Many health problems in the 19th century were linked to poor sanitation and a lack of understanding of diseases. Women such as Dorothea Dix, Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton recognized problems within their communities and vowed to help. Their works improved living conditions for thousands, setting a standard of health that continues to the present day.
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) worked ardently for prison reform and to aid the mentally ill. She had been teaching for 20 years when she fell ill and travelled to Europe to recuperate. During her time in England she met people working to reform prisons and improve care for the mentally ill. At that time, prisons housed both criminals and the mentally ill who could not function in society.
Upon returning to the United States Dorothea witnessed the pitiable conditions of the prisons in America. She immediately took action, gathering clothes for inmates, recording conditions at jails and helping several states pass legislation for the mentally ill. Dorothea eventually founded 32 mental hospitals and 15 schools for children with learning disabilities, as well as schools for the blind and nursing schools.