Benjamin Rush Biography

Benjamin Rush, a prominent political leader during the American Revolution, played a crucial role in shaping the United States. As a physician, educator, and writer, he was a key figure of the American Enlightenment period, alongside Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Known for his unwavering belief in freedom and equality, Rush advocated for the abolishment of slavery and supported women’s right to higher education. His dedication to improving public health and hygiene made him highly respected in the medical field, earning him the title of the “Father of American Psychiatry” for his pioneering work in the field. Additionally, Rush actively participated in political affairs, serving as a delegate of the Continental Congress and signing the U.S. Declaration of Independence. His contributions extended beyond medicine, as he also played a role in writing the influential pamphlet “Common Sense” with Thomas Paine. Benjamin Rush’s legacy encompasses both his medical advancements and his commitment to social reform.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 67
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Julia Stockton, father: John Rush, mother: Susanna Rush, children: James Rush, Richard Rush
  • Quotes By Benjamin Rush
  • Political Leaders
  • Died on: April 19, 1813
  • Place of death: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Cause of Death: Typhus Fever
  • U.S. State: Pennsylvania
  • Founder/Co-Founder: American psychiatry, Dickinson College
  • Education: Princeton University, University of Edinburgh

Childhood & Early Life

Benjamin Rush was born in Philadelphia to John Rush and Susanna Harvey. His father was a farmer turned gunsmith who died when Benjamin was just five or six years of age. His mother moved with her children to Philadelphia in 1751 and operated a grocery store to support the family.

Young Benjamin and his brother were sent to live with his uncle, Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, so that they could get a proper education. Under his uncle’s guidance, he attended the Nottingham Academy. He enrolled at the College of New Jersey in 1759 and graduated with an arts degree in 1760 when he was hardly 15.

In 1761, he became an apprentice of Dr. John Redman and studied under him till 1766. During this period, he also got the opportunity to meet eminent physicians like John Morgan and William Shippen, Jr. He went to Scotland in 1766 to pursue his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and earned his Doctor of Medicine in 1768. He spent the rest of the year traveling to hospitals in London and Paris.


He returned to Philadelphia in 1769 and opened a medical practice. He also got appointed as a professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. While holding his teaching job, he wrote several articles on medical issues and published his first textbook on chemistry ‘A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry’. Being a nationalist, he also wrote numerous essays on patriotic issues.

During the early 1770s, he enthusiastically participated in the activities of Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots. He helped Thomas Paine in editing and publishing his seminal pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ which was published anonymously in January 1776. The pamphlet was published during the beginning of the American Revolution and presented a case for seeking freedom from colonial rule.

In July 1776, he was elected as a delegate of the Continental Congress to represent Pennsylvania and he signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence on 2 August 1776. In 1777, he accepted a position as a Surgeon General of the Continental Army and tended to wounded soldiers in the battles. But he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the management of the Army Medical service under Dr. William Shippen which led to a slew of political issues between the two. Disillusioned, he resigned in 1778.

He resumed his teaching career by lecturing at the University of the State of Pennsylvania in 1780. He founded the Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 1783, and Franklin College in Lancaster in 1787. He became a surgeon at the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1784 and served there till his death. He treated patients with psychiatric disorders and campaigned for a more humane treatment of mental patients.

Personal Life & Legacy

He was chosen as the president of the Philadelphia medical society and in 1786 he established the Philadelphia Dispensary to provide free medical care to poor patients. He continued his medical and teaching career till his death in 1813.

Major Works

His book ‘A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry’ (1770) was the first American chemistry textbook. He published another very significant book, ‘Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind’ in 1812 which established him as the “father of American psychiatry”. He was one of the 56 signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He represented Pennsylvania and signed on 2 August 1776. He was an active social reformist who provided free medical care to poor patients, advocated for women’s rights, and founded many colleges to further the cause of higher education.

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Julia Stockton, the daughter of lawyer Richard Stockton, in 1776. The couple had 13 children of whom four died in their infancy. He contracted typhus fever and died in 1813 at the age of 68.

The American Medical Association erected his bronze statue, known as the Rush Monument, on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Museum of Hygiene and Medical School in Washington in 1904 in a gesture to honor his memory. The Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, which he had founded, presents The Benjamin Rush Award to honor outstanding achievement by a member of the business or government community. The first award was given in 1985.


He was fluent in many languages like English, Spanish, French, and Italian. His father-in-law was also a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He was strongly opposed to capital punishment. He was deeply religious and helped found the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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