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The Creation of the Nation's First Hospital

Benjamin Franklin

Dr. Thomas Bond

Patient Admission and Regulation

Caring for Some Very Colorful Characters

Pennsylvania Hospital's Influence on the Field of Psychiatry

Dr. Benjamin Rush: "Father of American Psychiatry"

Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Magic Lantern

"Father of American Psychiatry"

Dr. 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 Mind, 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."

Tranquilizing Chair
Dr. 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.

More information on Dr. Benjamin Rush

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