Treatment of the Mentally Ill What shocked Dix most of all was the way mentally ill people were treated. Most were locked in dirty, crowded prison cells. If they misbehaved, they were whipped. Dix and other reformers believed that the mentally ill needed treatment and care, not punishment. Massachusetts had one private asylum, or hospital for the mentally ill. Only the wealthy could afford to send a family member there. Even so, the asylum was filled to overflowing.
Campaigning for Better ConditionsFor two years, Dix gathered information about the horrors she had seen. Then she prepared a detailed report for the Massachusetts state legislature. “I come as the advocate of helpless, forgotten, insane . . . men and women,” she said. “I proceed . . . to call your attention to the present state of insane persons, confined . . . in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” Shocked by Dix’s report, the lawmakers voted to create public asylums for the mentally ill.
Dix visited prisons in other states as well. After she prepared reports demanding humane treatment for the mentally ill, those states also created special mental hospitals.
Dix continued campaigning for prison reform for the rest of her life. By the time she died in 1887, state governments no longer put debtors in prison. Most states had created special justice systems for children in trouble. Many had outlawed cruel punishments, such as branding people with hot irons. Dix had shown that reformers could lead society to make significant changes.
Section 5 In 1835, a poster appeared on walls throughout Washington, D.C. The poster showed two drawings. One drawing, labeled “The Land of the Free,” showed the founding fathers reading the Declaration of Independence. The other, labeled “The Home of the Oppressed,” showed slaves trudging past the U.S. Capitol building, the home of Congress. The poster posed a challenging question: How could America, the “land of the free,” still allow slavery? By the 1830s, growing numbers of people were asking this question. These people were called abolitionists.