Johns Hopkins founder remembered on anniversary of death
Graveside memorial an annual Christmas Eve tradition
Caroline O'Shea of Washington D.C. places a penny on the grave at an annual ceremony at Greenmount Cemetery in honor of Johns Hopkins, the Baltimore merchant who left money in his will to establish the university and hospital. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / December 24, 2011)
Dozens gathered around Hopkins' gravestone in what has become an annual Christmas Eve tradition. Faculty, staff, alumni and their family members paid tribute to the man whose $7 million gift founded the Johns Hopkins University and hospital.
"In so many ways, he's affected lives for good, for people in the city here and the state, the country and around the world," said Ross Jones, vice president and secretary emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Stephen Achuff, a Hopkins cardiologist who has studied the university's history, gave the crowd at the informal ceremony a lesson on the role of Mary Elizabeth Garrett — also buried at Green Mount — in the opening of the medical school.
Garrett was the daughter of John Work Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad. Hopkins was an early backer of the railroad. He had realized how important it would be to commerce after his experience delivering dry goods to other states by Conestoga wagon, Jones said.
John Work Garrett recognized his daughter's business smarts, and she often sat in on his meetings, Achuff said.
After her father's death, she began campaigning for a medical school that would admit women, he said. Through her connections with other wealthy people, she helped raised the money needed to open the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and donated her own funds — but she had some conditions for the gift.
In those times, medical schools were not selective, Achuff said. "Anyone could go if they had the money."
Garrett wanted the school to have rigorous standards. Those admitted needed to have an undergraduate degree. They must have studied chemistry, physics, and biology. They even needed "a good reading knowledge of French and German," Achuff said.
"It was quite a revolution," Achuff said after the memorial ceremony. "It changed everything. Not only did she get the medical school going, but she also launched a huge change in American medical education."
And Garrett insisted that women be admitted to the medical school.
The institution's first class started in 1893. It included three women and 15 men, he said.
"She stuck to her guns," Achuff said. "She was a tough negotiator."
Johns Hopkins died Dec. 24, 1873 at age 78. His obituary described him as "the merchant, banker and millionaire, whose beneficence this community is so largely to realize in the future."
A Quaker who grew up on a tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County, he made his fortune as an investor in businesses, including the B&O Railroad. As a teenager, he had gone to Baltimore to work for his uncle's dry goods business before starting a wholesale company with his brothers.
Hopkins had no children to whom to leave his money. He had loved his first cousin, Elizabeth, but could not marry her because of Quaker disapproval, Achuff said.