One Glorious Ambition

Yes, one glorious ambition, but what is it?  That is what Dorothea Dix wondered for many years until she discovered her calling among "the least of these" as she called them. Dix was instrumental in raising public awareness about the poor treatment of the mentally handicapped in the U.S., and eventually Europe, in the 1800s.

In Jane Kirkpatrick's book One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix, we are immersed in the mind and heart of Dix, a woman who never felt like she accomplished enough. Kirkpatrick blends fact and fiction to tell us about a woman who was a successful teacher, actually running her own school, and published author by the age of 20. She went on to become the friend of politicians and presidents as she worked tirelessly to relieve the suffering of the mentally ill.

Dix's father was abusive, her mother probably suffered from some form of mental illness, and Dix tried her best as a child to nurture her two younger brothers. Her father's family was wealthy and well-regarded, but he was estranged from them so Dorothea's family lived in poverty. These early influences formed Dix into the woman she became. A woman searching for a loving family to accept her as she was. A woman who needed to succeed because she felt she failed to rescue her brothers from their difficult childhood. A woman who needed to keep moving, keep striving like a "spinning top" and never stop because she was afraid if she stopped and thought for too long, she might become mentally ill like her mother.

The book was painful to read at times. Dix's desire to acquire family leads her to behave awkwardly and strive too hard, which resulted in people pushing her away. When after a struggle of many years the mental health bill she wrote and tried to help pass into law failed, Dix felt like she failed. She took the loss personally, almost as a rejection of her.

Dix appears to be a woman who knew and loved God, but did she trust Him and rely on Him to accomplish His will in His way? I don't think so. Her drive, persistence, and stubbornness, which were instrumental in achieving the wonderful breakthroughs in the care of the mentally needy that occurred in her lifetime, were also her worst enemies. She was unable to compromise or see another's point of view. She felt her goals needed to be achieved her way, and her way only.

Looking at the book's cover, you might expect a light, enjoyable semi-biographical novel, but that is not the case. The book paints a true picture of a dedicated woman with great gifts and great flaws.

One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix by Jane Kirkpatrick
WaterBrook Press, 2013
Fiction/Historical, 382 pages

WaterBrook Press provided a free copy of this book for review. The opinions stated are my own. 


  1. Hi Elizabeth! I have heard of Dorothy Dix, but had no idea what kind of childhood/family dysfunction she endured. It does seem that those kinds of hardships can beat you down, or turn you into a force of nature!

    Great post!