One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix by Jane Kirkpatrick

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

Yearning to fulfill her God-given purpose, Dorothea finds she has a gift for teaching and writing. Her pupils become a kind of family, hearts to nurture, but long bouts of illness end her teaching and Dorothea is adrift again. It’s an unexpected visit to a prison housing the mentally ill that ignites an unending fire in Dorothea’s heart—and sets her on a journey that will take her across the nation, into the halls of the Capitol, befriending presidents and lawmakers, always fighting to relieve the suffering of what Scripture deems, the least of these.

In bringing nineteenth-century, historical reformer Dorothea Dix to life, author Jane Kirkpatrick combines historical accuracy with the gripping narrative of a woman who recognized suffering when others turned away, and the call she heeded to change the world.

(Summary from back cover of book).

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Jane Kirkpatrick is a favorite author for the simple reason she researches and writes well.  When a writer cites a historical fact or refers to people or places in a time period, I often check for accuracy.  I have never found Jane to be lacking in accuracy in any of her books.

One Glorious Ambition brings alive the history of mental illness and its caregivers through the story of Dorothea Dix.  Today we are still struggling to make sure the proper care and treatment for those suffering from mental illness, and yet what we offer is far better than what Dix met as she travelled this country in search of support for her efforts.

Dix’s story is gripping and Kirkpatrick draws you in immediately with a scene that is heartbreaking. The year is 1814, and Dorothea is walking two hours through a cold rain to reach their grandmother’s home. Dorothea’s father makes too little to provide for his family.  Dorothea’s mother is pregnant and not well, there is a younger brother, and they desperately need help. Kirkpatrick entitles the chapter “Like Orphans in Chaos.”  And chaos it is.

Her character development of the child Dorothea shines with the determination that will serve the adult Dorothea well in her campaign for the mentally ill years later.  Scenes are gripping with detail of the needs of this family and the want among them.  It soon is obvious that Dorothea’s mother herself is likely mentally ill.  The grandmother refuses help and sends Dorothea home feeling as if she is failed.  At this point, I could not put the book down.

Throughout the writing in One Glorious Ambition, the reader gets the sense that Dorothea has been gifted with intelligence and motivation, and as a 15-year old this is underscored when she begins a school for children.  Her students love her and she teaches them well.  Another talent that will make her days of pushing through governmental red tape easier to bear.

Although she gives over her life to work for conditions and treatment for the mentally ill, Dorothea never stops wondering what it would be like to be loved, to have a family of her own to care for and raise.  And yet, love never comes her way.  But this deficiency in her life makes no impact on her decision to be a voice for the people who cannot make themselves known or heard.

Often it seems she lacks confidence in the vocation she has chosen for herself, but she is never inclined to give up.  In fact, Dorothea works so hard she often is quite ill and in need of care herself.  Kirkpatrick’s character development in Dorothea’s role is meticulous and the relationship between characters has just enough tension to make scenes enticing and exciting.  The author pushes the reader along with this use of tension.

One Glorious Ambition is another in a long line of Jane Kirkpatrick books which held my attention, revealed a story in our country I was not familiar with, and introduced me yet again to a female character in our country’s history who stands tall despite her flagging confidence and her own physical and financial circumstances.

I can honestly say that I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories of women in our country’s history, and the history of mental health care in the U.S.

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Jane Kirkpatrick with her dogs (image from her site)

Jane Kirkpatrick with her dogs (image from her site)

To learn more about Jane Kirkpatrick and her books, please visit her web site.


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