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Rush University Medical Center Archives: Rush History FAQs

Welcome to the Rush University Medical Center Archives. The Rush Archives, a department of the Library of Rush University Medical Center, is the official archival agency of Rush University Medical Center and Rush University.

Rush History Basics

Chartered in 1837, Rush Medical College is the oldest component of Rush University Medical Center, and the Rush Archives staff often answers the same questions related to the history of the school. Here are some brief answers to some of those frequently asked questions about the early years of Rush Medical College. Want more information? Don’t hesitate to contact the Rush archivist, Nathalie Wheaton.

Is Rush really older than the city of Chicago?

Technically, yes. Rush Medical College obtained its charter, March 2, 1837. Two days later, the city of Chicago was incorporated. At the time, Chicago had a population barely over 4,000 people. Unfortunately, the Panic of 1837 hit Chicago, and many of the donors who planned to support the school lost their funds. The school did not open until December 4, 1843.

Was Rush Medical College the first medical school in Chicago?

Yes. The predecessor of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the Medical Department of Lind University, later Chicago Medical College, was founded in 1859, several years after Rush opened.

Why the name “Rush?”

Surgeon Daniel Brainard (1812-1866) obtained the charter for Rush Medical College in 1837. He chose to name the school after a well-known and well-respected American physician, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) of Pennsylvania. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. He was close friends with many of the Founding Fathers. Chicago was a small frontier town, and Brainard was only 24 years old with no reputation of his own. The lofty name of Rush matched the high hopes Brainard had for his endeavor.

Was Rush named for Rush Street? Or vice versa?

Although both Rush Street in downtown Chicago and Rush Medical College were named for Benjamin Rush, they were not named for each other. Some of our researchers assume that Rush Street was named after the school, thinking that the school was once located on that street. This is not correct.

Where was Rush Medical College located originally?

This question is worthy of its own blog post. Briefly, however, the first permanent structure for the school stood at 77 North Dearborn in Chicago. The student body outgrew the building, and a new structure opened at Dearborn Street and Indiana (now called Grand Avenue) in 1867.

Didn’t Rush Medical College burn down in the Great Chicago Fire?

Sadly, the relatively new Rush Medical College building of 1867 was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Hoping to avoid another tragic fire disaster, the faculty moved Rush Medical College to the west side of Chicago at the corner of Wood and Harrison Streets. The faculty also wanted to take advantage of opportunities to teach and practice at Cook County Hospital across the street. The first building Rush established on this campus in 1875 was replaced in 1923 by the Rawson Memorial Building.

Rush University Medical Center changed its name from Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in 2003. What’s the story behind all those names?

Let’s begin with Presbyterian Hospital. Rush Medical College moved to the west side after the Great Chicago Fire to be near Cook County Hospital. Although the Rush faculty had close ties to County, they opened Presbyterian Hospital, which they could use as their own teaching hospital. The hospital was established with the financial support of local Presbyterian congregations in 1883. The first Presbyterian Hospital buildings, the Ross and Hamill wings, stood along Wood Street, between Congress and Harrison, where the Murdock Building (1912-2015) stood until recently. Until recently, the oldest standing building on Rush’s campus was the Jones Building (1888-2015) which housed Presbyterian Hospital’s patient wards. The Rush Medical College buildings and Presbyterian Hospital buildings were connected, as they are today, allowing faculty and students to travel easily from classrooms, laboratories, and offices to a patient’s bedside. [*NOTE: Rush demolished the four older "Superblock" buildings in 2015-2016, including Jones, Murdock, Rawson, and Senn.]

What about St. Luke’s Hospital?

St. Luke’s Hospital was founded in 1864 by the Rev. Clinton Locke, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, with the help and support of a woman’s society in his parish. At the time, Chicago was served by only two hospitals. Locke saw the need for a free hospital to serve the growing population of the city. For most of its history, the hospital stood on the 1400 blocks of S. Michigan and Indiana Avenues.

*When I’m walking down Harrison Street, it looks like it used to say “University of Chicago” over the old entrance to the Rawson building.  Why is that?

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. You can still see the shadow left behind by the metal letters that spelled out the University of Chicago under Rawson Laboratory, Rush Postgraduate School of Medicine. The seal of the university can still be seen above the entryway. By the late 19th century, medical schools could no longer afford increasing costs relying only on student tuition. Affiliations with universities allowed medical schools to draw from endowments and the prestige of a larger institution. Rush Medical College served as the medical department of Lake Forest University from 1887 to 1898. In 1898, Rush ended its affiliation with Lake Forest and joined the University of Chicago, which had opened in 1892. For many years, medical students would take two years of coursework on the University of Chicago campus before coming to Rush for clinical experience. The Rush Postgraduate School of Medicine of the University of Chicago was established in 1924 and Rawson Memorial was opened to serve as Rush’s laboratory building. [*NOTE: Rush demolished the four older "Superblock" buildings in 2015-2016, including Jones, Murdock, Rawson, and Senn.]

I heard that Rush Medical College was closed for a while. Is that true?

The University of Chicago began developing its own medical campus in the late 1920s. Rush Medical College and the University of Chicago dissolved their affiliation in 1941 for many reasons, including financial, geographic and political. Rush Medical College closed its doors in 1942, and much of its faculty joined the staff at the University of Illinois, just south of the Rush campus. Rush’s charter remained active and the corporation still owned its land and buildings.  Rush continued to fill the position of medical director of Rush Medical College, and the trustees continued to meet. Presbyterian Hospital remained open.

See also: The Story of Rush's Seal and More

See also: The Legacy of Nursing at Rush

For more information about the history of Rush's buildings, explore the following exhibit, "Dedications of the Past."

The Story of Rush's Seal and More

From the Catalog of Rush University:

The seal of Rush University is a shield, a classic Greek symbol of preservation and protection and also a medieval British emblem used for identification. As such, it recognizes the University's overarching commitment to educating health professionals who preserve life and protect patients, and it is the distinguishing identification of Rush University. Its two colors, green and gold, merge the tradition of the past with the custom of the present as old gold was the single historical color of Rush Medical College and green is used for the modern Medical Center.

The motto, ministrare per scientiam, translated from Latin, means to minister (care for or serve) through scientific knowledge. It was adopted by the Board of Trustees in September 1993 to reflect the commitment to educate caring professionals whose practice is based in knowledge.

The shadow in the background is the anchor cross, a symbol of hope and steadfastness, which became the emblem of the merged Presbyterian and St. Luke's hospitals in 1957 and the foundation that created the vision for Rush University. Superimposed on top is the stylized version of the anchor cross that was adopted in 1971 upon the merger of Rush Medical College and Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital. The final elements are Chicago, the city that is home to the University, and the date of the University's founding, 1972. The Rush University Board of Overseers adopted the seal in 1999.

See also: The Legacy of Nursing at Rush

The Legacy of Nursing at Rush

Rush University Medical Center has a long legacy of nursing education, research, and practice reaching back to Chicago’s early years.

ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL SCHOOL OF NURSING, est. 1886

St. Luke’s Hospital Training School for Nurses (also known as the School of Nursing) was located, along with its parent hospital, on South Michigan and Indiana avenues in Chicago. The school opened in 1886, and relocated to the site of Rush’s current campus after the hospital’s merger with Presbyterian Hospital. St. Luke’s graduated its last class in 1959.

Students at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing experienced a wide variety of clinical roles in wards, private rooms, diet kitchen, pharmacy, distribution and department work in some specialties.

When the first class graduated from the nursing school in 1887, St. Luke’s Hospital was an 84-bed hospital that cared for about 1,000 inpatients annually. It was a charitable institution affiliated with Grace Episcopal Church, and more than half of its patients received their care for free. During the last decade of the hospital’s existence, it annually provided care to more than 16,000 inpatients and approximately $250,000 of free care to patients in need.

PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL SCHOOL OF NURSING, est. 1903

Students from Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing completed their classes and clinical work at Presbyterian Hospital on this campus. The first class graduated in 1904, and the final class graduated in 1959, after the school’s merger with St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing.

Students at Presbyterian Hospital performed clinical care throughout their three years of coursework, and they served eight-hour shifts in a variety of areas of practice.

When the first students entered Presbyterian Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1903, the hospital treated about 2,000 patients each year, and a third of those patients received free care. By the 1950s, the hospital admitted more than 13,000 inpatients each year and provided about $150,000 in free care annually to patients in need.

PRESBYTERIAN-ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL SCHOOL OF NURSING, merged 1956

Presbyterian and St. Luke’s hospitals merged in 1956, and their schools of nursing also merged. Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing students attended classes on this campus, and most lived in the Schweppe-Sprague dormitory on Harrison Street. Students continued to identify with their previous school until the first official Presbyterian-St. Luke’s students graduated in 1960. The school’s final class graduated in 1969.

The first two years of the program at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing included clinical laboratory experience related to coursework. The program culminated in a one-year, full-time internship year that included rotations by medical specialty.

Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital was an 838-bed hospital formed by the merger of Presbyterian and St. Luke’s hospitals in 1956. Each year, it provided more than $1.5 million in free patient care.

RUSH UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF NURSING and RUSH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER DIVISION OF NURSING

Through the leadership of James A. Campbell, MD, president of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, Rush University was established in 1972. Soon after, Campbell chose Luther Christman, PhD, RN, FAAN, to serve as the founding dean of the College of Nursing. Christman also oversaw nursing practice as the vice president of nursing affairs. He served in these positions at Rush until his retirement in 1987.

Students at Rush University College of Nursing began their clinical training on this campus in 1974. The College of Nursing’s curriculum includes a combination of classroom and clinical coursework. Students have rich clinical experiences with adult, children and older adult patients in a variety of health care settings.  

Christman was a revolutionary figure who introduced nursing reform and new education standards at every opportunity. He developed the Rush Model for Nursing and the Professional Nursing Staff at Rush. These groundbreaking accomplishments are the foundation of Rush University’s forward-thinking College of Nursing and Rush University Medical Center’s award-winning nursing staff.

NURSING AT RUSH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER TODAY: A PROMISE OF ENDURING EXCELLENCE

Innovating Patient Care: The nursing staff and students at Rush University Medical Center employ advanced technology as they evaluate patients and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. Electronic medical record technology monitors and updates clinical information.

Inspiring Future Leaders with Nursing Education: More than 5,000 nurses have graduated from Rush University’s College of Nursing with degrees at bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels.

Rush offers the following degrees for nursing students, which prepare them for the diverse roles that they will assume as leaders in the future of healthcare.

  • The Generalist Entry M.S. in Nursing
  • The Clinical Nurse Leader M.S. in Nursing
  • DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice): Systems Leadership
  • DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice): Enhancing Population Health Outcomes
  • PhD in Nursing

Advancing Quality of Care with Research: The Center for Clinical Research and Scholarship was established in 2007 to promote clinical nursing research that improves clinical practice and patient outcomes. The Center supports clinical research and scholarship activities to promote best practices in patient care and improvements in health care delivery. 

Magnet Award: The American Nurses Credentialing Center — an independently governed organization within the American Nurses Association — awarded Rush University Medical Center the four-year Magnet designation in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Rush was the first hospital in Illinois serving both adults and children to achieve Magnet status. The Magnet Award is the highest recognition given for nursing excellence and recognizes Rush nursing staff for their overall excellence in patient care.

Rush University Medical Center provides advanced patient care informed by the latest research. U.S. News & World Report's “America's Best Hospitals” issue routinely ranks Rush among the nation’s best in specialties including orthopedics; geriatrics; cancer; ear, nose and throat; gynecology; heart and heart surgery; nephrology; neurology and neurosurgery; pulmonology; and urology. In addition to its commitment to clinical excellence, Rush continues its predecessors’ commitment to the health of its community. Each year Rush provides more than more than $220 million in community benefits and services, including more than $140 million in unreimbursed care to its patients.

Using the Rush Archives

Rush Archives Service Hours: 

Monday-Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Contact the Archivist: 

Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS / (312) 942-6358

Outside of Service Hours:

For very urgent requests outside of service hours, please contact the Library of RUMC at lib_ref@rush.edu

Note for researchers: Internal reference requests are given precedence. External requests will be addressed as time allows. However, this webpage will lead you to a number of digital resources from the Rush Archives that may meet your information needs.

Visiting the Rush Archives: In-person visits from researchers from outside of Rush must be approved by the archivist ahead of time.

The Rush Archives is located at 1700 W. Van Buren Street, Suite 086, Chicago, IL 60612.

Using our Material in your Publication/Exhibit/Presentation: Contact the Archivist for a Permission to Publish form and fee table.

Citing our Collections: Footnotes or captions should indicate the collection or other identifying information from our finding aids. Please contact the Archivist for more information. Basic format for citation:

[Identification of item], in the [Name of Collection] [Collection Number], Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill.

Looking for Medical Records/Patient Records? Visit Rush University Medical Center's Health Information Management Office.

Looking for Student Records/Transcripts? Visit Rush University's Office of the Registrar.

About Our Collections

The Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill., is the official archival agency of Rush University Medical Center and Rush University. The Rush Archives holds almost 3000 linear feet of material from these two institutions and their predecessor schools and hospitals going back to the founding of Rush Medical College in 1837, two days before the city of Chicago was incorporated. The Rush Archives also includes the personal papers of many individuals related to those institutions. Photographs, audiovisual material, paintings, artifacts, nursing school uniforms and caps, and digital assets document the history of Rush, also. 

The Rush Archives preserves, identifies, organizes, and provides access to records of long-term historical, evidential, and administrative value to the institution. We strive to tell the story of Rush and its esteemed history of education, research, and patient care in a meaningful way through our collections.

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