Department of History
University of New Hampshire
2013 to 2014
A Healthy Independence: The Politics, Science, and Business of Healthcare in Early Republic Philadelphia
Abstract: Public health and access to healthcare are often discussed as fundamentally modern concerns. The case of the Pennsylvania Hospital indicates a long history of vigorous debate over health in America, dating from the colonial era. This dissertation posits that in the years after the Revolutionary War, residents of Philadelphia solidified financial and ideological commitment to providing free healthcare to the poor through institutions like the Pennsylvania Hospital, a Benjamin Franklin brainchild established in 1751. Between 1780 and 1840, the Pennsylvania Hospital became a center of American scientific research and professional medicine by shrewdly establishing and strengthening relationships with politicians, religious and charitable organizations, and a growing international community of physician-scholars. This expansion pushed public health discourse and forced Philadelphians to confront not only the problem of poor people’s health in a new Republic, but the contested role of a social welfare institution in political, economic, religious, and business life.