College of Physicians

5 of 15

Medicinal Plant Garden

Rush's garden: paved in red brick with numerous plants, shrubs, and trees

© 2003 Nancy Davis

Dr. Benjamin Rush established a garden of medicinal plants such as this one in the dooryard of the College of Physicians.

Not an academic institution but an association of professionals with common interests and objectives, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia was founded by Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1787. Even though the first medical school in the U.S. had been established in 1765 at what was to become the University of Pennsylvania, and although a medical degree from Edinburgh or London was considered the touchstone of legitimacy for Philadelphia physicians, no formal training was in fact required in order to represent oneself as a doctor, and a period of apprenticeship to one so declared was not necessarilty enhanced by formal lectures on "physik."

Therefore, in part, Rush's "Discourse Delivered Before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Feb. 6, 1787, On the Objects of Their Institution," stated:

By assuming the name of a College, we shall 1st, be able to introduce order and dignity into the practice of physic, by establishing incentives and rewards for character. Men are generally anxious to preserve the good opinion of those with whom they are obliged to associate. The reception we shall meet with from each other in our meetings will serve to correct or to improve our conduct. And if we are as chaste as we should be, in the admission of members, a fellowship in our College will become in time, not only the sign of the ability, but an introduction to business and reputation in physic. . . .

3dly. By means of our association, under the title of a College, we shall be better able to attract the attention of the government of our country, in matters that relate to the health and happiness of our fellow citizens. . . .

4thly. By stated meetings as a College, we may promote enquiries and observations upon the prevailing diseases of the city. Here the timid may be encouraged, and the sanguine may be taught to doubt. Here the young practitioner may profit by the experience of the old, and the old by the boldness of enquiry, and modern improvements of the young.

Thus the historic College of Physicians of Philadelphia was in a sense a progenitor of the American Medical Association, an organization devoted to the exchange of medical information and practice. One of the ironies of history is that the author of the statements, Benjamin Rush, had by 1803 withdrawn from the College's membership.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program