Skip to Main Content

Benjamin Rush Portal

A new way to explore Dr. Rush: Founding Father, Declaration of Independence Signer, Revolutionary War Surgeon General, Mental Health & Addiction Innovator, founder of Dickinson & Penn Med, & savior of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

A Rush-Curious Collaboration

Inspired by “Rush: Revolution, Madness & the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father” by Stephen Fried (UPenn Class of 1979)

Rush: Revolution, Madness & the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried


  • UPenn Libraries: Biotech Commons & Kislak Special Collections
  • Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Massachusetts Historical Society: Lyman Butterfield Collection
  • Duke University Special Collections
  • Princeton University Press
  • Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries
  • American Philosophical Society
  • College of Physicians
  • Founding Content Creators: Barbara Cavanaugh, Mitch Fraas, Stephen Fried
  • Founding Designer: Yen Ho

Rush Brief Timeline (1746-1813)

1745: Born on Christmas Eve in Byberry, Philadelphia 

1760: Graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) 

1761: Became an apprentice to Dr. John Redman

1766: Studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh

1768: Met Benjamin Franklin in London; Franklin opened doors for him there--with medical, literacy and political figures

  • Franklin financed his trip to Paris where Rush met with medical, literacy and political figures

1769: Returned to Philadelphia, and was officially named the first professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia

1773: Co-wrote, with other members of the Philadelphia "Sons of Liberty," the anti-tea tax broadside that inspires the Boston Tea Party

1774: Met John Adams who became his lifelong friend; he also met Samuel Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and other future founders at the 1st Continental Congress

1775: Met Thomas Paine whom he convinced to write "Common Sense"

  • Met Thomas Jefferson during the 2nd Congressional Congress

1776: Married Julia Stockton, daughter of Richard Stockton, another signer of the Declaration of Independence

  • Elected to the 2nd Congressional Congress at age 30 to represent Pennsylvania
  • Signed the Declaration of Independence

1777: Appointed Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army

1778: Resigned from his post by Congress

1782: Established Dickinson College

1783: Joined the staff at the Pennsylvania Hospital

1787: Helped establish the first American medical society, the College of Physicians

  • Put in charge of the care of patients with mental illness and addiction, who were treated in the locked basement of Pennsylvania Hospital
  • Helped Franklin reinvigorate the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, the first in the nation that was started by Anthony Benezet in 1774

1791: Taught at the new University of Pennsylvania after the old College of Philadelphia was closed; Penn was merged with the University of the State of Pennsylvania

1793: Remained in Philadelphia to cure his patients from yellow fever

1803: Was a medical consultant to Meriwether Lewis for his expedition with William Clark

1810: Devised his most famous-- and in some corners infamous-- treatment device, the Tranquilizer Chair

1813: Died on April 13 from typhus 

Medical Inquiries and Observations

"Benjamin Rush was a bestselling author, and one of the first writers from the United States whose books and pamphlets were read in Europe. Instead of giving his medical books different titles, he published his voluminous writings on 'physic' under the umbrella title 'Medical Inquiries and Observations'—and reissued that collection five different times between 1789 and his death in 1813.

This has caused some confusion among scholars and footnoters, especially since, as his opinions on certain things changed, parts of the books changed—which can’t be captured or analyzed by relying on the volumes published after his death. Until someone undertakes a critical edition of Medical Inquiries (as has been done with his autobiography), keep in mind which edition was in print during different periods of his life.

Only his very last (and most important book) has a somewhat different title: Medical Inquires and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind." 

-Stephen Fried

Rush's Publication Timeline

1772- Sermon to Gentlemen Upon Temperance and Exercise

1773- An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, Upon Slave-Keeping

1774- An Oration... Containing, an Enquiry into the Natural History of Medicine Among the Indians in North-America...

1777- Directions for Preserving the Health of Soldiers

1784- An Enquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and their Influences upon the Happiness of Society

1786- An Enquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes on the Moral Faculty

1786- A Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools and the Diffusion of Knowledge in Pennsylvania; To Which Are Added Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic

1786- An Account of the Late Dr. Hugh Martin's Cancer Powder, with Brief Observations on Cancers

  • Hugh Martin, a former student to Rush, was a surgeon at Fort Pitt during the war. Rush tried to learn about Martin's cancer power that came from an Indian vegetable remedy.

1787- An Enquiry into the Effects of Public Punishments upon Criminals, and upon Society

1787- Paradise of the Negro Slaves—A Dream

1793- An plan of a Peace-Office for the United States

  • Featured in the "Essays: Literary, Moral and Philosophical" 

1794- An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever, as it Appeared in the City of Philadelphia, in the year 1793

  • This publication was a standalone of the Medical Inquiries and Observations series; it was the 3rd edition of it

1796- An Eulogium upon David Rittenhouse

  • David Rittenhouse was an astronomer and Rush's longtime scientific colleague. Rush viewed Rittenhouse "as a 'man of immense genius... modest, amiable, just, a friend of liberty, a true republican.'" (Rush, 384)

1798- Essays: Literary, Moral and Philosophical

1799- Observations Intended to Favour a Supposition That the Black Color (As It Is Called) of the Negroes Is Derived from the Leprosy

1811- Sixteen Introductory Lectures, to Courses of Lectures Upon the Institutes and Practice of Medicine 

1812- Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind