Rush, Benjamin

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Rush, Benjamin

Benjamin Rush, 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 Congress (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 (which had absorbed 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, was a founder of the first American antislavery society, and was the driving force in the founding of Dickinson College. 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); biography by D. F. Hawke (1971).

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