From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The decision to change the name of Northampton’s Hospital Hill bespeaks the same fear and prejudice against mental illness that drove Victorian activists to build the hospital in the first place.
First and foremost, Dorothea Dix considered herself a teacher. Born in Maine, she moved to Boston, and while still in her teens, she opened a school for young children. Settling in Worcester, she became a devout Unitarian and wrote books for young readers. These days, she’d be known as an early childhood educator, and she might have been remembered as a pioneer in that field had not she one day agreed to take over a class for a friend at the local jail.
She had no idea what to expect when she went to teach the Sunday school class in the East Cambridge prison; the experience transformed her and, eventually, the nation.
Not everyone held in the prison, she realized, was there because they’d committed a crime. Incarcerated in chains, right alongside hardened criminals, were people who were there for reasons beyond their control. They were mentally ill. Instead of receiving care, they were being punished for their afflictions.