Benjamin Rush

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Benjamin Rush
BirthplaceByberry, Philadelphia County
Physician, writer, educator
Known for Signer of the United States Declaration of Independence

Rush, Benjamin,

1745?–1813, American physician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. Byberry (now part of Philadelphia), Pa., grad. College of New Jersey (now Princeton, 1760), M.D. Univ. of Edinburgh (1768). On his return to America (1769) he became professor of chemistry, the first in the colonies, at the College of Philadelphia. A member of the Continental CongressContinental Congress,
1774–89, federal legislature of the Thirteen Colonies and later of the United States in the American Revolution and under the Articles of Confederation (see Confederation, Articles of).
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 (1776–77), he served for a time in the Continental Army. In 1786 he established in Philadelphia the first free dispensary in the United States. He was a member of the Pennsylvania convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. In 1792 he became professor of the institutes of medicine and clinical practice at the Univ. of Pennsylvania (the successor to the College of Philadelphia), later becoming professor of theory and practice. His reliance upon the bleeding and purging of patients, particularly in the yellow-fever epidemic of 1793 (in which he worked heroically), aroused a bitter controversy. Popular as a teacher, he made notable contributions to psychiatry, viewing mental illness as a disease rather than a moral breakdown. He was also a founder of the first American antislavery society and the driving force in the founding of Dickinson CollegeDickinson College,
at Carlisle, Pa.; coeducational; Methodist; founded 1773 as The Grammar School, chartered and opened as Dickinson College 1783. Chartered as a college primarily through the efforts of Benjamin Rush, it was named for John Dickinson.
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. From 1797 to his death he was treasurer of the U.S. mint at Philadelphia. Rush Medical College, Chicago, now part of Rush Univ., was named for him. His principal writings were Medical Inquiries and Observations (5 vol., 1794–98), Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (1798), and Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (1812).


See his letters (ed. by L. H. Butterfield, 1951); autobiography (ed. by G. W. Corner, 1948); biographies by D. F. Hawke (1971) and S. Fried (2018).

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Rush, Benjamin

(1745–1813) physician, Revolutionary patriot, educator; born in Byberry, Pa. After studying medicine in Philadelphia, he completed his studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (1768). He set up his practice in Philadelphia and taught chemistry at the medical college there; in 1770 he published the first American chemistry text. He also wrote on social and political subjects, and as the American Revolution approached, he attached himself to the patriots; as a member of the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence (1776). During the war, he served only a year as surgeon general of the middle department of the Continental army because he had a dispute with his superior (and former professor), Dr. William Shippen, and he was loosely linked to the Conway Cabal, accused of plotting to replace George Washington. He returned to his practice in Philadelphia but helped lead the fight for Pennsylvania to adopt the new U.S. Constitution; he would serve as the treasurer of the U.S. Mint (1797–1813). Meanwhile, he served on the staff of the Philadelphia Hospital (1783–1813) and would also teach at the University of Pennsylvania (1792–1813). He established the first free clinic in the U.S.A. (1786). He helped found the first antislavery society in the U.S.A. (1803), and was outspoken on other social issues, calling for an end to capital punishment, the reform of education and prisons, and the promotion of temperance. He was also forward-looking in his attitudes toward the treatment of mental illness; his Diseases of the Mind (1812) presaged some of the ideas of modern mental therapeutics. His ideas on the cause of diseases, however, became so exotic as to be dangerous—he believed that all diseases were caused by the "excitability" of blood vessels and could be cured by bloodletting. He published Medical Inquiries and Observations (1789–93) to promote this theory, and when Philadelphia suffered an epidemic of yellow fever in 1793, he put his theory into practice; unfortunately his patients continued to die. This did not stop him from publishing his theories again in An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever.… (1794), in which he actually came closer to the truth when he indicated that unsanitary conditions had also played a role in the epidemic.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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