Rush, Benjamin

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Rush, Benjamin

Benjamin Rush, a physician, teacher and political activist, is best known for being a member of the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His controversial medical theories showed forward vision on some subjects, but remarkably unenlightened views on others. His confidence in his own judgment led him to question the military strategy of General George Washington.

Rush was born into a strongly religious family on December 24, 1745, in Byberry Township, near Philadelphia. He was educated at a private academy and then sent to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He graduated at age 14 in 1760 and then began the study of medicine. After six years as a medical apprentice in Philadelphia, Rush finished his education at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, where he received his medical degree in 1768. He undertook further training at a hospital in London, England and attended medical lectures in Paris, France, where he made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin. Returning to America in 1769, Rush became, at age 23, a chemistry professor at the medical school that was part of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). In 1770, he began a prolific writing career when he published the first American textbook on chemistry. He also began publishing essays on topics relating to health as well as temperance, Capital Punishment, and Slavery. In 1774, Rush co-founded one of America's first anti-slavery societies.

Rush's prodigious schedule as a physician, teacher, writer, and lecturer did not prevent him from also becoming an ardent political activist. He published numerous tracts on colonial rights and became a member of the provincial confer ence of Pennsylvania. In 1776, Rush was elected to the Continental Congress, the body of delegates that met to create the political roadmap for the American colonies. As a strong advocate of the radical view that the colonies should control their own destinies, Rush was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The proclamation, largely crafted by Thomas Jefferson, was approved on July 4, 1776. In 1777, Rush was appointed Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army. He resigned the appointment early in 1778 because he disagreed with the way the military hospitals were being run by his superior, who retained the support of General Washington. In return, Rush publicly questioned Washington's military judgment, giving brief support to a group who sought to replace Washington with another leader. Rush later expressed regret over his opposition to Washington.

Rush resumed his work as a physician, teacher, and lecturer. In 1783, he helped to found Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and became one of its trustees. In 1786, he founded the Philadelphia Dispensary, a clinic that provided free medical services to poor people. He advocated limitations on the use of alcohol and tobacco, encouraged the use of clinical research and instruction, and advanced proposals for the study of veterinary medicine.

Rush's greatest accomplishments were in the area of mental health. He worked for years with insane patients at the Pennsylvania Hospital and sought humane treatment for them on the theory that insanity could be assuaged by medical treatment. He also deduced that many mental disorders had physical causes. His significant contributions to the study of mental illness and its causes led to Rush's appellation as the "Father of American Psychiatry". While showing considerable enlightenment on the topic of insanity, Rush espoused support for methods of treating physical ailments that were not only controversial, but also often fatal. Rush's approach to pathology was more theoretical than scientific. He was a proponent of bloodletting, purging, and other treatments that usually weakened patients and sometimes killed them.

"I anticipate the Day when to command Respect in the remotest Regions it will be sufficient to say I am an American."
—Benjamin Rush

In 1787, Rush was a member of the Pennsylvania delegation that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Ten years later, in 1797, President John Adams appointed him as Treasurer of the U.S. Mint. Rush retained the position until his death in Philadelphia on April 19, 1813.

Further readings

Barton, David. 1999. Benjamin Rush. Aledo, Tex.: Wallbuilder Press.King, Lester. 1991. Transformations in American Medicine: From Benjamin Rush to William Osler. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hawke, David Freeman. 1971. Benjamin Rush: Revolutionary Gadfly. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merill.

References in periodicals archive ?
While not definitive, these sources strongly suggest that the Virginians were indeed in the mainstream of thought about the role of religion in republican education--neither as radical as Robert Coram nor as conservative as Benjamin Rush, but somewhere in between.
Woods, "The Correspondence of Benjamin Rush and Granville Sharp, 1773-1809.
It's one of America's most fascinating cemeteries, thanks to its colonial residents and other tenants such as Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, and Phillip Syng Physick, the father of modern surgery.
In America, the concept of 'therapeutic horticulture' dates back to 1768, when Benjamin Rush considered that digging the soil had a curative effect on the mentally ill.
Its American champions included prominent physician Benjamin Rush and "health reformers" such as J.
Students at Benjamin Rush Elementary School in the Lake Washington School District walk through nearby wetlands, take digital pictures of plant species, transport them into their color-screened iPaq handheld computers, and sync the handhelds to a computer to research plants on the Internet.
We meet Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the father of American psychiatry (whose image is still on the seal of the American Psychiatric Association).
Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Continental Congress, and the Marquis de Barbe-Marbois, who served as Secretary to the French Legation during the American Revolut ion (Robinson 24).
In 1791 Philadelphian Benjamin Rush published The Drunkard's Emblem, a condemnation of heavy drinking, especially of spirits.
USC basketball, you see, long has played Benjamin Rush to UCLA's Benjamin Franklin.
He was named to Temple's Athletic Hall of Fame and was a recipient of the Benjamin Rush Award from the Philadelphia County Medical Society, given to a non-physician in recognition of outstanding health services.