Pennsylvania Hospital History: Stories – Nation’s First Hospital

The Story of the Creation of the Nation’s First Hospital Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin “to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.” At the time, Philadelphia was the fastest growing city in the […]

The Story of the
Creation of the Nation’s First Hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital History: Stories – Nation’s First HospitalPennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond
and Benjamin Franklin “to care for the sick-poor and insane
who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.” At the
time, Philadelphia was the fastest growing city in the 13 colonies.
In 1730, the population numbered 11,500 and had grown to 15,000
by 1750 (the city continued to grow and by 1776, its 40,000 residents
made Philadelphia the second largest English-speaking city in
the British Empire).

The docks and wharves along the Delaware River teemed with activity
as ships bound for foreign ports loaded up with flour, meat and
lumber while overseas vessels delivered European-manufactured
goods and wines. Foreign visitors noted with envy the city’s
growing prosperity. Although the majority of the population was
neither extremely wealthy nor extremely poor, there was a significant
increase in the number of immigrant settlers who were “aged,
impotent or diseased.”

At the time, colonial America’s urban centers were far healthier
than their European counterparts. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia
region, according to city leaders of the day, was “a melting
pot for diseases, where Europeans, Africans and Indians engaged
in free exchange of their respective infections.” Faced
with increasing numbers of the poor who were suffering from physical
illness and the increasing numbers of people from all classes
suffering from mental illness, civic-minded leaders sought a
partial solution to the problem by founding a hospital.

The idea for the hospital originated with Dr. Thomas Bond. Born
in Calvert County, Maryland, Bond, a Quaker, moved to Philadelphia
as a young man. In 1738, in order to further his medical education,
he went abroad to study medicine in London. While in Europe,
Bond spent time at the famous French hospital, the Hotel-Dieu
in Paris, and became impressed with the continent’s new hospital
movement. Bond returned to Philadelphia in 1739 and two years
later was appointed Port Inspector for Contagious Diseases.

Bond and Benjamin Franklin were long-standing friends. Bond
was a member of Franklin’s Library Company and helped establish
the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Philadelphia,
which evolved into the University of Pennsylvania.

Around 1750, Bond “conceived the idea of establishing a
hospital in Philadelphia for the reception and cure of poor sick
persons.” The idea was a novelty on this side of the Atlantic,
and when Bond approached Philadelphians for support they asked
him what Franklin thought of the idea. Bond hadn’t approached
his good friend because he thought it was out of Franklin’s line
of interest, but because of the reaction he received, Bond soon
turned to Franklin. After hearing the plan, Franklin became a
subscriber and strong supporter. Franklin’s backing was enough
to convince many others that Bond’s projected hospital was worthy
of support.

Franklin organized a petition, although not signed by him, bearing
33 names and brought it to the Pennsylvania Assembly on January
20, 1751. The petition stated that although the Pennsylvania
Assembly had made many compassionate and charitable provisions
for the relief of the poor, a small provincial hospital was necessary.
After a second reading on January 28, the petitioners were directed
to present the Assembly with a bill to create a hospital. Presented
a week later, the bill encouraged the Assembly to establish a
hospital “to care for the sick poor of the Province and
for the reception and care of lunaticks.”

The hospital bill met with some objections from rural members
of the Assembly because they thought the hospital would only
be serviceable to the city. At this critical juncture, Franklin
saved the day with a clever plan to counter the claim by challenging
the Assembly that he could prove the populace supported the hospital
bill by agreeing to raise 2000 pounds from private citizens.
If he was able to raise the funds, Franklin proposed, the Assembly
had to match the funds with an additional 2000 pounds. The Assembly
agreed to Franklin’s plan, thinking his task was impossible,
but they were ready to receive the “credit of being charitable
without the expense.”

Franklin’s fundraising effort brought in more than the required
amount. The Assembly signed the bill and presented it to Lieutenant
Governor James Hamilton for approval. After amending the bill
several times, Hamilton signed it into law on May 11, 1751.

From early 1752 until the east wing of the Pine Building opened
in 1755 Pennsylvania Hospital was housed in the home of recently
deceased John Kinsey, a Quaker and Speaker of the Assembly.

So pleased was Franklin that he later stated: “I do not
remember any of my political manoeuvres, the success of which
gave me at the time more pleasure…”

To illustrate the purpose of the hospital, the inscription “Take
care of him and I will repay thee” was chosen and the image
of the Good Samaritan was affixed as the hospital seal.


May 11, 1751

Charter is granted to establish Pennsylvania Hospital.


Temporary hospital established and Elizabeth Gardner,
a Quaker widow, is appointed matron.


First patients admitted on February 11.


Hospital’s first plot of land purchased from the Penn


Benjamin Franklin writes the cornerstone for the east
wing of the Pine Building.


The hospital starts admitting patients in the 8th and
Pine Streets facility.


Thomas and Richard Penn donate property to give the hospital
the entire square between Spruce and Pine Streets and 8th
and 9th Streets.


Construction of the second wing of the hospital, the west
wing, is completed.


Construction of the third wing, the center section, is
completed and the surgical ampitheatre opens.

Related Stories:

Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Bond

and Regulation of Patients

Back to Stories from Pennsylvania
Hospital’s Past


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