I have always been fascinated by those strong willed activist women of the 19th Century, the ones who names and accomplishments take but a sentence or two in our general history books, but whose true impact on history has such a greater significance. While wars, land acquisition, economic turns, and politics itself shape history, and need to be studied, what lessons dynamic and determined women like Clara Barton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, and Dorothea Dix can teach us. When I saw Jane Kirkpatrick, a historical fiction author who I've admired for bringing light and life to some of America's most interesting (and unknown) women of the late 1800s and early 1900s, had written a book about Dorothea Dix, I knew that I wanted to read it. Luckily I was able to obtain ONE GLORIOUS AMBITION for my Nook through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium.
What most of us learned in history class is that Dorothea Dix was a tireless advocate for the mentally ill who often visited the jails and horrible facilities where they were housed. What we don't learn is that Dorothea was a tough advocate from a young age -- starting first as an advocate for her two younger brothers and herself. With an unavailable mother (perhaps mentally ill or a victim of postpartum depression) and a father who shirked his duties in favor of drink and poor business choices, Dorothea and her brothers really had no nurturing. A grandmother, bound by duty and family name, provided financial relief but not the love and security Dorothea needed. By age 15 Dorothea was running her own school to make money and to give girls a chance at education. By her early twenties she had published several books on educational discipline which offered a modest financial independence. It was shortly after that she began to take an interest in treatment of the mentally ill, obviously haunted by her father's death and her mother's disappearance to be cared for by "her people."
Jane Kirkpatrick does a wonderful job of showing us this complex, determined yet fragile woman who makes being the spokeswoman for the mentally ill her "glorious" life ambition -- her life purpose. Over the years her health and personal happiness suffered, but she never gave up working for the most fragile of humanity. Compassion ruled all she did. When the country politicians were ensconced in fights over states rights and whether new states should be slave or not, Dorothea never stopped her fight to get a bill passed that would sell federal lands to fund building of mental hospitals in every state. While that bill never became law, she became respected across the world for her basic belief that the mentally ill should be treated with respect and compassion.
Jane Kirkpatrick has kept a page on her website with further information about Dorothea Dix including an audio interview http://www.jkbooks.com/Pages/one_glorious_ambition.html
I thank Kirkpatrick, who has had a career working with those experiencing mental illness, for writing such an informative story. Please keep bringing light and life to the women who have made our history. I am counting ONE GLORIOUS AMBITION as my book with a female heroine for THE 26 BOOKS TO READ IN 2015 CHALLENGE from www.burns-familyblog.blogspot.com