Dorothea Dix

Civil War Nurses / Civil War Hospitals

Dorothea Dix was made famous by her role in the American Civil War as the Union's Superintendent of Female Nurses. Prior to her role in the war, she had implemented the first programs in the country to treat those suffering from insanity. Through tireless lobbying with state legislatures, she laid the groundwork for the nations first mental asylums.

As the American Civil War broke out between the North and South, Dorothea felt a call to duty. As Superintendent of Female nurses, Dix set strict guidelines for the women she hired. They were required to be between 35-50 years old and plain-looking. They were to dress in black or brown dresses and were not allowed to wear jewelry of any kind.

Dorothea Dix, Civil War Nurses, Civil War HospitalsDorothea did not want to put any of the women in danger of being exploited by male doctor’s or patients and also looked to avoid flirtatious marriage-minded women from joining her ranks.

She was tough to deal with and would often fight with Civil War doctors, surgeons and army bureaucrats. Many did not want female nurses in Civil War hospitals and she fought for the rights of her women.

There were constant disagreements over the hiring and firing of nurses and she was known to fire many nurses that she did not initially hire. There was a marked improvement of nursing care under her direction however and her service to the Union army was invaluable.

Dix was known to have treated Union and Confederate soldiers equally when providing treatment although many would disagree with her policy of equality. She simply saw men in need regardless of uniform and she saw no reason to favor one side or the other.

After the war ended, Dorothea Dix resigned her position in August 1865 and returned to her life-work of caring for the mentally ill. She will be most remembered however for being the catalyst behind the immeasurable contribution of Civil War nurses.

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