Author Stephen Fried visited the Northeast Philadelphia History Network at Pennepack Baptist Church last week to discuss his new book, Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father.
Benjamin Rush was a founding father who originated from Northeast Philadelphia — his birthplace is at 3601 Red Lion Road. Known to many as the founding father of American mental health care, he served as a doctor and civic leader during and after the American Revolutionary War.
Despite leaving his mark on history, Fried said, there’s very little writing on him.
“A lot of the reason why we don’t know very much about Benjamin Rush is not only because he had a bad publicist, but because in fact John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did everything they could to suppress the most interesting parts of Rush’s story,” Fried said.
Much of Fried’s discussion and the book explores the political climate amongst the founding fathers, including why the second and third presidents of the United States went to great lengths to suppress his writing. He also encouraged the audience to hiss at Alexander Hamilton, who clashed with Rush for much of their careers.
“I know it’s counterintuitive for those who may have seen the show, but please hiss at Alexander Hamilton,” Fried joked as several members of the audience complied.
Fried credited Rush, who was born in 1745, for training “the first 3,000 doctors in the United States” and characterized him with his abnormally large forehead.
“It was like ideas were bursting out of his head,” Fried joked.
Many of Rush’s medical treatment methods on the battlefield weren’t pretty, involving a lot of amputation, bloodletting and purging.
“With Rush you get an eyewitness to so many things in history that he was not only there for but wrote very engagingly about,” Fried said.
He described Rush’s writing as an extra camera that was running during the American Revolution – one that never got its film developed.
“I hope a lot of people take my book as the beginning to dig into whatever they’re interested in,” Fried said. “I encourage Philadelphians to have the same passion for Benjamin Rush as they have for Benjamin Franklin.”
After the discussion and answering questions, Fried signed copies of his book. His career started as a journalist, where he wrote for and served as the editor for Philadelphia magazine. He published several other books, including works on drugs, mental illness and addiction and Fred Harvey. He can be found on Twitter @Stephen_Fried or his website StephenFried.com. Rush is available where books are sold.
NEPHN meets the first Wednesday of every month at Pennepack Baptist Church, 8731 Krewstown Road. ••