Benjamin Rush’s Ferment: Enlightenment Medicine and Female Citizenship in Revolutionary America

  • Sarah Knott


Atlantic history has yet to make Enlightenment a key subject of analysis. Certainly some of the cold war Atlanticists built their thesis of a liberal ‘Atlantic civilization’ in part on the backs of the philosophes. Their lumières generated a certain uniformity of ideas in rejecting tradition and espousing freedom, equality and natural rights.1 But as the Atlantic paradigm has become not just white, but also black and even green (the Irish contribution), its concerns have been characterised less by the movement of ideas than by that of people: ‘traders, settlers, and migrants’ to use the terms of one recent introduction to the British Atlantic world. To the extent that ideas are under scrutiny, they are treated largely as a way of getting to identity, whether as religion, gender, class, or race.2


American Philosophical Society Federal Constitution American Revolution Moral Faculty Atlantic World 
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  1. 2.
    David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick (eds), The British Atlantic World, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 1. A powerful exception to this focussing on Spain and Spanish America is Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), xi; Mary Catherine Moran, ‘The Progress of Women’ History Workshop Journal, 59 (2005). Turgot quoted in Joyce Appleby, ‘Recovering America’s Historic Diversity: Beyond Exceptionalism’, Journal of American History 79 (1992), 419. One literary approach has been to equate American Enlightenment and Revolution: Robert A. Ferguson, ‘The American Enlightenment, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+)’, in Sacvan Bercovitch (ed.), The Cambridge History of American Literature. Volume 1 ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+). My thanks to Mary Catherine Moran for generously sharing her essay with me before publication.Google Scholar
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    Helen Brock, ‘North America, a Western Outpost of European Medicine’, in Andrew Cunningham and Roger French (eds), The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth-Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 194–216; D.C. Brunton, ‘The Transfer of Medical Education; Teaching at the Edinburgh and Philadelphia Medical Schools’, in Richard B. Sher and Jeffrey R. Smitten (eds), Scotland and America in the Age of the Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+); Jane Rendall, ‘The Influence of the Edinburgh Medical School on America in the Eighteenth Century’ in R.G.W. Anderson and A.D.C. Simpson (eds.), The Early Years of the Edinburgh Medical School (Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1976), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+). Historical Society of Pennsylvania (hereafter HSP), Gratz Collection, American Physicians, case 1, William Cullen to John Morgan, 10 Sept. 1768.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Christopher Lawrence, ‘The Nervous System and Society in the Scottish Enlightenment’, in Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin (eds), Natural Order: Historical Studies of Scientific Culture (London: Sage, 1979), pp. 19–40. HSP, Logan Family Papers, George Logan to Charles Logan, 2 March 1778. Cullen quoted in W.F. Bynum, ‘Cullen and the Nervous System’, in A. Doig, J.P.S. Ferguson, I.A. Milne and R. Passmore (eds), William Cullen and the Eighteenth Century Medical World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), p. 152.Google Scholar
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    George W. Corner, Two Centuries of Medicine. A History of the School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965); Whitfield J. Bell, ‘Philadelphia Medical Students in Europe, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+)’, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 107 (1943), ([0-9])–([0-9])0.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Carl Binger, Revolutionary Doctor: Benjamin Rush, ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1966).Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    John Bach McMaster and Frederick D. Stone (eds), Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1888, reprinted 2 vols, New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), ii, 642, 675, 677, 682.Google Scholar
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    Lester S. King, Transformations in American Medicine: From Benjamin Rush to William Osler (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1991); Richard Harrison Shryock, Medicine and Society in America: ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+) (New York: New York University, 1960), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+). Brunonianism shows that these developments were not without Scottish precedent, but Rush’s particular claims for the vascular system and for the primary panacea of bloodletting were essentially unique to himself: Roy Porter, ‘Brunonian Psychiatry’, in W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds), Brunonianism in Britain and Europe (London: Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 1988), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+).Google Scholar
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    George W. Corner (ed), The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), p. 89; HSP, Rush Papers, ‘Introductory Lecture to a Course of Lectures upon the Theory & Practice of Physic … Nov 2 1789’, pp. 28, 41, 34. On the medical environmentalism of Enlightenment, see L.J. Jordanova, ‘Earth Science and Environmental Medicine: The Synthesis of the Late Enlightenment’, in L.J. Jordanova and Roy Porter (eds), Images of the Earth: Essays in the History of the Environmental Sciences (Chalfont St. Giles: British Society for the History of Science Monographs, 1979), pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+).Google Scholar
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    John Gregory, Lectures on the Duties of and Qualifications of a Physician (2nd edn, London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1772), p. 77; Eric T. Carlson, Jeffrey L. Wollock and Patricia S. Noel (eds), Benjamin Rush’s Lectures on the Mind (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1981), pp. 404, 407 (hereafter LOM).Google Scholar
  11. 39.
    Margaret A. Nash, ‘Rethinking Republican Motherhood: Benjamin Rush and the Young Ladies Academy of Philadelphia’, Journal of the Early Republic 17 (1997), 171–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Sarah Knott 2005

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  • Sarah Knott

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