As the nation’s first hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital has a unique responsibility to strike a balance between cutting-edge advances and established roots. Programs like the Franklin-Bond Speaker Series highlight the link between progress and history by offering a multidisciplinary look at PAH’s advances in research, patient care, and preservation. As hospital CEO Theresa Larivee said, the series furthers the “ongoing commitment to honor the collaborative, innovative legacy of our founders.” But who are the men behind the series’ title?
The answer lies in the events leading up to PAH’s founding in 1751. The story tends to be presented simply: As the city of Philadelphia grew and became a melting pot of people and untreated diseases, compassionate physician Dr. Thomas Bond and revolutionary polymath Benjamin Franklin combined forces and opened the first hospital “to care for the sick-poor and insane.” Missing in this version, however, is Bond’s initial ambivalence toward involving Franklin at all.
Dr. Thomas Bond
Bond and Franklin were longtime friends. Bond was a member of Franklin’s Library Company, helped establish the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), and even cared for Franklin’s wife in her final days while he was in France. However, when Bond, the city’s former Port Inspector for Contagious Diseases, began seeking funds to support his novel plan for an American hospital, he only considered reaching out to his friend after people asked him whether Franklin had already formed an opinion on the matter.
“While Franklin was a man of many talents and interests and did dabble in medicine — he once created a flexible catheter that he mailed to his older brother when he had trouble using one — he did not have a thorough medical background and had very little time to spare,” said Stacey C. Peeples, curator-lead archivist of PAH’s historic collections. “Though Bond wasn’t sure if Franklin would be the best fit or if he’d be interested, he still understood the value of Franklin’s reputation as an innovator invested in civic improvement, so he ultimately decided to ask.”
Bond’s request paid off, and Franklin enthusiastically agreed to help him realize his vision. Franklin organized petitions, raised funds, presented the proposal to the state assembly, wrote the cornerstone inscription, had a friend donate the medical library’s first book, and combined his talents with Bond’s to ensure PAH wasn’t a failed experiment, but a flourishing institution. The civic-minded duo reflected their mission of social responsibility in the hospital’s Good Samaritan seal, and Franklin later wrote of his involvement, “I do not remember any of my political maneuvers the success of which gave me at the time more pleasure.”
“This is the perfect example of how if you don’t make the ask, you’ll never know what’s possible. Unlikely partnerships can create the best collaborations,” Peeples said. “That spirit continues to drive PAH more than two centuries later, and the speaker series highlights the incredible things our staff can do when they connect across disciplines and work toward a shared goal.”
Be sure to read about PAH’s Franklin-Bond Speaker Series in this month’s issue of What’s New!