Education: Lesson Details

Study Guide: Activities and Procedures


Section 1 - READING

Students read a brief biography of Dix, an essay on moral treatment, and the Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts. They also examine an image of the institution in Worcester.

Background Essay: Miss Dorothea Dix
Background Essay: Moral Treatment
Annotated & Abridged Document:
Memorial To The Legislature of Massachusetts
Artifact: Lunatic Hospital, Worcester, Massachusetts



Teacher leads a discussion of the text of the Dix Memorial and the image of the Lunatic Hospital in Worcester. The class answers the following questions:

1.) What group of people was the object of Dix’s efforts? Who was responsible for their care? How were the "indigent insane" being cared for, according to Dix? What kinds of words does Dix use to describe these people? How does she seem to define mental disabilities? What does she report?

2.) Who might have been angered by Dix’s petition and why? How does she try to blunt potential criticism?

3.) How would the changes she seeks alter the approach to care for people with mental disabilities? In her mind, what criteria would define success?

4.) In paragraph 23, how does the woman’s condition change? What does this suggest about what changes Dix advocates?

6.) Read paragraph 24 closely. What happens?

7.) What does the discussion in paragraph 28 suggest about popular views of people with psychiatric disabilities in the early nineteenth century?

8.) Using the image of the Lunatic Hospital, how might life in such an institution differ from life in jails or almshouses?



The class will then read the following documents and discuss the questions:

Annotated & Abridged Document:
Response To Dix Memorial

1.) In paragraph 2, how does the newspaper describe Dix’s picture of the asylum? her motivations?

2.) What does the writer think of Dix’s humanitarian goals? Does he express support for the reforms advocated by Dix?

3.) How does this article represent the conditions in the Newburyport almshouse?

4.) Do you believe the interpretation presented here? Why or why not?

Annotated & Abridged Document:
Dix Accused Of Slander

1.) The authors apparently do not like Dorothea Dix. Why? What do they imply motivates Dix’s efforts on behalf of the insane?

2.) What are the possible motivations of the authors of this letter? Did the authors have personal interests involved in the matter of Mr. Bull’s care?

Annotated & Abridged Document:
Dix Memorial Questioned

1.) What does the editorialist conclude about the truthfulness of Dix’s Memorial? Why does he make this conclusion? What are the implications of that conclusion?

Annotated & Abridged Document:
Charles Sumner Supports Dix

1.) How does Charles Sumner provide support for Dix? What is his evidence?

2.) Who was Charles Sumner? For what did he later become famous? Is there a connection between his later fame and the position he takes here?



Class breaks into two groups. A student in each group is assigned to be a recorder. Students are asked to discuss the following questions: Was Dix’s account of conditions in the poorhouses credible? What makes an account like this credible and believable? One group takes the position: “Dix’s account was believable and credible.” The other group takes the position: “Dix’s account was exaggerated and sensationalistic.” Both groups identify arguments in support of the position. The class comes back together. Students have a teacher-led discussion of the credibility of Dix. As an alternative, students role play Dix, Sumner, and the authors of the critical responses to Dix and have a debate. (Note: Factors that might influence the credibility of a report include first-hand experience, corroboration by others, the level of specific details in the report, and the motives of the author, including potential conflict of interest.)


Dain, Norman, Concepts of Insanity in the United States, 1789-1865 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1964).

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

Grob, Gerald N., The Mad Among Us: A History of the Care of America’s Mentally Ill (New York: The Free Press, 1994).

Katz, Michael B., In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York: BasicBooks, 1986).

Rothman, David, The Discovery of the Asylum (Boston: Little Brown, 1971).

Tomes, Nancy, The Art of Asylum-Keeping: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Origins of American Psychiatry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984).