Mary Elizabeth Garrett was the only daughter of American railroad magnate and philanthropist John Garrett. Having inherited $2 million at her father’s passing in 1884, Garrett became one of the richest women in the United States and promptly devoted herself to advancing women in all spheres of public and civic life. Garrett met regularly with a group of young women determined to open an intensive preparatory school for girls. With Garrett’s financial support, the Bryn Mawr School for Girls was opened in their home town of Baltimore in 1885. Its success spurred them to look towards Johns Hopkins University, the newly opened and highly lauded institution open only to men.
In 1887, Johns Hopkins rejected the application of a young woman, expressing a policy against admitting women. Undeterred, Garrett approached the president and the university’s trustees with an offer to donate $35,000 to build a coeducational school of science. The policy against women was invoked again and her proposal was rejected. Eventually, news emerged that the university did not have sufficient funds to open its planned medical school alongside the new hospital. Garrett’s women’s group approached the president of the university with a proposal to raise the $100,000 needed to open the school; their condition being that the medical school had to be open to qualified female applicants. By 1892 these women had produced more than $300,000 in donations plus an additional $150,000 from Garrett. Johns Hopkins became the first coeducational medical school in the United States, paving the way for women to train in medicine all over the country.
- History of the women’s campaign, medicalarchives.jhmi.edu/garrett/womensfund.htm
- Garrett profile in the Philanthropy Hall of Fame, philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/great_men_and_women/hall_of_fame/mary_elizabeth_garrett
- Kathleen Waters Sander, Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)