Benjamin Rush

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Benjamin Rush
Born January 4, 1746
Byberry, PA, United States
Died April 19, 1813
Philadelphia, PA, United States
Nationality American
Occupation Physician, Politician
Known for Father of American Psychiatry

Benjamin Rush (January 4, 1746 [O.S. December 24, 1745] – April 19, 1813) was a Founding Father of the United States, and signer of the U.S. Constitution. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He served as Surgeon General in the Continental army, and was blamed for criticizing the policies of George Washington. Later in life, Rush became a professor of chemistry, medical theory, and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite having a wide influence on the development of American government, he is not as widely known as many of his American contemporaries. Rush was also an early opponent of slavery and capital punishment, both of which were deemed unusually in the 18th century.

Life and Works[edit]

In 1760, Rush began studies at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Rush graduated with a bachelor of arts degree. From 1761 to 1766, Rush apprenticed under Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia. Redman encouraged him to further his studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where Rush studied from 1766 to 1768, where he studied under Dr. William Cullen and earned his medical degree. After returning to the colonies, Rush opened a medical practice in the city of Philadelphia and became Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia (now known as the University of Pennsylvania).

Following the American Revolution Rush became a member of the hospital staff at Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until 1813. In 1812, Dr. Rush published the first textbook on the subject in the United States, 'Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind'. He undertook to classify different forms of mental illness to theorize as to their causes and possible cures. Like many physicians at the time, Rush believed that many mental illnesses were caused by disruptions of the blood circulation, and treated them with devices meant to improve circulation to the brain, such as a restraining chair and a centrifugal spinning board. While Dr. Rush was uncertain what to do clinical for the mentally ill, he knew that chains and dungeons were not the answer. He took patients from that drudgery and placed them in a regular medical hospital setting. For this reason his approach is officially referred to as the 'Moral Therapy'. In honor of his service to the field of mental health care, the American Psychiatric Association uses Dr. Rush's image as part of their seal,as he is often regarding as the father of American Psychiatry, along side that of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride.

Rush pioneered a number of treatment options for the mentally ill, most noteably: Occupational Therapy. Furthermore, Rush was also one of the first people to describe Savant Syndrome. In 1789 he described the abilities of a patient, Thomas Fuller. His observation would later be described in other individuals by notable scientists like John Langdon Down.


  • Letters of Benjamin Rush, volume 1: 1761-1792 (1951), editor L.H. Butterfield, Princeton University Press
  • Essays: Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (1798) Philadelphia: Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1989 reprint: Syracuse University Press, ISBN 0-912756-22-5, includes "A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States"
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush: His "Travels Through Life" Together with his Commonplace Book for 1789-1813, 1970 reprint: Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-8371-3037-9
  • Medical Inquiries And Observations Upon The Diseases Of The Mind, 2006 reprint: Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4286-2669-7.
  • The Spur of Fame: Dialogues of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, 1805-1813 (2001), Liberty Fund, ISBN 0-86597-287-7
  • Benjamin Rush, M.D: A Bibliographic Guide (1996), Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-29823-8
  • An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, Upon Slave-keeping. Philadelphia: Printed by J. Dunlap, 1773.


After dying of typhus fever, he was buried (in Section N67) along with his wife Julia in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, not far from where Benjamin Franklin is buried. At the site, you will see a small plaque honoring Benjamin Rush. However, the box marker is next to the plaque on the right, with inscriptions on the top. The inscription reads,

"In memory of Benjamin Rush MD he died on the 19th of April in the year of our Lord 1813 Aged 68 years Well done good and faithful servant enter thou into the joy of the Lord"

Mrs Julia Rush wife of Benjamin Rush MD Born March 2, 1759 Died July 7, 1848"