Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Memorial Of Miss D. L. Dix To the Senate And House Of Representatives Of The United States

Creator: Dorothea L. Dix (author)
Date: August 8, 1850
Source: Available at selected libraries


For years, Dorothea Dix collected information on the abuse and neglect of people with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities. Her efforts resulted in the construction of numerous insane asylums at the state level, but she began to believe that the states needed help in financing these projects. Beginning in 1848, Dix used this information to submit a memorial to the United States Congress seeking federal support for the maintenance of insane asylums. Her proposal called for the distribution of five million acres of federal land to the states. This land was to be sold as a means of raising the necessary funds to care for the indigent insane. Her memorial, excerpted here, was successful in persuading Congress to pass a law in 1854 by which the federal government would provide ten million acres according to Dix’s plan. It would have been the first time that the federal government assumed responsibility for its destitute citizens. Because of President Franklin Pierce’s veto, Dix’s plan was never put into effect, and it would be over a century before the federal government would be involved in the care of people with mental disabilities.

Next Page   All Pages 

Page 1:




January 23, 1854. -- Ordered to be printed.


Mr. Foot made the following REPORT.


-To accompany Bill S. 44.-


The Committee on Public Lands to whom was referred the bill making a grant of public lands for the benefit of the indigent insane in the several States, report:


That they have had the same under consideration, and they propose an amendment, in the form of a substitute for the whole, in which they ask the concurrence of the Senate, and when so amended they recommend the passage of the bill.


The committee adopt the report of the Select Committee of the House of Representatives in 1850, upon the subject matter of this bill, and embracing the memorial of Miss D. L. Dix.




The Select Committee to whom was referred the memorial of Miss D. L. Dix, praying for an appropriation of land for the relief of the insane, beg leave to report:


That a careful consideration of the subject committed to them has resulted in their conviction that the prayer of the memoralist ought to be granted.


The amelioration of the condition of the insane, that neglected and unfortunate class of our citizens, should be regarded as an object of the highest national concernment; and, in the opinion of your committee there is no other mode than that suggested by the memorialist, by which Congress, within the clear limits of its constitutional power, can so properly and successfully contribute to that desideratum.


But the memorial itself sets forth so ably and conclusively the main reasons which the committee would urge for its favorable consideration by the House, that they deem an elaborate report from themselves as wholly superfluous. They adopt unanimously, and with great satisfaction, that memorial as their own report and bespeak for it the attentive consideration to which its merits so justly entitle it. Nor is the memorial in any degree lessened in its importance by a consideration of the source whence it comes. The memoralist, a lady, impelled by the purest and noblest impulses, has devoted many wearisome years, the best portion of her life, to the amelioration of the condition of our insane -- bringing to her task, talents and abilities of the highest order, such as would have secured her distinction and fame in any vocation in life. Wending her way into every State in the Union, and over almost every portion of each State, she has, with the devotedness of her sex, and with the firmness of purpose characteristic of the sternest of our own, sought out the condition, and in many cases the minute history, of more than 23,000 insane persons, seven-eighths of whom are entirely destitute of those advantages of situation and remedial treatment indispensible to the restoration of their reason. And she has embodied a mass of observations and facts concerning them which attest alike her laborious zeal, her keen discrimination, and philosophic mind; while they supply to us, and to the country, information of the highest utility and value. The result of her labors is in the memorial now before the House, and which is made a part of this report.


The committee propose for adoption the following resolution:


Resolved, That five thousand copies of the memorial of Miss D. L. Dix be printed for the use of the House.


And the committee report and recommend the passage of the accompanying bill.




To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled.


Your memorialist respectfully asks permission to lay before you what seem to be just and urgent claims in behalf of a numerous and increasing class of sufferers in the United States. I refer to the great and inadequately relieved distresses of the insane throughout the country.


Upon the subject which this memorial embraces, many to whose justice and humanity it appeals are well-informed; but the attention of most of those to whom it is addressed has not been called to the subject, and a few, but a very few, have looked upon some features of this sad picture as revealed in private dwellings, in poorhouses, and in prisons.


Your memorialist hopes to place before you substantial reasons, which shall engage your earnest attention, and secure favorable action upon the important subject she advocates.


It is a fact, not less certainly substantiated than it is deplorable, that insanity has increased in an advanced ratio with the fast increasing population in all the United States. For example, according to the best received methods of estimate five years since, it was thought correct to count one insane in every thousand inhabitants throughout the Union. At the present, my own careful investigations are sustained by the judgment and the information of the most intelligent superintendents of hospitals for the insane, in rendering the estimates not less than one insane person in every eight hundred inhabitants at large, throughout the United States.

Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20    All Pages