Benjamin Rush was born in 1745 in Byberry, Pennsylvania, approximately twelve miles from Philadelphia, where he died in 1813. In 1761, Rush began a medical apprenticeship with a distinguished physician, Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia, and he completed his training at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied with William Cullen and was exposed to the philosophies of the Enlightenment. Upon obtaining his degree, Rush returned to Philadelphia in 1769 and became a professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia's medical school, where he instructed approximately three thousand American students between 1779 and 1812. Being very determined to advance the human condition, Rush formed the first dispensary for medical relief for the poor in the United States. Later in his life, he focused on diseases of the mind. He approached mental illness as a disease as significant as those that attacked the body. While his theory of causation was representative of the limitations of medical theory of the time, his advocacy of humane facilities, his use of occupational therapy, and his belief that mental illness could be understood through systematic study have led him to become known as the father of American psychiatry.
At times, Rush found himself embroiled in controversy. During a yellow fever epidemic that raged through Philadelphia in 1793, Rush advocated numerous and generous bloodlettings, which many of his colleagues viewed as extreme and dangerous.
During the American Revolution, Rush served as surgeon general of the Continental army. He deplored the squalid conditions of the encampments and, undiplomatically, blamed George Washington for their condition. Rush advocated personal cleanliness, a better diet, and resisting the temptation of distilled liquors, accurately identifying the health-related hazards of whisky and gin. After the war, Rush led the campaign to tax whiskey and use the tax money to finance the new government of the United States.
Rush's seminal works include: A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (1770); Directions for the Preserving the Health of Soldiers (1778); An Enquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society (1784); and Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the Disease of the Mind (1812).
Binger, C. (1966). Revolutionary Doctor Benjamin Rush, 1746–1813. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Farr, C. B. (1994). "Benjamin Rush and American Psychiatry." American Journal of Psychiatry 151(6):64–73.
King, L. S. (1991). Transformations in American Medicine: From Benjamin Rush to William Osler. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.