Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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To Germantown, a Short Appreciation
Seven miles from the heart of Philadelphia, Germantown was once a separate town, the cultural center of Germans in America. Revolutionary battles were fought here, it was briefly the capital of the United States, and it still has an outstanding collection of schools and colleges.

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The first hospital, the first medical school, the first medical society, and abundant Civil War casualties, all combined to establish the most important medical center in the country. It's still the second largest industry in the city.

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City Hall to Chestnut Hill
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Philadelphia Reflections (6)
New topic 2017-02-06 21:23:28 description

Germantown Nurses the Yellow Fever, 1793

{yellow fever Phila}
Yellow Fever, Phila

The French Revolution continued from 1789 to 1799 and created the opportunity for a second revolution in the New World which a second overstretched European country would lose. The slaves of Haiti just about exterminated the white settlers, except for the few who escaped, taking Yellow Fever and Dengue with them. Both diseases are mosquito-borne, so they flare up in the summer and die down in the winter, although the Philadelphians who welcomed the exiles didn't know that. Yellow Fever in Philadelphia was bad in 1793, came back annually for three more years, and flared up once again in 1798. It could be easily observed to be more frequent in the lowlands, absent in the hills. Seasonal, it reached a peak in October, disappeared after the first frost. In the early fall, people died a horrible yellow death, jaundiced and bilious.

{Dr. Rush}
Dr. Rush

The Yellow Fever epidemic had a profound effect on many things. It was one of the major reasons the nation's capital did not remain in Philadelphia. It made the reputation of Dr. Benjamin Rush who announced a highly unfortunate treatment -- bleeding the victims -- thus provoking numerous anti-scientific medical doctrines based on the relative superiority of doing nothing at all. In Latin, Galen had capsulized the doctrine of Hippocrates in the "Epidemics" as premium non-nocere ("At least do no harm.") It took a full century for American scientific medicine to recover from this blow to its reputation. Whatever criticism Rush may deserve for his Yellow Fever blunder, it definitely is not true that he was a scientific lemon. Medical students are regularly surprised to learn that he is the physician who first identified and described the tropical disease of Dengue, or "break-bone fever", which was a somewhat less noticed feature among the Haiti exiles in Philadelphia. In still other scientific circles, Benjamin Rush is often referred to as the "Father of American Psychiatry". He was one of the founders of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest medical society in North America. Medical colleagues who today scoff at the yellow fever episode seem to forget that Rush stayed behind to tend the sick during a devastating epidemic, while many of his more cautious colleagues fled for their lives. An unhesitating signer of the Declaration of Independence, whatever Rush did, he did courageously. Non-academic physicians have sarcastically referred to this episode ever since, as proving that "some people" think it is "better to publish than to perish".

One very good non-medical thing the Yellow Fever epidemic accomplished was to put an abrupt end to the torch-light parades of window-breaking rioters agitating, with Jefferson's approval, for an American version of the guillotine and the terror. Federalists like John Adams and William Bingham never forgave Jefferson or his admirers for this, so the class warfare movement might likely have got much worse if everyone had not suddenly dropped tools, and headed for the hilly safety of Germantown.

The President of the new republic, George Washington, was in Mt. Vernon in the summer of 1793, wondering what to do about the Yellow Fever epidemic, and particularly uncertain what the Constitution empowered him to do. He finally decided to rent rooms in Germantown and called a cabinet meeting there. His first rooms were rented from Frederick Herman, a pastor of the Reformed Church and teacher at the Union School, although he later moved to 5442 Germantown Ave, the home of Col. Franks. Jefferson chose to room at the King of Prussia Tavern.

During this time, Germantown was the seat of the nation's government. As was fervently hoped for, the cases of yellow fever stopped appearing in late October, and eventually, it seemed safe to convene Congress in Philadelphia as originally scheduled, on December 2.

Although Germantown was badly shaken by the experience, it was a heady experience to be the nation's capital. Meanwhile, a great many rich, powerful and important people had come to see what a nice place it was. Germantown then entered the second period of growth and flourishing. Walking around Germantown today is like wandering through the ruins of the Roman forum, silently tolerant of visitors who would have never dared approach it in its heyday.


Benjamin Rush: A Discourse delivered before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Thomas A. Horrocks ASIN: B0006FCBXS Amazon
Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague Of Yellow Fever In Philadelphia In 1793: J.H. Powell ISBN-13: 978-1436715881 Amazon
Germantown and the Germans: An Exhibition from the Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia: Edwin, II Wolf ISBN-13: 978-0914076728 Amazon

Originally published: Thursday, June 12, 1997; most-recently modified: Friday, May 03, 2019

its so hard to MLA Cite this
Posted by: Me   |   May 18, 2017 10:59 PM
Rush thought that infection or an illness was an unbalence of the five liquids of your body, doctors at the time believed that fever was caused by to much blood, so the patients were bled, so to Rush, bleeding was the best possible option.
Posted by: Me   |   Feb 20, 2012 4:01 PM
I think it was stupid of Dr.Rush to bleed the pashients out because they would have died faster!!!
Posted by: gfnmlgfhxnkhl   |   Jan 25, 2012 12:09 PM
Posted by: jijiajfiajiajgvioa   |   Dec 13, 2011 6:23 PM
this help me on my project so yay hope i make a 100!!!!!!
Posted by: crazy kid 23   |   Dec 6, 2011 2:52 PM
this helped me out alot im probally going to ace it
Posted by: jerreth adams   |   Dec 6, 2011 2:31 PM
Posted by: v   |   Dec 6, 2011 9:46 AM
i think this article was helpful but i need the exact number of victims!!!!!
Posted by: Avalon Blue   |   Nov 29, 2011 5:47 PM
I dont think that Dr. Rush should have bled the patients it only gave them more of a chance to die!
Posted by: maddi   |   Sep 12, 2011 3:10 PM
what i needed
Posted by: peper   |   Apr 12, 2011 3:18 PM
I need to know if it was actually the dengue fever but mistaken for yellow fever since it was not an african/mideastern outbreak.
Posted by: Rose   |   Apr 10, 2011 3:52 PM
i didnt read it but its awesome!
Posted by: farabi   |   Feb 7, 2011 12:32 PM
i learned so much from this article when i did my project!
Posted by: kari r.   |   Jan 14, 2011 12:10 PM
i need info on the impact on philadelphia and how many survivors there were and by friday rawrrr
Posted by: pennfield   |   Jan 11, 2011 12:17 PM
i need to know about the hospitals more
Posted by: pennfield project   |   Jan 11, 2011 12:16 PM
I really need info on culture of philadelphia in 1793. All it says is the yellow fever epidemic.
Posted by: Briana Baird   |   Jan 8, 2011 10:15 AM
what about obituaries
Posted by: [none]   |   Nov 16, 2010 9:43 AM
Did dr.rush die?
Posted by: Laila   |   Sep 29, 2010 9:09 PM
i need actual victim's names who died, but... LOVED THE ARTICLE!!!! :]
Posted by: jro   |   Jun 10, 2010 4:38 PM
This article was great for me and my Yellow Fever article for English! Thanks
Posted by: Steph   |   May 7, 2010 9:49 AM
i like it but it needs stuff about the free african society...thats wat my research paper is on. ITS DUE FRIDAY ugh!!!!
Posted by: some1   |   Apr 20, 2010 12:05 PM
okay but what were some of the treatments? i have a school project due tommorrow!
Posted by: Jill   |   Apr 5, 2010 1:12 PM
Posted by: Amanda   |   Mar 21, 2010 11:13 PM
thanks but i need to know how many actually died
Posted by: haihai   |   Mar 11, 2010 2:12 PM
Posted by: KR   |   Mar 10, 2010 2:27 PM
i need help what tools were used in philadelphia in 1793!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by: tina   |   Feb 18, 2010 8:25 PM
this article is so banging it really can give you so much information
Posted by: Diamond   |   May 21, 2009 2:13 PM
It is a good summery. I am doing a school project this is the perfect thing to look at. And it helps a lot.

Thank you
so much
Posted by: Conner Cook   |   Mar 9, 2009 7:12 PM
im doing a project on this i find it quite helpful
Posted by: tyler   |   Feb 13, 2009 11:49 AM
i need names of fever victims for an obituary!!!!
Posted by: [none]   |   Feb 5, 2009 5:28 PM
Wow, this information was so helpful. I will use some of it to help me on my research project on Yellow Fever & on my book report on the book 'Fever 1703'...
Posted by: Melina   |   Jan 4, 2009 3:09 PM
thanks for the info. this could help out for my research project on yellow fever.=] =]
Posted by: liting   |   Nov 25, 2008 10:24 AM
Well....why are comments allowed for these article? anyway, i used the town square picture. thanks.
Posted by: Ima Nonymous   |   Nov 24, 2008 4:31 PM
wow im glad they figured out that yellow fever spread by mosquitoes
Posted by: lydia   |   Sep 16, 2008 6:23 PM
this is very interesting material and it had a lot of information that i needed for my essay that i am writing about yellow fever
Posted by: katie holmes   |   Feb 22, 2008 12:08 PM
I learned so much from this article that I did not know.
Posted by: sadie bullock   |   Mar 13, 2007 11:54 PM