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."
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Note for researchers: Internal reference requests are given precedence. External requests will be addressed as time allows. However, our website will lead you to a number of digital resources from the Rush Archives that may meet your information needs.
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[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. [link]
The Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill., is the official archival agency of Rush University Medical Center and Rush University.
The Rush Archives strives to tell the story of Rush and its esteemed history of education, research, patient care, and community leadership in a meaningful way through our collections.
The Rush Archives holds almost 3000 linear feet of material from Rush and its 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.
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