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The other Benjamin

When you think of the name “Benjamin,” in the context of the American Revolution, more than likely you picture a portly, balding fellow with bifocals, standing out in a thunderstorm and flying a kite.

But I bet you didn’t you know there was also another “Benjamin” during this period who also played a big part in the founding of our country. His name was Benjamin Rush, and he’s one of the “Founding Fathers” – so to speak – of modern medicine. He was so influential in the history of medicine in our country, in fact, Robert Morris University even named a building after him.

In April 2008, RMU and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences paid tribute this physician and Patriot, when it celebrated the launch of its two new degree programs at a ceremony outside the newly renovated Benjamin Rush Center. Formerly the RMU Admissions Building, the center was renovated to house the Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology and the Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, both launched in the fall of 2007.

Benjamin Rush was born in Byberry Township, near Philadelphia on Dec. 24, 1745. After attending the College of Philadelphia, Rush studied medicine and other disciplines for several years in Europe. When he returned to America in 1769, he began his own private practice and took a position as professor of chemistry at his alma mater. He eventually published the first-ever American chemistry textbook.

In 1776, Rush, a strong supporter of the Patriot cause, was a member of the provincial conference that chose delegates for the Continental Congress. He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Then, in 1777, he was named the surgeon-general of the middle department of Gen. Washington’s Continental Army. Less than a year later, however, Rush resigned from the position due to his dissatisfaction with the administration of military hospitals. He would later serve as treasurer of the U.S. Mint from 1797 to 1813.

Rush was always a popular and well-respected educator, and from 1791 to 1813, he served as professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also a vocal social activist and abolitionist, and supported science education for both men and women. In addition, he dedicated much of his time providing medical care to the poor.

When he died on April 19, 1813, Benjamin Rush was the most well-known and respected physician in the U.S.

Benjamin Franklin may have his face on the $100 bill, but Benjamin Rush has a building on the RMU campus named after him. So in the Battle of the Benjamins, I’d have to call it a tie.

— Valentine Brkich

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