not ready for a female doctor. During the war, risked her life crossing enemy borders to take care of injured soldiers. She also broke the law several times for causing a public disturbance for wearing pants… since pants were easier to work in. Instead of dying with honors, she died alone because society for not ready for a woman. Though she never received the the pensions and admiration from women and men that she deserved in her life time, President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Medal of Honor (again) in 1977. In the past 160 years, she is still the only woman to have that distinctive honor.


Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Mary Edwards Walker