James Rush


James Rush's classic 1827 book called The Philosophy of the Human Voice offered a scientific notation system for describing speech sounds. It was used by elocutionists of his day and of the next generation in their teachings of oratory and speech therapy.

James Rush was the son of Benjamin Rush the internationally known psychiatrist and politician. James was the seventh of thirteen children of the strict Benjamin. He was the son who followed his father's wish that one of his three sons would become a physician. After James graduated from Princeton University he studied medicine with his father at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went abroad for more advance study. After returning to the US, James took over his father's medical practice in Philadelphia. In 1819 he married Phoebe Ann Ridgway, the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. James then left medicine and became a full time independent scholar drawing from his considerable estate accumulated from his wife's family and his inheritance from his father.

James Rush's biographical milestones, adapted from Bernstein (1974), p. 1-5


Rush born on March 15 in Philadelphia. Third of 13 children born to Benjamin Rush and Julia Stockton. Educated at home by tutors. Boarding school in Maryland


Graduated from Princeton (then called College of New Jersey. His oratory thesis was "on the prospects of America."


Attended medical school, University of Pennsylvania where he took courses from Alexander Ramsay (anatomy and physiology), his father (medical practices) Benjamin Smith Barton (material medica) James Woodhouse (chemistry), Philip Syng Physick and John Syng Dorsey, (surgery), Benjamin Smith Barton, (botany)


Publishes his 28 page doctoral dissertation: An inquiry into the use of the omentum. He later disowned this work, which supports remedies of bleeding and emetics (substances that produced vomiting).


Post graduate study at Edinburgh and London


Took up his father's medical practice.


Taught in the medical school, University of Pennsylvania


Publication of the first edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice


Married Phoebe Ann Ridgway, daughter of millionaire Philadelphia merchant, James Ridgway.


Elected to membership in the American Philosophical Soociety. Rush subsequently resigned because of differences with Dr. John D. Mitchell.


Publication of 2nd edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice


Publication of Hamlet


Publication of 3rd edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice


Traveled with wife to Europe and Asia (France, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Gibraltar, Spain England.


Designed and built house on Chestnut Street, west of 19th Street.


Publication of the 4th edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice


Wife died from erysipelas, a streptococcal skin infection


Publication of the 5th edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice


Publication of Brief outline of an analysis of the human intellect. (2 vols)


Publication of 6th edition of The philosophy of the human voice


Publication of Rhymes of contrast on wisdom and folly.


James died, in Philadelphia


Publication of the 7th edition of the Philosophy of the Human Voice

The phonetic system devised by James Rush employed a musical staff to indicate pitch and symbols to represent each syllable, its duration and place. The system was used by elocutionary teachers to improve the speech of actors and speech correctionists to teach articulation. It was promoted by James Murdoch a well known American Actor (he starred with Edwin Forrest in Damon & Pythias). Murdoch, an elocutionist, taught Rush's phonetic system in his courses. A number of Murdoch's students became leaders in speech education in American universities (Robert I Fulton at Ohio Wesleyan; Thomas C. Trueblood at the University of Michigan; S. S. Hamill at Wesleyan University; and John R. Scott of the University of Missouri. (From Burr, 1968, p. 14-15).

Lester Hale in the 1950s said this about the intellectual contributions of Rush:

"As a medical scientist who was led to explore the entity called "mind" and as a "voice scientist" who rigorously studied vocal behavior, James Rush was probably the first investigator to see that mind is inseparable from the physical phenomena of self-expression. His fellow scientists hampered by their prejudices could not fairly criticize his views. Overly-zealous teachers of elocution, misusing the information of his "Philosophy" earned him ill repute among most modern teachers of speech. Perhaps only the speech historian of the 1950s understands that his field stands in heavy debt to Dr. Rush" (Hale, 1954, 234-5).

Rush, an empiricist, saw the only legitimate study of speech as being through observation. He considered theoretical approaches as "metaphysical" and speculative. Rush's studies of human speech were based on his own auditory perception, unaided by instruments, and through his analysis of the sensory-motor system. He separated his study of speech into five components: vocality (vocal quality), force (intensity), time, abruptness (onset and offset of movements), and pitch.

Through his study of vocality, he divided ways of speaking into "natural", "falsetto," whispering" and orotund (exaggerated oratory). Rush described 35 speech sounds, 12 he called tonic (vowels and diphthongs) 14 he called subtonic (voiced consonants) and 9 atonic (voiceless consonants).

Hale saw Rush's major contributions to the study and teaching of speech as being the following five:

  1. Clarifying nomenclature related to voice: quality, force, time, abruptness and pitch.
  2. Describing production of phonetic units as radical (onset) and vanishing (offset) movements.
  3. Classifying phonetic elements of speech into tonics, subtonics, and atonics.
  4. Defining a syllable in terms of radical and vanishing movements.
  5. Describing in detail the specific interval of inflection associated pitch changes in light of emotional and intellectual impressions they convey. (Hale, 1954, 227-230).

Prior to Rush's discoveries, phoneticians dissociated physiology of speech from its production of speech sounds. Rush bridged the gap, basing the classification of sounds on his knowledge of physiological underpinnings.

Hale also quotes Rush on the nature of aphasia: "It consists not in false perception.but of an association of unrelated perceptions, or ideas, from inability of the mind to perform the operations of judgment and reason" (Hale, 1953, 257).

Rush, James. Rush Papers, Ridgway Branch Library Company of Philadelphia.

The Story: In 1869 Dr. James Rush left $1,000,000 of his estate to the Library Company. Rush was the son of Dr. Benjamin Rush, Declaration of Independence signer, and noted collector of medical books. More to the point Rush fils was married to, and heir of, Phoebe Ann Ridgway, who was in turn, heiress of her fathers "immense" fortune. James and Phoebe had no children, and James loved the Library Company. There were, however, complications via the conditions in Rush's will. To make a long story short negotiations between the Company and Rush's executor dragged out for years, there were several lawsuits involved. Eventually:

In 1878 the Library Company reluctantly accepted the impressive edifice, which was named the Ridgway Library in honor of the original source of the funds that made it possible.... The Directors decided to use the Ridgway Library as a kind of storage house, although they never phrased it so crudely. ("At the Instance... 56-59)

Among other things the Ridgway wound up holding the Loganian collection. One gets the impression that the Ridgway was regarded as something of a bastard stepchild by the Company. The library is located in South Philadelphia, and while it is never openly stated I suspect that the area was unacceptable to the dues paying members of the Company because of class, and perhaps racial, ahh... differences.

Here's the American Memory image which dates from around 1900.

In 1960 the Company sold the Ridgway to the city of Philadelphia, with part of the proceeds going towards construction of the present quarters.

One of the more unusual events of the process of relocation was the transfer of the remains of James and Phoebe Ann Rush from at crypt at the Ridgway Library to a crypt beneath (the current building)("At the Instance... page 89)

Talk about special collections!

After the sale the Ridgway operated as a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia- an arrangement dating back to 1944. By the mid 1980s the building was apparently abandoned. This description comes from the page of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts page:

The School Board promised a new building for years. A "state of the art" building was flaunted in front of the students and faculty every once in awhile, and in 1993, a site was even named...the Ridgeway Library on Broad street. It was a giant abandoned library, made of stone and decorated in front by wonderful things that were covered by graffiti.

The story does have a happy ending, however, The High School for Creative and Performing Arts did move into the building in 1997 after a $30,000,000 rennovation and addition. There is even a grant that endows a fund to guarantee "whatever exterior work is needed to keep the exterior graffiti-free." (thanks to Elliot Shelkrot, Jean Drake, and Doreen Velnich of the Free Library of Philadelphia for the newspaper clippings.)

Writings by James Rush, arranged chronologically

Rush, James (1809). An inquiry into the use of the omentum. Philadelphia, PA: T & G Palmer. (Omentum is a duplication of the peritoneum going from the stomach to the adjacent organs).

Rush, James (1827). The philosophy of the human voice: embracing its physiological history; together with a system of principles, by which criticism in the art of elocution may be rendered intelligible, and instruction, definite and comprehensive. To which is added a brief analysis of song and recitative. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Rush, J. (1834). Hamlet, a dramatic prelude in five acts. Philadelphia, PA: Key & Biddle.

Rush, James (1865). A brief outline of the analysis of the human intellect; intended to rectify the scholastic and vulgar perversions of the natural purpose and method of thinking; by rejecting altogether the theoretic confusion, the unmeaning arrangement, and indefinite nomenclature of the metaphysician. (2 vols). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Rush, James (1869). Rhymes of contrast on wisdom and folly. A comparison between observant and reflective age, derisively called fogie, and a senseless and unthinking American go-ahead. Intended to exemplify an important agent in the working plan of the human intellect. Philadelphia, PA:

Rush, James (1869) Provisions of the last will and testament of Dr. James Rush, relating to the Library Company of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Collins, printer.

Writings about James Rush

Barber, Jonathon (B). (1834) Review of The philosophy of the human voice. The Knickerbocker, (New York Monthly Magazine), (Nov.), 4, 342-349. .

Bernstein, Melvin H. (1974). The collected works of James Rush (4 vols. Weston MA: M & S Press.

Volume 1 The philosophy of the human voice

Volume 2 Brief outline of an analysis of the human intellect (Vol 1)

Volume 3 Brief outline of an analysis of the human intellect (Vol 2)N

Volume 4 Hamlet: Rhymes of contrast.

Bernstein, J. H. (1978). James Rush, Baconian physician. New York State Medical Journal, 78, 672-675.

Burr, H. (1968). The historic format in which Dr. William M. Carr, a first student of the University of Virginia Medical School, developed his interest in the disorders of speech and hearing. Journal of the Speech and Hearing Association of Virginia, 10 (1), 6-16.

Hale, Lester L. (1942). A re-evaluation of the vocal philosophy of Dr. James Rush as based on a study of his sources. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University.

Hale, L. (1949) Dr. James Rush, psychologist and voice scientist. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 35, 448-455.

Hale, L. (1954). Dr. James Rush. In K. Wallace (Ed.). History of speech education in America. (pp. 219-237). NY Appleton-Century Crofts, Inc.

Klaf, F. S. (1954). Benjamin Rush's son. American Journal of Psychiatry, 118, 174-175.

Kurtz, S. G. (1954). James Rush, pioneer in American psychology. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 28, 50-59.

Leverton, G. (1925). The philosophy of the human voice by James Rush: An analysis and evaluation. Master's thesis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University.

Russell, William (1827). Review of The philosophy of the Human Voice. American Annals of Education, 6, 347-363.

Scully, D. (1951). The influence of James Rush, M.D. upon American elocution through his immediate followers. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Louisiana.

Torsey, Kathleen E. (1964). The application of the tenets of Austin, Rush, and Curry by writers of representative speech texts 1926-1955. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Gainesville, University of Florida.

Wolff, Florabel Hazelman (1952). The influence of James Rush's The philosophy of the human voice on selected writers of speech texts. Unpublished M. A. Thesis: The University of Florida.