The following is a blog series based on my new daily habit: Reading one entry from “What Every American Should Know About Women’s History.” Not only are there all these bits of women’s history time has neglected, but within them are lessons that are super relevant to living a meaningful and productive life today. I want one of those. Don’t you? There are 200 entries, so consider yourself warned.
In a time when women could not vote and were still incredibly limited in their ability affect social change, Dorothea Dix singlehandedly changed living and care conditions for hundreds of people with mental illness in the United States. Kudos, Dorothea.
It was a cause she stumbled upon while visiting a jail and encountering prisoners who were incarcerated for no other reason than their mental health — there was just nowhere else for them to go. So she successfully lobbied local officials to improve their conditions. From there, she went to mental health facilities across the country to review and document their conditions and brought her findings to state legislatures in an effort to build more and better places for mental health patients to live and receive care. Between the time she started her work and when she died, the number of mental hospitals in the U.S. jumped from 13 to 123. That is a woman who got shit done.
How did she do it? I imagine there is no one answer to that question, but here’s one thing struck me about her story: After gaining notoriety for her work as a mental health advocate, Dix was invited to join the front lines of a number of other social causes, such as women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement. She declined. Not because she didn’t believe in and support those causes, but because she believed in remaining entirely focused on her primary mission.
Thirteen mental health hospitals to 123. One woman. That is the power of focus.
So what’s your focus? (Oh God, what’s my focus?) Seems worth figuring out.