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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


The Story of the Creation of the Nation's First Hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin "to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia." At the time, Philadelphia was the fastest growing city in the 13 colonies. In 1730, the population numbered 11,500 and had grown to 15,000 by 1750 (the city continued to grow and by 1776, its 40,000 residents made Philadelphia the second largest English-speaking city in the British Empire).

The docks and wharves along the Delaware River teemed with activity as ships bound for foreign ports loaded up with flour, meat and lumber while overseas vessels delivered European-manufactured goods and wines. Foreign visitors noted with envy the city's growing prosperity. Although the majority of the population was neither extremely wealthy nor extremely poor, there was a significant increase in the number of immigrant settlers who were "aged, impotent or diseased."

At the time, colonial America's urban centers were far healthier than their European counterparts. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia region, according to city leaders of the day, was "a melting pot for diseases, where Europeans, Africans and Indians engaged in free exchange of their respective infections." Faced with increasing numbers of the poor who were suffering from physical illness and the increasing numbers of people from all classes suffering from mental illness, civic-minded leaders sought a partial solution to the problem by founding a hospital.

The idea for the hospital originated with Dr. Thomas Bond. Born in Calvert County, Maryland, Bond, a Quaker, moved to Philadelphia as a young man. In 1738, in order to further his medical education, he went abroad to study medicine in London. While in Europe, Bond spent time at the famous French hospital, the Hotel-Dieu in Paris, and became impressed with the continent's new hospital movement. Bond returned to Philadelphia in 1739 and two years later was appointed Port Inspector for Contagious Diseases.

Bond and Benjamin Franklin were long-standing friends. Bond was a member of Franklin's Library Company and helped establish the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Philadelphia, which evolved into the University of Pennsylvania.

Around 1750, Bond "conceived the idea of establishing a hospital in Philadelphia for the reception and cure of poor sick persons." The idea was a novelty on this side of the Atlantic, and when Bond approached Philadelphians for support they asked him what Franklin thought of the idea. Bond hadn't approached his good friend because he thought it was out of Franklin's line of interest, but because of the reaction he received, Bond soon turned to Franklin. After hearing the plan, Franklin became a subscriber and strong supporter. Franklin's backing was enough to convince many others that Bond's projected hospital was worthy of support.

Franklin organized a petition, although not signed by him, bearing 33 names and brought it to the Pennsylvania Assembly on January 20, 1751. The petition stated that although the Pennsylvania Assembly had made many compassionate and charitable provisions for the relief of the poor, a small provincial hospital was necessary. After a second reading on January 28, the petitioners were directed to present the Assembly with a bill to create a hospital. Presented a week later, the bill encouraged the Assembly to establish a hospital "to care for the sick poor of the Province and for the reception and care of lunaticks."

The hospital bill met with some objections from rural members of the Assembly because they thought the hospital would only be serviceable to the city. At this critical juncture, Franklin saved the day with a clever plan to counter the claim by challenging the Assembly that he could prove the populace supported the hospital bill by agreeing to raise 2000 pounds from private citizens. If he was able to raise the funds, Franklin proposed, the Assembly had to match the funds with an additional 2000 pounds. The Assembly agreed to Franklin's plan, thinking his task was impossible, but they were ready to receive the "credit of being charitable without the expense."

Franklin's fundraising effort brought in more than the required amount. The Assembly signed the bill and presented it to Lieutenant Governor James Hamilton for approval. After amending the bill several times, Hamilton signed it into law on May 11, 1751.

From early 1752 until the east wing of the Pine Building opened in 1755 Pennsylvania Hospital was housed in the home of recently deceased John Kinsey, a Quaker and Speaker of the Assembly.

So pleased was Franklin that he later stated: "I do not remember any of my political manoeuvres, the success of which gave me at the time more pleasure..."

To illustrate the purpose of the hospital, the inscription "Take care of him and I will repay thee" was chosen and the image of the Good Samaritan was affixed as the hospital seal.


May 11, 1751

Charter is granted to establish Pennsylvania Hospital.


Temporary hospital established and Elizabeth Gardner, a Quaker widow, is appointed matron.


First patients admitted on February 11.


Hospital's first plot of land purchased from the Penn family.


Benjamin Franklin writes the cornerstone for the east wing of the Pine Building.


The hospital starts admitting patients in the 8th and Pine Streets facility.


Thomas and Richard Penn donate property to give the hospital the entire square between Spruce and Pine Streets and 8th and 9th Streets.


Construction of the second wing of the hospital, the west wing, is completed.


Construction of the third wing, the center section, is completed and the surgical ampitheatre opens.

Related Stories:

Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Thomas Bond
Admission and Regulation of Patients

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