Title: One Glorious Ambition, the Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix
Review: This book is a historical fiction based on the life of Dorothea Dix the crusader for the rights of the mentally ill. This book is a good combination of historical fact and enough fiction to keep it somewhat interesting to the less informed. By this I mean, those of us who are not into biographies and who know nothing of the history or the treatment of the mentally ill through the ages of time.
To understand the story one must understand the nuances of the times in which Dorothea lived. She was born in 1802 in Hampden, Maine. Her mother was mentally ill all of Dorothea's life. Dorothea remembered her in later years as always having "a blank expression in her lovely blue eyes," her father was the black sheep of the family, expelled from Harvard University, never wanted to pay his bills and was forever asking for money from friends and family. The young ladies of her day were educated just enough to be able to attract "catch a husband".
At the age of 11 Dorothea left home and walked to her Grandmother's home forty miles away. She was going there to ask her Grandmother if she, Dorothea, and her brother and the new baby, Joseph, could come and live with her. It was a bitter cold day and the maid, thinking she was a street urchin, sent her around to the servants door of the mansion to wait in the kitchen. Grandmother would not do as Dorothea requested and Dorothea was sent home to live with her abusive father and "sleepy" mother. It was a sad time for her and her brothers but eventually her Grandmother sent for her and had her go and live with her Aunts family who were willing to "take" her in, and teach her to be a proper young lady.
Dorothea lived with her Aunt and Uncle and her cousin Mary and was taught all the proper things that a young lady of that age should know. How to ride a horse, how to laugh, but not to loudly, at a suitor's little jokes, how never to disagree with a gentleman, how to walk so her hoops moved in just the right way, how to knit, crochet and cross stitch, all of the important things for well bred women of her day. But this was not enough for Dorothea, she could read and write and think and she wanted to be something, to do what God in Heaven had placed her on the earth to do. But first she had to find what that "something" was.
As the years past, with no marriage in sight, she decided to open a school for girls, to teach riding, reading, mathematics, English, cross stitching. She loved teaching and learning and wanted to instill that love in her students. But the thinking of the day was not in her favor, as one of her students fathers told her " Just teach her, her letters, so she will write to her mother and me when she marries and moves away." Later Dorothea opened a school for indigent children and taught them in the evenings and weekends. She loved to teach but still did not feel fulfilled.
One day she was called into her Aunts sitting room and told she was going to live with her grandmother. It seemed Grandmama felt that her Aunt had failed her by Dorothea not being married and so was bringing her home to "Find a Husband" before it was too late.
Dorothea's Grandmother had fallen on hard times and so had moved into the carriage house and her mansion was being used as a boarding house. Dorothea was given rooms in the mansion house and would take her meals with the boarders. Interesting conversations ensued and Dorothea met many interesting people some of whom would change her life forever.
Dorothea felt a need for religion in her life and loved to hear the fiery sermons of the preachers on Sunday morning. These sermons and those who delivered them, helped Dorothea become the beacon for hope that the mentally ill, she later helped, needed.
"yearning to fulfill her God given purpose, Dorothea discovers her gift for teaching and writing..." she has bouts of illness that leave her weak. It turns out that she had T B, a dreaded health problem that was prevalent in that time. She was able to fight against these bouts and regain her health to carry on the battle. Dorothea fought prejudice against her sex, showing the "Hallowed Halls of Government" that women did have something to offer, she was a feminists long before it became the thing to be. She fought for basic human rights for the mentally ill, basic rights that every living creature deserves.
At this point in time, the mentally ill, in some cases, were kept chained to walls that were dripping with water, with no heat in the winter, no blankets, overflowing slop buckets and with food tossed through the bars of their cells. They were put into prisons with common criminals and were mistreated right along with them. Dorothea saw their condition and decided her life's work would be to help them received decent care in state run institutions, where nurses and doctors could care for them with humane treatment. Thoughts of her own mother's condition came back to her each time she became discouraged with all the "red tape". She fought in the halls of congress clear up to the Oval Office. She knew two Presidents of the United States and solicited their help and compassion, but the "business" of politics came first and bill after bill she had presented was tabled until the next session year after year. Slavery was the big question at this point in time so humane treatment of the mentally ill was not much of an issue.
There are so many good quotes in this book, one of my favorite was "if it is to be, it is up to thee" and "Give me one glorious ambition for my life....",
This is a well written book, you can feel Dorothea's frustration with the people around her that have the power to help but who refuse for political ambitions. The author fills out her character from a little girl worried about where her next meal will come from to a woman who gives up her life and her funds to provide care to the most helpless.
If you like Biographies and the stories of historical people and times this is the book for you. This book will receive four out of five stars from me for good historical accuracy, vivid descriptions and sticking to facts.
The down side of this book for me was I do not feel that I know Dorothea Dix any better, her personality did not come out in the story, her feelings of sadness and hurt only made her seem petulant and over bearing. I felt the character was flat and two dimensional. I do realize that taking a historical character, fleshing them out and bringing them to life is tough going but that is what this book needs.
Thanks Eileen for this review.
Thanks Eileen for this review.
Published: Published April 2nd 2013 by WaterBrook Press
Quick Review: 4 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: One dedicated woman...giving voice to the suffering of many
Born to an unavailable mother and an abusive father, Dorothea Dix longs simply to protect and care for her younger brothers, Charles and Joseph. But at just fourteen, she is separated from them and sent to live with relatives to be raised properly. Lonely and uncertain, Dorothea discovers that she does not possess the ability to accept the social expectations imposed on her gender and she desires to accomplish something more than finding a suitable mate.
Yearning to fulfill her God-given purpose, Dorothea finds she has a gift for teaching and writing. Her pupils become a kind of family, hearts to nurture, but long bouts of illness end her teaching and Dorothea is adrift again. It’s an unexpected visit to a prison housing the mentally ill that ignites an unending fire in Dorothea’s heart—and sets her on a journey that will take her across the nation, into the halls of the Capitol, befriending presidents and lawmakers, always fighting to relieve the suffering of what Scripture deems, the least of these.
In bringing nineteenth-century, historical reformer Dorothea Dix to life, author Jane Kirkpatrick combines historical accuracy with the gripping narrative of a woman who recognized suffering when others turned away, and the call she heeded to change the world.
About the author: Kirkpatrick brings us a story of one woman's restoration from personal grief to the meaning of community.