|"Father of American Psychiatry"
Benjamin Rush, the "father of American psychiatry," was
the first to believe that mental illness is a disease of the
mind and not a "possession of demons." His classic
work, Observations and Inquiries upon the Diseases of the
published in 1812, was the first psychiatric textbook printed
in the United States. Rush served on the Pennsylvania Hospital
medical staff from 1783 until the time of his death in 1813.
Rush graduated from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in
1766. In 1768, he went to London and Paris and returned to Philadelphia
in 1769 and at once established himself in the practice of medicine.
He also served as Resident Port-Physician, Fleet Surgeon of the
Pennsylvania Navy and was appointed Physician General of the
Military Hospital of the Middle Department, American Army, 1777.
He served as the President of the American Society for the Abolition
of Slavery; President of the Philadelphia Medical Society, and
was a Fellow of the College of Physicians.
He was elected to the Chair of Institutes, Medical and Clinical
Practice of the University of Pennsylvania in 1791 where he is
known to have told his students: "Attend the poor, they
are your best patients, God is their paymaster."
Benjamin Rush designed two mechanical contrivances to aid in
the treatment of the insane. The belief at the time was that "madness" was
an arterial disease, an inflammation of the brain. Pictured here
is the "tranquilizing chair" in which patients were
confined. The chair was supposed to control the flow of blood
toward the brain and, by lessening muscular action or reducing
motor activity, reduced the force and frequency of the pulse.
Both of Rush's devices were supposed to exert an influence in
some way to circulation, which was believed to be essential to
the successful treatment of the insane. In actuality, they did
neither harm nor good.
Rush also believed strongly in bleeding and purging patients
to cure diseases. This belief caused a schism in the local medical
community during the Yellow Fever outbreaks. Dr. Philip Syng
Physick supported Rush's belief and when both contracted yellow
fever during the epidemic of 1793, Rush bled himself and his
friend. Both men recovered, though we know today that the bleeding
played no part in their survival.
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