Dorothea Lynde Dix Banner


Dorothea Dix's job as superintendent of nurses of the U.S. Army during the Civil War was but one episode in a life spent crusading for prison and hospital reform.

After the fall of Fort Sumter, Dix volunteered her services to the Union. In June 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron appointed her head of female nurses. The Crimean War had set a precedent for using women as nurses, but the practice was alien in the United States, and Dix faced opposition from many army doctors. In spite of the obstacles, the small, soft spoken woman worked without pay and molded an efficient operation dedicated to relieving the suffering of sick and wounded soldiers. She had total authority over all female nurses and laid down strict criteria for their selection. Nurses were required to be over 30, plain looking, drabbily dressed, and not adorned with either curl or jewel. Thousands of eager young women were excluded from service for being too pretty, too young, or "overanxious." Some subordinates considered Dix high-handed and arbitrary, and they dubbed her "Dragon Dix".