Feb 14 2016

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Dorothea Dix – Driven By Compassion

 DorotheaDixA Review of One Glorious Ambition

Recently I read an historical novel called One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix.  The author, Jane Kirkpatrick, had done a lot of research in historical documents, including writings by Dorothea Dix, in order to make the novelized story of her life historically correct.  What a moving story about a woman who was driven by compassion to make the world a better place for the mentally ill, prisoners, and destitute children!

Dorothea was no stranger to suffering.  She was the child of an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, and in her childhood she was impoverished and often hungry.  She did what she could to protect her little brother from the wrath of her father until she was removed by her grandmother from the home.  Throughout her life she suffered rejection from family and for awhile, even from her best friend.

As is often the case, God took the brokenness of a person who has suffered and yet kept faith in Him, and turned it around to build a woman of strong character and great compassion.  Dorothea began by showing compassion for children who were living in poverty and suffering as she had.  She set up a school to teach them during times when she wasn’t teaching her privately run school for paying students.

Later she discovered the terrible suffering and squalor of prisons – places where the mentally ill, criminals, people with developmental disabilities, and people who couldn’t pay their debts, were all thrown together into the unsanitary sordid conditions of the prisons of the 1800’s.   God lit a fire within her to make changes in the prison system and to lobby for hospitals for the care of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled people.

Dorothea had struggled for years to find her calling in life, asking God to show her what He wanted her to do.  Her discovery of the suffering of those who were rejected by society, drove her, often at the risk of her own health and well being, to crusade throughout the United States, in Washington, DC, and eventually around the world.  It was a grueling process, but her work and life of personal sacrifice brought about profound changes – although not nearly to the extent that she hoped to see in her lifetime.  She influenced political leaders to find ways to treat the mentally ill and those with mental deficits with dignity and to give them opportunities for bettering themselves.

The book shows God working everything together for good as He allowed Dorothea to often suffer, but worked through her situation to bring changes in society.  He gave her great boldness so that she became an accepted figure in Congress, in company of Presidents, and in the presence of those with political power in many states and other countries.  This was unheard of for a woman in her day.  She truly experienced how she could live a life led by the Holy Spirit, so that great changes could come to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people.

Dorthea is quoted as saying, “In a world where there is so much to be done. I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.”  That word is a good one for us to grab hold of in our own lives.  We can and should make a difference!

This is one of those books that I will likely read again some day.  I encourage you to read it too.

John 9:4  As long as it is still day, we must do the work that  the One who sent Me wants Me to do.  For when night comes, no one can work.


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1 comment

  1. janekirkpatrick

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful and enthusiastic review! Dorothea was a great example — and still is. I’m glad you found that to be so. Happy reading! Jane

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