APA's official seal is a tribute to Benjamin Rush, considered the father of American psychiatry. The appearance of the seal, however, has evolved over time just as the rest of psychiatry and its story provides a link to our history.
-Dilip Ramchandani, M.D.
History Notes Editor
By Lucy D. Ozarin, M.D.
APA's official seal is imprinted on the stationery, the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), and other official documents. The seal is a round medallion with a purported facial likeness of Benjamin Rush and 13 stars over his head to represent the 13 founders of the organization. The outer ring contains the words "American Psychiatric Association 1844." Rush's name and an M.D. are below the picture.
The seal has undergone changes since it was first depicted on the cover of the publication Semi-Centennial Proceedings of the American Medical Psychological Association at the 50th annual meeting in Philadelphia in 1894. That medallion carried a profile of Rush with three Greek words under his picture, translated as "clothed" and "being of sound mind." Around the rim of the seal are the words "Soc Medico-Psychological Americariae AD 1844."
This logo continued to be used through 1920 on the first page of the published transactions of the annual meetings. By 1930 the annual meeting program carried a new picture of Rush with his name underneath (but without the M.D.), the 13 stars over his head, and the words "American Psychiatric Association 1844." The Greek words were, however, absent.
Fragmented information sheds some light on the origin of the seal. At the annual meeting in 1921, Dr. Edward N. Brush, a past president and editor of AJP (1904-31) moved that Rush's picture become the emblem of the Association, which had just changed its name. The motion was adopted, and Dr. Brush furnished a portrait of Rush.
Writing in the centennial issue of AJP, Farr notes "[t]hat Rush had long been considered the Patron Saint of American Psychiatry, and his scholarly, angular visage adorns the stationery, banner, and occasionally the annual buttons."
In his book, the History and Influence of the APA, Walter Barton, M.D., notes that the Association was incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1927, and a seal bearing the likeness of Rush was adopted. The articles of incorporation make no mention of a seal.
The choice of Rush (1746-1813) for the seal reflects his place in history. A Philadelphian by birth, Rush was trained in Edinburgh and was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. He was a social reformer against slavery, a promoter of education, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Continental Congress, and an army surgeon.
His claim to psychiatric fame rested on his writing the first American treatise on psychiatry, Medical Inquiries and Observations in Diseases of the Mind, published in 1812. It was republished four times by 1830. For 50 years no other American text was published.
Rush's practice of psychiatry was based on bleeding, purging, and the use of the tranquilizer chair and gyrator. By 1844 these practices were considered erroneous and abandoned. Rush, however, was the first American to study mental disorder in a systematic manner, and he is considered the father of American Psychiatry.
Assistance in translating the Greek words was provided by Bennett Simon M.D., APA Associate Librarian Rudolf Lamy, and Bernard S. Linn, M.D. The words refer to the Mark 5:15, wherein Jesus cast the evil spirits out of a demented man.