ON Christmas eve of 1745 a boy was born on a plantation near Philadelphia. He was given the name of Benjamin. His father, a farmer and gunsmith in his spare time, died when his son was only five years of age. Fortunately, the boy's maternal uncle, Samuel Finley, was a prominent educator who took charge of his nephew's studies and in due time sent him to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), of which he was a trustee and subsequently president. When the time came to choose a career, Rush decided upon becoming a doctor, but, after a few additional years of study, arrived at the conclusion that the only place to get an adequate training in medicine was Europe. Accordingly, he got enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he received his medical degree in 1768.
On his return to Philadelphia, Rush opened an office, and his practice began to grow quite fast; shortly afterwards he was given an opportunity to teach chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. Both as a practitioner and teacher, he proved to be very successful, and deservedly so; for he was more interested in his work than in getting material benefits out of it. To the poor he was a sincere benefactor; to the well-to-do, he was the best trained and the most capable physician, not only in the city, but in the whole land. His students, too, found his teaching highly instructive and interestingly presented; this opinion spread and endured, and more students flocked to his classes.
In spite of these high qualifications -- or possibly because of them -- his career was rather rocky, for he was very responsive to human misery, liberal in his convictions, and highly productive of new ideas, all qualities that are often disliked. For instance, he was ardently opposed to slavery and became co-founder, with J. Pemberton, of the first Anti-Slavery Society in America ( 1803). He also recognized the dangers of spreading alcoholism and suggested measures to curb it. He was shocked by the cruelty and irrationality of our penal institutions at the time, called for thorough reforms as well as for abolition of capital punishment,