First Hospital In The United States


© History Oasis
"I am for doing good to the poor... I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."

—Benjamin Franklin

America's first hospital was established in 1751 amidst the bustling streets of Philadelphia.

It was here that Dr. Thomas Bond, the city's eminent physician, joined forces with the ingenious Benjamin Franklin to bring their shared vision to fruition—a sanctuary to provide compassionate care for the "sick-poor and insane."

With Dr. Bond's medical expertise and Franklin's fortitude and influence, the two set upon an audacious endeavor—the founding of Pennsylvania Hospital. After years of determined effort, their dream was finally realized when the hospital opened its doors in 1755 as a refuge for the downtrodden.

Nearly three centuries later, Pennsylvania Hospital remains a paragon of medical service.

Since those early pioneering days, the hospital has been an enduring beacon of hope, advancing healthcare for both Philadelphia and the nation.

Though countless medical institutions have emerged across America over the centuries, Pennsylvania Hospital retains the prestigious distinction of being the country's first hospital.


painting of the first mental institution in the US
© History Oasis

Pennsylvania Hospital stands as a seminal institution, marking two monumental firsts.

When its doors opened in 1755, it earned the prestigious distinction of being the nation's inaugural hospital. Prior to this, no dedicated medical establishments existed to serve the general populace in the American colonies.

The sick and poor relied solely on almshouses or family care. Pennsylvania Hospital pioneered a novel concept of healthcare as a public service, providing professional medical treatment to all, regardless of status or wealth. It was a revolutionary development that would reverberate through the centuries.

In addition to being America's first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital broke ground as the country's first mental asylum.

At the time, mental afflictions were misunderstood, sufferers often ostracized and subjected to barbaric treatment.

The hospital bravely challenged the stigma, dedicating itself to compassionate psychiatric care.

Under the leadership of Benjamin Rush, father of American psychiatry, it established humane standards and ethical practices, setting the course for the future of mental healthcare.

By courageously venturing into this uncharted realm, Pennsylvania Hospital illuminated the path towards greater empathy and progress in understanding the mysteries of the mind.


portrait of Benjamin Franklin
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In 1751, the flourishing city of Philadelphia faced a growing crisis—a dearth of medical care for its burgeoning populace.

At the forefront bearing witness was the prominent Dr. Thomas Bond, one of the city's most respected physicians.

To Dr. Bond, the solution was clear—the construction of a public hospital to serve the suffering masses. However, transforming this vision into reality would require an unlikely alliance.

Benjamin Franklin, the legendary inventor and Founding Father, was Dr. Bond's opposite in many regards—yet the two men found common purpose in their compassion.

Setting aside their differences in personality and profession, their shared desire to provide relief for the afflicted led them to join forces. And so the seeds were planted for an extraordinary partnership that would ultimately breathe life into the physicians’ ambitious dream.

While Franklin offered invaluable perspectives from outside the medical realm, Dr. Bond's contributions stemmed from his vocation.

A dedicated healer revered for his benevolence, Bond had long witnessed firsthand the urgent need for a refuge for Philadelphia’s sick. His refusal to stand idly by in the face of such hardship was the driving force that set this historic undertaking in motion.

From laying the first bricks in 1751 to tending the hospital's patients till his final breath in 1784, Bond tirelessly devoted himself to the betterment of medical care, leaving an enduring legacy as one of Pennsylvania Hospital's pivotal founders.


An insane person on the street
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In 1751, Philadelphia's cobbled streets resounded with the cries of the "sick-poor" —the impoverished masses afflicted by disease and bereft of any recourse for treatment.

Hidden behind the façades of everyday colonial life lurked another population of sufferers, largely forgotten—the mentally ill, scornfully termed the "insane."

Misunderstood and deprived of aid, they faced their torment in the shadows.

To many, these groups were invisible—but not to Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin.

Where others saw only hopelessness, these visionaries recognized the potential in every human spirit. The two eminent Philadelphians refused to turn away from the cruelty of neglect.

Instead, they united in their conviction that proper compassionate care was the right of all, regardless of status or sickness of mind.

Spurred by civic duty and humanitarian ideals, Bond and Franklin rallied to bring their ambitious dream to fruition—a first-of-its-kind asylum to offer sanctuary to the city's most vulnerable.


Doctors doing medical research
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Throughout its venerable history, Pennsylvania Hospital has time and again stepped into the uncharted waters of medical advancement, leading the charge with pioneering firsts that reverberated through the field of medicine.

In 1786, the hospital opened America’s inaugural surgical amphitheater to elevate medical education.

In this meticulously designed circular theater, fledgling doctors observed surgeries in progress, garnering invaluable firsthand experience. The availability of such specialized training facilities marked a turning point for the professionalization of medicine in the New World.  

In 1809, Pennsylvania Hospital would once again distinguish itself as a leader in medical education when it established one of the nation’s earliest nursing schools.

At a time when nursing was not yet recognized as a skilled vocation, this innovative step forward helped formally train women in caregiving, ushering in a new generation of qualified nurses.

Decades later in the 1870s, the hospital’s orthopedic wards were graced by the presence of Dr. H. Augustus Wilson, a pioneer in corrective bone and joint surgery.

Through ingenious procedures to remedy clubfoot and other deformities, Wilson gave hope and mobility to many who had suffered from birth defects or injuries. News of his successes at Pennsylvania Hospital spread far and wide, drawing patients from across the nation.

Time after time, Pennsylvania Hospital dared to be first.

Its willingness to push boundaries transformed it into an incubator of medical progress. The discoveries within its walls laid the groundwork for advancements that would save and enrich countless lives in the centuries to follow.


A therapy session in the late 1700s
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In the closing years of the 18th century, a pivotal shift unfolded within the walls of Pennsylvania Hospital. Under the stewardship of Benjamin Rush, widely revered as the father of American psychiatry, more enlightened and humane practices transformed the hospital’s mental wards.

At the time, the mentally ill were shackled in gloomy cells and subjected to barbaric treatments like bloodletting and purges.

Dr. Rush firmly denounced these archaic methods, advocating instead for moral management and occupational therapy. Patients were unchained, housed in more comfortable quarters, and given productive activities like gardening, sewing, and carpentry to occupy their minds and hands.

The hospital became home to one of America’s first institutional libraries where patients could read and play music. Caregivers focused on creating a calm, orderly environment to improve mental wellbeing.

Dr. Rush introduced pivotal changes, but his work was undergirded by a deeper shift in beliefs taking hold at Pennsylvania Hospital.

There was a burgeoning recognition that mental patients required compassionate medical care, not containment and punishment. This changing perspective pushed the hospital to the forefront of moral, humane treatment of psychiatric patients in the newly forged United States.

The innovations Pennsylvania Hospital instituted under Dr. Rush’s guidance provided a model for the nation. Word of the hospital’s techniques spread, and it remained a standard-bearer for progressive and ethical care of the mentally ill throughout the 19th century.


a famous person on his death bed
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Its excellent care has attracted America's political elite along with pioneers of arts and culture.

In the fall of 1849, former President John Quincy Adams was admitted after suffering a stroke in Washington D.C.

Though his condition was grim, the 80-year-old statesman received outstanding medical attention at Pennsylvania Hospital. He lingered there for several months before passing away the following year, with his son Charles Francis Adams at his bedside.

Another luminary patient was Edgar Allan Poe, who came under the hospital's care in the fall of 1849 as well. The iconic author and literary mastermind had been found delirious on Baltimore's streets before being transported to Philadelphia. Poe spent four days regaining his health at Pennsylvania Hospital shortly before his untimely demise.  

The famed painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale, best known for his portraits of the Founding Fathers, was also tended to by the hospital in the early 19th century. In 1821, Peale had a cataract removal surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, allowing him to continue his prolific artistic career well into old age.

From US leaders to cultural pioneers, Pennsylvania Hospital has been the refuge of American trailblazers in their times of vulnerability, providing comfort and care that enabled them to continue their groundbreaking contributions to society after recovering within its walls.


artwork of surgical tools
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In addition to its medical innovations, Pennsylvania Hospital is home to one of the nation’s most exceptional art collections focused on medicine and healing.

As early as the 1760s, the hospital began amassing paintings, sculptures, and illustrations that reflected its profound mission to care for the sick. This collection has grown over centuries to become the most comprehensive assembly of medical art in the United States.

At the core of the collection are masterful portraits of the hospital’s prominent physicians rendered by some of America’s most skilled paintbrush wielders.

Among them is Benjamin West, whose iconic painting "Dr. Thomas Bond" encapsulates one of the hospital’s co-founders.

Another highlight is Thomas Eakins’ "The Agnew Clinic," which depicts the famed 19th-century surgeon lecturing a group of students in the operating theater. These striking portraits pay tribute to the figures who shaped Pennsylvania Hospital's legacy.

The collection also includes anatomical diagrams, surgical tools, sculptures, and other objects that provide insights into the evolution of medical knowledge and practices.

Through these artifacts, the collection offers a vivid window into the changing landscape of medicine in America, chronicled by some of the nation’s greatest artists.


building of the University of Pennsylvania
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As the 20th century drew to a close, the winds of change swept through the storied halls of Pennsylvania Hospital.

In 1993, after over two centuries as an independent institution, the hospital forged an auspicious alliance with the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Under the aegis of this preeminent academic medical center, Pennsylvania Hospital was primed to usher in a new era in its long and luminous history.

Since 1751, the hospital had stood alone as a beacon providing sanctuary for the marginalized and afflicted. Now, with the vast resources of Penn Medicine at its disposal, the possibilities for advancement were boundless.

This union was rooted in a shared commitment to pushing the boundaries of medicine and delivering optimal care.

By joining an elite cadre of research hospitals, Pennsylvania Hospital gained access to trailblazing treatments and cutting-edge discoveries.

Its clinics were soon stocked with the latest medical technology and staffed by the nation's leading medical experts.

The stewardship of Penn Medicine enabled the hospital to significantly expand its services and cement its stature as a healthcare trailblazer.

Through the years have brought sweeping change, Penn Medicine remains committed to honoring Pennsylvania Hospital's enduring legacy of compassionate, innovative care.

This historic affiliation has not only secured the hospital's future, but revitalized its foundational mission to heal and serve.


the first building is now a museum
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Amidst the modern towers of Philadelphia there stands a vestige of the past, an architectural window into the origins of American medicine—the venerable original building of Pennsylvania Hospital, constructed in 1755.

Engraved by the passage of time, this living relic evokes the history contained within its brick and mortar walls.

As the hospital expanded around it, this national treasure was preserved to safeguard the echoes of medical advancement and compassionate care that live on in its foundations.

Transformed into a museum, the historic edifice now transports visitors centuries back to the dawn of the hospital's legacy.

Beyond its imposing doors lies a trove of artifacts from physicians and patients who etched their marks, however small, into the annals of medical progress.

Exhibits throughout the museum chronicle Pennsylvania Hospital's groundbreaking contributions, from medical education to mental health, anesthesiology and beyond.

Through these vestiges of the past, the museum resurrects the hopes, struggles and triumphs of the pioneers who built the foundations of American medicine.

Once the thriving nucleus of the hospital, the museum now serves as a testament to its origins.

These preserved spaces remind us that the daring visionaries who illuminate the path forward often stand on the shoulders of those who came before. The museum ensures the story of Pennsylvania Hospital, and the individuals who shaped its journey, will continue inspiring generations far into the future.