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Roots of American Psychiatry Lie Deep in Philadelphia’s Soil
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 4 page 13-13
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APA members dedicate a plaque on the grave of Benjamin Rush in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia in 1965.

Rush began his medical education in the newly formed medical department of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania). Later he joined the college as America’s first professor of chemistry and eventually became a professor of medicine. The portraits of Rush and the other three original professors hang today in the mezzanine of the John Morgan Building at the medical center.

Rush vigorously supported the American Revolution and was one of five physician signers of the Declaration of Independence, according to Medical Landmarks USA, by Martin Lipp, M.D. During the war with Britain, Rush became surgeon general of the Continental Army. He also founded the first free medical clinic for the poor in the United States, a society to abolish slavery, and the nation’s first organization to rehabilitate felons.

A man ahead of his times, Rush believed that improving the physical health of the world would improve mental health as well. For 30 years, Rush studied and treated the mentally ill, which led to his famous book Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind, published in 1813.

Rush also helped found the College of Physicians in Philadelphia in 1787 at 19 South 22nd Street. The college took positions on public health issues to influence legislation and public opinion. Famous members have included Samuel David Gross, Silas Weir Mitchell, and William Osler. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The highlights include the Hall of Portraits on the second floor and the library’s rare editions of books by Hippocrates, Celus, Vesalius, Morgagni, and Harvey, as well as medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The college’s Mutter Museum hosts a vast collection of pathological specimens including over 100 human skulls and 100 intricate wax models of the human eye. The instrument collection includes Benjamin Rush’s medicine chest, a Laennec stethoscope, a Helmholtz ophthalmoscope, and one of Lister’s carbolic-spray devices.

Another prominent Philadelphia native, Thomas Kirkbride, M.D., was instrumental in founding the American Psychiatric Association. As chief physician and superintendent of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the psychiatric hospital affiliated with the Pennsylvania Hospital, Kirkbride gathered 12 other hospital superintendents together in 1844 and formed the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, now APA. Kirkbride is best remembered as a superb planner and administrator who pioneered designs of mental hospitals in the United States.

In 1998 the Institute was sold to Philadelphia-based CoreCare Systems Inc., a provider of behavioral health care services, and renamed the Kirkbride Center.

Kirkbride and another APA founder, Pliny Earle, M.D., along with Isaac Ray, M.D., the father of forensic psychiatry, trained at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. Founded by the Quakers in 1813, it was the first private psychiatric institution in the nation and used the Moral Treatment approach rather than chains and corporal punishment, which were the preferred "treatments" of the time. Friends Hospital is still in operation today and not open to the public.

Here are other historical medical institutions that are worth a visit:

The Library Company, 1314 Locust Street, (215) 546-3181. Established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, the company has the largest collection of 17th- and 18th-century medical books in North America, including the personal library of Benjamin Rush. Open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Pennsylvania Hospital, Eighth and Spruce streets, (215) 829-3000. The colonies’ first hospital, founded in 1751, includes a surgical amphitheater, nursing museum, and the Physick Garden, named after Phillip Physick, the father of American surgery. Information about walking tours is available from the hospital’s Marketing Services Division.

Medical College of Pennsylvania, 3300 Henry Avenue, (215) 842-4000. Incorporated in 1850 as the first Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the main attraction is the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine. Tour information is available from the Student Affairs Office.

Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Sciences, Woodland Avenue at 43rd Street, (215) 596-8800. Founded in 1812, it is the oldest pharmacy college in the United States. Graduates include Eli Lilly and John Wyeth. Information on touring the vast pharmacy collection can be obtained from the college’s public relations department.

Temple University School of Dentistry, 3223 North Broad Street, (215) 221-2799. Founded in 1863, it is the nation’s second oldest dental college. The university’s dental museum is enormous and among the best. Additional information is available by contacting the visual education department at (215) 221-2816. ▪

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APA members dedicate a plaque on the grave of Benjamin Rush in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia in 1965.

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