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Johns Hopkins University

Early Years, The Gilman Period, Modern Times

Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 by educational pioneers who abandoned the traditional roles of the American college and forged a new era of modern research universities by focusing on the expansion of knowledge, graduate education, and support of faculty research.

Early Years

In 1873 Johns Hopkins, a childless bachelor, bequeathed $7 million to fund a hospital and university in Baltimore, Maryland. At that time this fortune, generated primarily from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the United States. Flush with funds, the new board searched the nation for appropriate models of higher education. Finding none to their liking, they opted for an entirely new model. It was to be a truly national school dedicated to the discovery of knowledge. It owed its inspiration not to America's higher educational system but to modernized Germany. By following the Germanic university example, the board animated a new spirit and structure, which moved higher education in the United States away from a focus on either revealed or applied knowledge to a concentration on the scientific discovery of new knowledge. This made Johns Hopkins the genesis of the modern research university.

The Gilman Period

Johns Hopkins was intended to be national in scope, so it could serve as a balm for a country divided over the sectional strife of the Civil War. As such, the university's official commemoration took on great significance: 1876 was the nation's centennial year and February 22 was George Washington's birthday. Notwithstanding the care taken in selecting this date, the institution's viability depended directly on the board's choice for the first president. They chose wisely. Daniel Coit Gilman, lured away from the presidency of the University of California, helped create Johns Hopkins University and lead American higher education in new directions. In word and sometimes deed, Gilman held to some traditional goals of the denominational college but, nevertheless, he created the first American campus focused on the faculty and their research. To Gilman, Johns Hopkins existed not for the sake of God, the state, the community, the board, the parents, or even the students, but for knowledge. Therefore, faculty who expanded knowledge were rewarded.

Connected with the new university's focus was its concentration on graduate education and the fusion of advanced scholarship with such professional schools as medicine and engineering. It was the national pacesetter in doctoral programs and was the host for numerous scholarly journals and associations. Having a faculty-oriented perspective, the university did not want its professors bogged down in remedial education, but rather wanted to attract serious, prepared students who could genuinely participate in the discovery of new knowledge. Though the opposite is often mistakenly believed, Johns Hopkins has always provided undergraduate education, although Gilman had to be persuaded to include it and other early presidents attempted to eliminate the program. However, whether undergraduate or graduate, Johns Hopkins concentrates on providing research opportunities for all of its students. And its strong ties with John Hopkins Hospital, a teaching and research hospital, attract students from around the nation interested in biomedical engineering and medicine.

Modern Times

The legacy of adroit leadership begun by Gilman has continued. Among the many able presidents, Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of Dwight Eisenhower, led Johns Hopkins during the 1950s and 1960s when the university's income tripled, endowment doubled, ambitious building projects were undertaken, and strong ties with Washington, DC, were developed. Because of his contributions, Eisenhower was one of two men named president emeritus. Steven Muller, who served as president from 1972 until 1990, is the only other one awarded this title–and along with Gilman is one of two to be named president of both the Johns Hopkins hospital and the university.

Though privately endowed, Johns Hopkins University embodies what Clark Kerr called the "federal grant university," as it often tops the nation in federal research and development expenditures. Johns Hopkins University also illustrates the skewed priorities of federal grants, as the school's humanities programs cannot hope to attract research funding commensurate with that attracted by medicine, public health, engineering, and physics. Despite this imbalance, the institution remains committed to professional instruction in conjunction with academic disciplines within a true university setting. The Georgian-style Homewood campus provides an academic atmosphere that allows students to participate in extracurricular activities. In intercollegiate athletics, Johns Hopkins is famous for lacrosse and houses the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum, a fitting location because the Blue Jays have won thirty-seven national championships. At the same time, its medical school and hospital remain in their historic setting in downtown Baltimore's harbor area. The university's educational presence in Baltimore is supplemented by its economic role as the city's single largest employer. Clearly, the Johns Hopkins University continues to fulfill its mission as a national university and as an academic pioneer.


HAWKINS, HUGH. 1960. Pioneer: A History of the Johns Hopkins University, 1874–1889. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

RUDOLPH, FREDERICK. 1962. The American College and University: A History. New York: Random House.

SCHMIDT, JOHN C. 1986. Johns Hopkins: Portrait of a University. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.




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