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Benjamin Rush Collections

A pioneering, controversial doctor, chemist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) spent much of his career as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Painted portrait of Benjamin Rush

Collection Overview

Holdings related to Rush in the Kislak Center include a large group of student lecture notes covering medicine and chemistry, as well as other (modern) disciplines including psychology. Also in the collection are letters and printed materials, including a significant number of books and pamphlets. Because of Rush's wide interests and many connections, researchers should note that work by him, and by others about or connected with him, stretch across collections and formats.

Accordion List

After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1759, Rush studied medicine in the 1760s at the College of Philadelphia (now Penn)'s newly-formed School of Medicine. In 1769 he became the first professor of chemistry at the College; Rush's Syllabus of A Course of Lectures on Chemistry (1770) is the first text of its kind published in America. In the 1780s, after the Revolution, Rush practiced medicine in Philadelphia and taught at the university. He was named professor of theory and practice of medicine in 1789. His work during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 proved controversial. In later years Rush also focused attention on diseases of the mind, and his work has important connections to the emerging field of psychology.

The Kislak Center holds over thirty manuscript notebooks made by University of Pennsylvania medical students, from the 1780s through the early nineteenth century. These record the content of lectures delivered by Rush and other faculty. Topics include clinical medicine; chemistry; health and hygiene; and psychology and psychological disorders. These lecture notes are significant records of the dissemination of medical knowledge in the early republic.

Other notebooks containing material from Rush include:

Digitized Collections

The project "For the Health of the New Nation: Philadelphia as the Center of American Medical Education, 1746-1868" has digitized lecture notes, including many related to Rush, from a number of special collections libraries in the Philadelphia area. These materials are available publicly. The project as a whole presents lecture tickets, course schedules, theses, dissertations, student notes, faculty lecture notes, commencement addresses, opening addresses, and matriculation records from Philadelphia in the years 1746-1868.

These holdings include a small number of manuscript items and a larger group of printed works.

Rush's publications suggest the range of topics that engaged his attention during his long career: from his Edinburgh medical dissertation (1768) to later studies on education, political affairs, criminal punishment, medicine, and health.

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