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One Glorious Ambition

Jane Kirkpatrick

  Praise for

  One Glorious Ambition

  “Jane Kirkpatrick’s ability to probe the human spirit makes One Glorious Ambition a soaring novel of love, compassion, and duty. Born a nineteenth-century woman with few rights, Dorothea Dix nonetheless challenged the nation’s most powerful men to provide humane treatment for the hopeless—the retarded and insane. In Kirkpatrick’s skillful hands, One Glorious Ambition inspires like few other novels.”

  —SANDRA DALLAS, author of True Sisters and The Quilt Walk

  “One Glorious Ambition is a compelling novelization of Dorothea Dix’s crusade on behalf of the mentally ill. Kirkpatrick’s painstaking documentation and customary attention to historical detail shine here, and the connections between Dix’s personal relationships and her life’s work stand out. Dix is a worthy American heroine. The interview section at the end of the book adds many fascinating nuggets to the story.”

  —SUSAN PAGE DAVIS, award-winning author of more than forty books

  “Jane Kirkpatrick has the rare ability to use what’s known about historical women as the foundation for compelling historical fiction. Here, Kirkpatrick shines her light on the remarkable life of Dorothea Dix, seamlessly blending fact and fiction to illuminate Dix’s journey from a girl struggling to save her family to a woman championing all those in need. Dorothea Dix can still inform and inspire modern readers, and One Glorious Ambition is a story to be treasured.”

  —KATHLEEN ERNST, award-winning author of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries

  “Jane Kirkpatrick uses her considerable writing talents to bring Dorothea Dix to life in this exciting historical novel. In doing so, Kirkpatrick gives a voice and face not only to a heroic crusader but also to Americans seldom seen or heard in our society—those living with mental disorders. Her fiction reads like fact because it describes a campaign that still needs to be waged and exposes societal flaws that have yet to be addressed.”

  —PETE EARLEY, author of Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness

  “Thank you, Jane, for personally introducing me to Dorothea in your book One Glorious Ambition. It is a joyful experience to come to actually know someone I knew so much about. My admiration of Dorothea Dix and her work has been deepened by your work, Jane.”

  —DEAN BROOKS, MD, superintendent (1955–1982), Oregon State Hospital

  “A must-read! I was moved to tears by the sense of history, tragedy, and hope of Dorothea’s life work accomplished on behalf of people with mental health challenges. Every human being should know Dorothea Dix’s story. Jane Kirkpatrick captures it magnificently!”

  —GINA FIRMAN NIKKEL, PhD, president and CEO, Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care

  “Read this book and have Dorothea Dix transform your life. Be uplifted not simply by the grand trajectory of Dix’s singular journey but by the irresistible voice that Jane Kirkpatrick compels you to hear. A deeply sensitive and intelligent young woman overcomes trenchant pain and social barriers to fight tirelessly for those who have neither a voice nor an advocate. Her impossible life is unraveled and liberated in this novel. And read with a sense of urgency, for the battles fought by Dorothea Dix more than a century ago are very much in need of being waged again.”

  —CHARLES KISELYAK, producer and director of award-winning films including Completely Cuckoo, Fearful Symmetry, and A Constant Forge



  Where Lilacs Still Bloom

  *The Daughter’s Walk

  *A Land of Sheltered Promise

  Portraits of the Heart

  *A Flickering Light

  *An Absence So Great

  Change and Cherish Historical Series

  *A Clearing in the Wild

  *A Tendering in the Storm

  A Mending at the Edge

  Tender Ties Historical Series

  *A Name of Her Own

  Every Fixed Star

  Hold Tight the Thread

  Kinship and Courage Historical Series

  *All Together in One Place

  No Eye Can See

  What Once We Loved

  Dreamcatcher Collection

  *A Sweetness to the Soul

  Love to Water My Soul

  A Gathering of Finches

  Mystic Sweet Communion

  Log Cabin Christmas (novella)

  The Midwife’s Legacy (novella)


  *Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt,

  Community, and Craft


  A Simple Gift of Comfort

  Promises of Hope for Difficult Times

  *finalists and award-winning works



  12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200

  Colorado Springs, Colorado 80921

  All Scripture quotations and paraphrases are taken from the King James Version.

  This book is a work of historical fiction based closely on real people and real events. Details that cannot be historically verified are purely products of the author’s imagination.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-72943-9

  Copyright © 2013 by Jane Kirkpatrick

  Cover design by Kristopher K. Orr; cover photography by Liz McAulay, Getty Images

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc., New York.

  WATERBROOK and its deer colophon are registered trademarks of Random House Inc.

  Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress.


  To Dr. Dean Brooks and his compassionate daughters:

  Ulista, India, and Dennie



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Cast of Characters


  Part One

  One: Like Orphans in the Chaos

  Two: The Arrival

  Three: Relative Rule

  Four: Instruction

  Five: Purposeful Behavior

  Six: Why Are You Crying Now?

  Seven: Orange Court’s Welcome

  Eight: A Touch of Friendship

  Nine: Friends Sublime

  Ten: That Little Stability

  Eleven: Tumbling Down

  Twelve: Except in Fond Review

  Part Two

  Thirteen: On Her Own

  Fourteen: No Paper, No Pens

  Fifteen: Servants of Greenbank

  Sixteen: An Orphan’s Tale

  Seventeen: What Is Left

  Eighteen: The Moment

  Nineteen: A Second Journey

  Twenty: Compassion in the Particular

  Twenty-One: The Best She Could Hope For

  Twenty-Two: Thousands Await

  Twenty-Three: To Ask for More

  Twenty-Four: Polishing the Soul

  Twenty-Five: Thwarted Ambition

  Twenty-Six: To Be Miss-Dixed

  Twenty-Seven: To Absorb the Goodness

  Part Three

  Twenty-Eight: Battle Preparations

  Twenty-Nine: Praying a Grant of Land

  Thirty: A Change of Fortune

  Thirty-One: Hooked

  Thirty-Two: Compromise

  Thirty-Three: Lessons of Loss

  Thirty-Four: Men in Hi
gh Places

  Thirty-Five: The Bridge

  Thirty-Six: Acceptance and Reward


  Readers Guide

  Author Interview


  Cast of Characters

  Dorothea Dix New England child of the 1800s

  Charles and Joseph Dix Dorothea’s younger brothers

  Madam Dix Dorothea’s grandmother

  Joseph and Mary Dix Dorothea’s parents

  Sarah and Mary Fiske Dorothea’s aunt and cousin

  Anne Heath and the Fesser Family Dorothea’s friends

  William Ellery Channing pastor of Federal Street Church in Boston

  Elizabeth Channing Channing’s wife, friend and supporter of Dorothea

  Sarah Gibbs Channing’s sister-in-law, friend and supporter of Dorothea

  George Emerson educator and friend of Dorothea

  Horace Mann educator, legislator, supporter of Dorothea

  Samuel Howe director of the School for the Blind, legislator

  Elizabeth and William Rathbone Dorothea’s English friends

  Thaddeus Harris Dorothea’s uncle

  Marianna Davenport Dix Cutter Dorothea’s cousin

  Grace Cutter Dorothea’s cousin

  John and Jane Bell Tennessee senator and his wife

  James and Sarah Polk president and first lady

  John Adams Dix legislator during Dorothea’s campaign

  Abram Simmons an incarcerated person relieved of his reason

  Millard Fillmore vice president and president of the United States, friend and supporter of Dorothea’s work

  Abigail and Abby Fillmore first lady and daughter of Millard Fillmore

  Cyrus Butler industrialist and philanthropist

  *Madeleine a mentally ill woman cared for by her brother

  *Charles a child in need of mental health care in Scotland

  * representative of patients Dorothea encountered

  If I am cold, they are cold; if I am weary, they are distressed; if I am alone, they are abandoned.


  Give me one glorious ambition for my life To know and follow hard after You



  As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

  MATTHEW 25:40


  Like Orphans in the Chaos


  “I’m going to take care of us, so please don’t cry.” Dorothea thumbed the tears from her brother’s blue-gray eyes, eyes the color of her own. “I’ll make it better.” He nodded, uncertain, she could tell.

  The cold air, as stinging as finger slaps, bit at Dorothea’s face as she waved one last time at her four-year-old brother, Charles, then pushed the door closed behind her and entered the Massachusetts dawn.

  After two hours of walking, hoping the rain would stop, she shivered and her teeth chattered. Maybe this wasn’t such a good plan. It was forty miles to Orange Court, their grandmother’s house. A blast of wind rattled the elm trees and jerked late-clinging weeds from their branches, a few jabbing her already numb face. The snow-speckled grass proved better for walking, so she paralleled the muddy cart trail whenever she could. Eight miles passed before she came to a small village. No one asked about a child trudging along alone. No one noticed a shivery child. Not even the smith hammering at his forge raised his eyes as she halted briefly, warming her hands, smelling the hot metal as it singed and spattered in the water. People tended to their own lives, not worrying over wayward children.

  She had eight more miles to go before reaching a stage that could take her the next thirty miles or so to Boston. She knew the way. She’d taken coins from her father while he slept, just enough to get her to the city. Her ankles ached, and her feet were as stiff as hammers. Outside the village, she slipped in the mud, her thin-soled shoes caked with greasy earth. She twisted to catch her balance and couldn’t and landed hard on her bottom. The rain gained force and pelted down, turning to snow, the white flakes silent as death. Why should she get up? Would it be so bad to escape into the cold of nothingness, forget this challenge of being alive and rescuing her brother? The cold could simply rock her to sleep.

  A crow caw-cawed above her. Charles loved to watch the crows. For you, Charles. I’ll keep going for you. She dragged herself onward toward the goal, praying she walked the right path.

  “What do you want?” The woman’s eyes searched behind Dorothea, then back to her. “We’ve no need of rags to buy. And if we did, that would happen at the kitchen.” She began to close the heavy mahogany door. Dusk hovered at the eaves. This was the second day of Dorothea’s escape, and she had walked the last few miles in the snow beneath a pewter sky.

  Dorothea thought she remembered the woman as the housekeeper, but it had been a few years since her last visit. “Please. I’d like to see Madam Dix.”

  “Madam Dix has no time for urchins.”

  “My name is Dorothea Dix. I’m her granddaughter.”

  “What?” The woman squinted. Dorothea hoped she could see the same high forehead, the firm chin that her grandfather said she had gained from her grandmother. Perhaps her enunciation, clear and precise, would remind her of Madam Dix.

  “Please. I’ve come all the way from Worcester. I’ve been here before, with my parents, Joseph and Mary Dix. I know where the library is, where the clock sits in the hall.”

  The woman frowned. “Clock’s been moved.”

  “My chin. It’s a Lynde chin, my grandmother’s.” She touched her dirty gloves to her face. “See?”

  The woman pressed her lips together and scowled. “Go around to the kitchen. I’ll see if Madam Dix is willing to receive you.”

  Dorothea pulled her cloak around her neck and walked to the side of the brick mansion, across the snow-covered lawn, past the marble statues that marked the entrance to the garden that harbored the Dix pear tree, her grandfather’s pride and joy. Before her grandfather’s death, her family had come here when they had no food or lacked money for wood or had burned their last candles. They’d throw themselves on her grandfather’s mercy, asking for assistance, insisting that this time would surely be the last. For a few days there would be comfort and hours in the library and warm food when one was hungry. But soon they’d be on their way to whatever temporary housing arrangement her grandparents could make for her father and his family.

  Her father might have been successful once. He’d trained at Harvard. But he lacked “ambition,” she heard her grandmother tell her father, Dorothea’s face hot from hearing her father chastised. He’d even swapped land in Vermont for books. “Land,” her grandmother said in disgust when she heard this, “is where wealth is.” It was only because her parents had imposed themselves on friends in Worcester that she was close enough to get to her grandmother’s. Then two evenings ago, when her parents failed to notice how the “friend” let his fat fingers linger hot on Dorothea’s shoulder while he praised her “pretty face” or spoke of how “mature and graceful” she was for one merely twelve, his eyes like a wolf’s, his smile a licked lip, she had made her decision.

  The kitchen door opened and the cook, a smile on her face, introduced herself as “Mehetable Hathorne. Call me Cookie,” and motioned her inside. Dorothea saw the back of the housekeeper and she said “thank you” loud enough for the departing woman to hear. At least she was inside. Whether she would be allowed to stay, whether she could convince her grandmother to send for her brother and parents, that would be up to Dorothea’s persuasive ways. She was inside Orange Court! Half the battle won.

  “Where are your parents?” Dorothea’s grandmother stood before her, black cap tied beneath her chin, her hands over a hickory stick she used as a cane. She was not much taller than Dorothea. “And Charles?”

  “In Worcester. With friends. It’s … it’s not good there, Grandmamma. Not good at home either. Papa’s … consuming again, and Mothe
r is … sleepy and when she wakes, she’s … wild-eyed and unpredictable. Or she doesn’t seem to know Charles and I are even there. I have to cook and clean the sheets and wash his clothes and—”

  “Complaints are unbecoming.” The older woman’s jaw set hard like the flat irons on the shelf behind her. The scent of onions cooking at the kitchen hearth brought water to Dorothea’s mouth. Cookie bent to her work as though she were alone in the room.

  “ ’Tis not a complaint, Grandmamma, but bold truth. You always told me to tell the truth.”

  Her grandmother tapped her hand on the cane. “Take off that wet cloak and cap, Dorothea.” The girl complied and pulled a knot of her thick chestnut hair behind her ear. “How did you get here, anyway?”

  “I walked. And took the stage partway.”

  “Indeed. Well, what would you have me do then? I’m an old woman with limited resources. I can’t take you all on.”

  “Take in Charles and me, then. We could bring in wood for you … and cook.” She glanced at the cook’s back. “I’d look after Charles. He’s a bright boy, interested in many things.” A knot worked in her throat as she thought of her parents and how quickly she had stopped pleading for them. “We’d be no trouble, really, we wouldn’t. And you’d have … companionship.” Her grandmother only snorted. “If you took us all in, maybe Papa could help fix the shutters and he could look after Mama—”

  “Companionship you say? What need have I with the companionship of undisciplined children?”

  “There’ll be a third.” Dorothea dropped her eyes as she spoke. “It’s imperative that you help us now.”

  “Imperative!” the older woman grunted.

  Dorothea wasn’t sure if it was the idea that she had spoken indirectly of a pregnancy that distressed her grandmother or if the thought of yet another mouth to worry over in her second son’s life caused the woman to now purse her lips. It was Dorothea’s strongest argument—the safe arrival of another Dix. They’d need the refuge of her grandmother’s large home in Boston if they were all going to survive, especially a baby. Couldn’t her grandmother see the logic in that?