Born to the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Mary Garrett inherited both wealth and a zeal for philanthropy from her father. He had been a trustee of Johns Hopkins University and close friends with both Johns Hopkins himself and George Peabody, two of the most prolific supporters of education in their era.
In 1887 Mary offered $35,000 to Hopkins to start a school of science, if they would make it coeducational. The university demurred. Later, when JHU was facing financial difficulties and having no luck launching a medical school, Garrett presented another proposal. She formed a committee to raise money for a medical school that would accept women. The group collected $100,000 in 1890, with Garrett contributing nearly half. That sum was offered to Hopkins president Daniel Gilman.
Gilman accepted the donation and its condition of female admission, but then pushed the women to raise additional money for an endowment to yield a truly top-tier medical school. When the half-million dollars of endowment that Gilman aspired for proved difficult to achieve, Garrett boldly wrote a check for more than $300,000 to push the effort over the finish line. But she gave the money with two additional conditions that turned out to be seminal in raising standards not only at Hopkins but at all medical schools: Every applicant would be required to have a bachelor’s degree in science, and Hopkins must offer not just occupational training but a full graduate education culminating in a medical degree. After resistance from the school’s trustees (these were remarkably rigorous standards for the day) the gift was agreed to. In 1893, Mary Garrett saw the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine open, with three women in the inaugural class and a stiff course of study that pushed medicine to the top of the professions.
- Kathleen Waters Sander, Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
- Mary Elizabeth Garrett profile in the Philanthropy Hall of Fame, philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/hall_of_fame/mary_elizabeth_garrett