Students interview a Revolutionary health leader’s biographer

May 2019… Student reporters from four Healthy NewsWorks schools recently interviewed the author of a new biography of Benjamin Rush, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a health leader during the Revolutionary era in Philadelphia.

Stephen Fried, author of Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, was interviewed via Skype when a family medical emergency prevented him from attending in person.

An enthusiastic crowd of about 60 people attended the special event at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the nation’s first medical society, which Dr. Rush helped found in the 18th century. The college’s Section on Public Health and Preventive Medicine and its Section on Medical History supported the event.

Two student reporters each from James Dobson Elementary School, St. Veronica Catholic School, St. Martin de Porres Catholic School, and Spring Garden Elementary School had read about Dr. Rush and were prepared with a range of questions, including: Why did Mr. Fried choose to write about Dr. Rush? Why did Mr. Rush want to become a doctor? Why did Dr. Rush stay in Philadelphia to tend to the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793?

Mr. Fried spoke of Dr. Rush’s pioneering role in the treatment of mental illness, which led to his being called the father of American psychiatry. He noted that Dr. Rush’s family originally wanted him to become a clergyman and he also considered the law before a mentor suggested he study medicine instead. And he felt he had to try to help stop the yellow fever epidemic, which took the lives of 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population over the course of a few months.

The reporters also answered some questions from the audience about what they have learned by working on their school health newspapers.

The interview will be used for articles that will appear in the school newspapers or on the Healthy NewsWorks website before the school year ends.

“It was a wonderful event,” said Marian Uhlman, executive director of Healthy NewsWorks. “We weren’t expecting to do the interview by Skype, but it came together beautifully and the students showed tremendous flexibility in adapting to the change of plans. Thank you to Stephen Fried and to everyone who made it such a success.”


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