text: seven walking tours through historic philadelphia

Pennsylvania Hospital

Pennsylvania Hospital

When the U.S. celebrated its 200th birthday in 1976, the Pennsylvania Hospital, founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, marked its 225th birthday. Philadelphia is like that — many of its great institutions are older than the United States itself. Benjamin Franklin was the first president of the hospital. It was the first hospital in America. On a tour of the older part of the hospital you can see the Historical Library, the oldest collection of medical books in the United States, and also a similar collection of herbal and horticultural volumes. Housed in the center building and paneled in old, richly patinaed wood, the library has a graceful gallery running around all four sides. Here are found two paintings by a young Benjamin West and a chair of William Penn's. There are small wooden trunklike cases containing plaster casts of a fetuses which were used in the instruction of the medical students.

Leave the library, passing portraits of important doctors including Benjamin Rush, and climb the stairs to the circular room, the oldest clinical amphitheater in the United States. A glass skylight provided natural light for the operations, instead of the dome originally specified for the building. The first operation planned specifically for appendicitis was performed here as was the first gall bladder operation.

Christ healing the sick
Benjamin West, 1817

The treasures of the hospital are many and various, but perhaps none is of greater importance than the painting Christ Healing the Sick done by Benjamin West in 1817.

Washington Square and West