8.7 Notes Essays

Submitted By cayysei
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the autumn of 1848 when Dorothea Lynde Dix came to North Carolina, attitudes toward mental illness in this state, like the scanty facilities, remained generally quite primitive. Nevertheless, the North Carolina Legislature was not unaware of the concept of a state hospital for the mentally ill. Earlier in 1825 a resolution had been passed requesting information needed to plan for the establishment of a "lunatic asylum". Nothing came of it then, and again in 1838-1839 action stirred in this regard with no concrete results. In 1844, Governor Morehead strongly recommended that the state build institutions for the unfortunate insane, blind and deaf; but the issue died without positive action. So things stood still in the fall of 1848 with Delaware and North Carolina remaining the two states of the original thirteen which had no state institution for the mentally ill.

Dorothea toured North Carolina. The conditions for the mentally ill that she found in 36 North Carolina counties were much the same as in other states, ranging from extremely poor to above average, with a census of about a thousand mentally ill in jails, poorhouses and private homes. She returned to Raleigh and compiled the information she had gathered into a "memorial" which she hoped to present to the legislature.

The report submitted to the legislature was a county-by-county report on her findings. She emphasized the need to remove the insane from jails for their own benefit and that of other inmates. Dorothea had a practical approach as well as an idealistic one. She listed costs in other states and economies that had been achieved. She recommended "moderate employment, moderate exercise" among the approaches to the treatment of the mentally ill, along with specifics of buildings and equipment.
As 1848 drew to its closing days, Dorothea Dix faced an economy-minded legislature primarily interested in railroads and, of course, politics. Her proposals were at first met with little enthusiasm but her memorial was a powerfully written and emotional appeal. Through persistent effort she found a sponsor for it in the person of John W. Ellis of Rowan County. He presented it to the legislature and proposed that a committee of seven from each house make a study of the memorial and report back to the legislature. A bill was written and reached the floor of the assembly on December 21, 1848.

The bill spelled out the needs and requirements for a state institution for the mentally ill and requested $100,000 — a huge sum in those days — to finance the project. Opposition overcame attempts to develop a satisfactory means of raising funds for the hospital, despite the enthusiastic support by several individuals and the Raleigh newspaper. Yet at this point, chance and the results of Dorothea's kindness and concern for others brought success for the measure.
Staying at the Mansion House Hotel in Raleigh, Dorothea learned of a woman lying critically ill in one of its rooms. She went at once and set about nursing and comforting her. The sick woman, unknown to Dorothea at the time, was the wife of James C. Dobbin of Fayetteville, an influential member of the legislature. Dorothea spent all the time possible with Mrs. Dobbin. When she died on December 18th, Dorothea traveled to Fayetteville for the funeral. Deeply appreciative for Dorothea's kindness, Mrs. Dobbin-just before her death-asked her husband to support the "asylum" bill. Hearing of the defeat of the measure to raise money for the project, Mr. Dobbin hurried back to Raleigh from his wife's funeral and made a stirring plea for reconsideration of the bill, developing a workable compromise for raising the funds required. The bill passed the House in late December and the Senate, December 30, 1848.

This act provided for only $7,000 with later appropriations to be made later and for the appointment of six commissioners to select a site and oversee the erection of the hospital. These commissioners were John M.…