This Week's Story

Dorothea Dix: Some kids talk about their families. I don't.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

A Cuckoo's Nest for No Children, part three

Some kids talk about their families. I don’t.

What could I say that would be true?

“My father is a minister.”

That is partly true. Sometimes he is a minister. Sometimes he drinks too much and hits my mother. He gets real excited and writes religious tracts. I stitch and paste them together. Father is supposed to be a land agent for valuable property his father bought, but Father does not like that kind of work.

When we don’t have money for food, Father makes me his messenger. I go to houses and give papers to the people who come to the door. The papers have the words, “Books from Boston sold at cheap prices. Farm vegetables and produce taken in exchange.”

Father has a box for his own special books. He lets me touch them. No one else can. He taught me to read. I love words. I am teaching my brothers to read and write.

What can I say about Mother?

“She isn’t feeling well.”

That’s true. She is sick with bad headaches and the doctor can’t help her. She does not feel like cleaning or cooking. I take care of my two little brothers.

When there is trouble at home, my parents send me to my grandparents. They live in a big red brick home, Dix Mansion, in Boston. I love to go there. My grandfather, Dr. Elijah Dix, is an important man. When I visit, he takes me driving with him in his carriage and talks to me. Often, he leads me into the huge flower garden behind the big house and teaches me the names of many beautiful flowers.

Times pass. Grandfather died when I was seven. My parents kept having trouble. Grandmother Dix took my brothers and me when I was 12. My parents live with a relative. Grandmother pays the relative to take care of them. My brother Joseph was sent to a Latin School and a nurse cares for my little brother Charles.

I am with Grandmother. She may like me. I don’t know. She is stiff and exact. She wants me to become charming, beautiful, and available for marriage. A dancing instructor comes to teach me. A seamstress styles new clothes for me. When I came here, I had one old dress.

I am not interested in becoming a belle. I see beggar children at the front gate. They need help and I want to help needy people. I remember being hungry. Grandmother thinks that I am stubborn. She asked her sister Sarah, “What can be done with Dorothea? She does not want to dress up or get a suitable husband.”

Aunt Sarah offered, “Let her live at my home and we will see how she does.” Aunt Sarah loves me.

I have good news. Edward, my second cousin, found out I wanted to be a schoolteacher. He suggested, “Dorothea, girls are not permitted to attend public schools in Boston. They can be taught privately by young women. Many rich families would like a school where their daughters and even their sons could learn to read. Would you like me to help you find pupils and a place where you can teach?”

Now I am a teacher and fifteen years old with twenty students.

This is Barbara Steiner with Dorothea Dix, who became champion for the needy.

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