The little bit I knew about Dorothea Dix was that she was head of nurses for Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. I never realized how much more there was to this fascinating woman until picking up One Glorious Ambition by Jane Kirkpatrick. Reading about how her early home life shaped Dorothea’s passion for helping the mentally and emotionally disturbed brought a new poignancy to her struggle. Jane Kirkpatrick also did an outstanding job of showcasing Miss Dix’s struggle to bring state and national attention to this issue, write books, and try to maintain a ladylike sense of anonymity. I finished this book with not only a new appreciation for this amazing woman but also the struggles still faced by those determined to help this often silent group.
Dorothea Dix grew up with an abusive father and an emotionally distant mother. Her goal is to find a way to provide a home for her brothers and herself. Gaining the skills to open a school for youngsters, Dorothea hopes she has found a way to do just that. But illnesses force her to shut her school down, and every time she thinks she has found someone to serve as a family to her, circumstances cruelly yank them away. On a visit to a prison to teach a Sunday class to women, Dorothea discovers a passion to serve as a voice to the mentally ill, often locked away in harsh circumstances with no chance for improvement. Determined to bring a change, she travels not only the nation but the very halls of the Capitol. Her fight will change the very way America treats those who so often had been locked away forever.
One dedicated woman...giving voice to the suffering of many
Born to an unavailable mother and an abusive father, Dorothea Dix longs simply to protect and care for her younger brothers, Charles and Joseph. But at just fourteen, she is separated from them and sent to live with relatives to be raised properly. Lonely and uncertain, Dorothea discovers that she does not possess the ability to accept the social expectations imposed on her gender and she desires to accomplish something more than finding a suitable mate.
Yearning to fulfill her God-given purpose, Dorothea finds she has a gift for teaching and writing. Her pupils become a kind of family, hearts to nurture, but long bouts of illness end her teaching and Dorothea is adrift again. It’s an unexpected visit to a prison housing the mentally ill that ignites an unending fire in Dorothea’s heart—and sets her on a journey that will take her across the nation, into the halls of the Capitol, befriending presidents and lawmakers, always fighting to relieve the suffering of what Scripture deems, the least of these.
In bringing nineteenth-century, historical reformer Dorothea Dix to life, author Jane Kirkpatrick combines historical accuracy with the gripping narrative of a woman who recognized suffering when others turned away, and the call she heeded to change the world.