Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fatherless Child Story

This child was born in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1745, the fourth child in a family of seven children. His father died when he was six, and so he was sent away to live with his maternal uncle, a Presbyterian minister who had founded a school for children. An exemplary student, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton) at age 15, and then went on to study medicine, first in Philadelphia, and then London.

On the way to London, he became upset at seeing the conditions on dozens of slave ships in Liverpool Harbor. The impression this made on him would color his views and scholarship for the remainder of his lifeAt age 24, he returned to Philadelphia to practice medicine and teach chemistry at Philadelphia College. During this time, he also started writing articles and treatises on politics and in favor of the abolition of slavery, as well as on his scientific theories. These writings brought him to the attention of revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. And so, in 1776, he was appointed as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress.

During the Revolutionary War, he served as Surgeon-General to the Continental Army until a falling out with General Washington ended his military career. He returned to teaching, writing, and practicing medicine, gaining prominence in the field of medicine. He married a young woman with whom he had 13 children, 9 of whom survived infancy.He became a vocal proponent in favor of women's rights, and the rights of those with mental illnesses, as well as an outspoken opponent against the institution of slavery. He also advocated for universal health care and for education for all. He wrote the first American textbook in chemistry, and he tutored Meriwether Lewis to prepare him for the great Corps of Discovery expedition.A deeply religious man, largely because of his maternal uncle's early influence, he disagreed with the concept of separation of church and state -- he believed that Christianity should be a part of public life as well as taught in the schools. He wrote: "The only foundation for a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."While many of his ideas, such as the misguided medical practice of bloodletting, have been proved wrong, his thinking in other ways has been considered to have been ahead of his time.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is that of advocating for the advancement of knowledge in all areas of life, and for our government to work for the benefit of all.Today this child is sometimes called the "father of the public school system". And because of his work as a physician on behalf of those with mental disabilities, he also is considered to be a founder of the field of psychiatry.On the seal of the American Psychiatric Association is a silhouette of that founder. The person it belongs to was human rights advocate and signer of the Declaration of Independence,Benjamin Rush, a boy from a "fatherless home."


Read other stories from the Fatherless Children series:

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