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Benjamin Rush Portal: Rush and Penn Medicine

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Penn Medicine Timeline

  • 1751: A group led by Benjamin Franklin establishes the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Philadelphia.
  • 1755: School is renamed to, "College of Philadelphia"
  • Spring 1765: John Morgan establishes the first medical school in America (known today as Perelman School of Medicine at Penn); William Shippen, Jr. becomes its first professor (Morgan and Shippen argued their entire lives over whether Morgan started the school, or whether they deserve dual credit).
  • August 1, 1769: Rush is officially named the first professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia.
  • 1776: Rush, as a recently elected member of the Continental Congress, joins its medical committee.
  • 1777: Rush publishes a treatise on preventive medicine in the military; soon after named Surgeon General of the Middle Department for the Revolutionary War.
  • 1778: Rush is forced to resign as Surgeon General by his mentor/tormentor William Shippen, Jr. and returns to post-occupation Philadelphia and resumes his medical practice.
  • 1780: Rush begins teaching chemistry again at the College of Philadelphia Medical School.
  • 1783: Rush joins the medical staff at Pennsylvania Hospital.
  • 1789: Rush's American mentor John Morgan dies & Rush becomes the top doctor in Philadelphia, stops lecturing about chemistry, and starts teaching clinical medicine; Publishes the first of many editions of his medical text "Medical Inquiries and Observation".
  • 1791: College of Philadelphia and the University of the State of Pennsylvania combine into the University of Pennsylvania; Rush becomes head of the medical school.
  • 1801: Rush publishes "Six introductory lectures, to courses of lectures, upon the institutes and practice of medicine".
  • 1803: Jefferson was negotiating the Louisiana Purchase and asked Rush to mentor Meriwether Lewis for his expedition with William Clark.
  • November 2, 1807: Rush gives a lecture titled "On the Duty and Advantages of Studying the Diseases of Domestic Animals" at the University of Pennsylvania medical school that will inspire the founding of its School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • January 24, 1811: Rush publishes "Sixteen introductory lectures, to courses of lectures upon the institutes and practice of medicine".
  • 1811: Rush consults with John and Abigail Adams about the treatment of their daughter Nabby's breast cancer.
  • March 27, 1813: Rush conducted his last rounds at the hospital.

Rush's Apprentices

From the beginning of his medical career in the early 1770s, Benjamin Rush had medical apprentices, many of whom went on to be well-known physicians. The best (and so far only) list of his apprentices was published in 1946 by Revolutionary War medical historian James E. Gibson. It’s an important resource to verify who was apprenticed to Rush and who wasn’t because some physicians (or their biographers) have falsely claimed this relationship with the founding father of American medicine.

The most damaging false claim came from posthumous biographers of infamous racist Southern physician Samuel Cartwright, who is often identified as a former student or apprentice to Rush when he was neither; there is no evidence Cartwright ever knew or studied with Rush, nor did he attend Penn. He was, however, a protege of one of Rush’s least favorite and most controversial students, Charles Caldwell who, when he couldn’t get the positions he wanted in Philadelphia, moved to Kentucky and at two different medical schools expounded his appalling racist medical ideas--which were the opposite of Rush’s. For more on this see this 2018 Journal of Southern History paper by Christopher Willoughby.

Rush’s Medical School Lectures

For the first time it is possible to read almost all of Rush’s medical school lectures, as thousands of pages of his hand-written lecture notes have been digitized by Penn for the “For the Health of the New Nation” initiative, an effort organized by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). These notes have not yet been annotated, but below you will find a basic tool to access the more than 200 hand-written volumes. We also provide links to Rush’s sixteen years of Introductory Lectures to the medical school year, in chronological order.


Lecture Title Rush MSS # Date
Lectures on the institutes of physic by William Cullen, M.D., Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh Vol. 93-95
Notes by Benjamin Rush for lectures at the Young Ladies' Academy in Philadelphia Vol. 108 October 1787
Notes by Benjamin Rush on lectures on the practice of physic, began 1/4/1788 Vol. 109 1788-1789
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on the practice of medicine Vol. 110-120 1791
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Therapeuticks sic. Vol. 129-132
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on the Principles of the materia medica. Vol. 133-134
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Pathology: Vol. 143-146
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Pathology Vol. 153-162 1808
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Physiology Vol. 164-168
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Sleep. Vol. 170-172
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Fevers Vol. 192-193
Lecture notes by Benjamin Rush on Fevers Vol. 207-210