Johns Hopkins External was born on May 19, 1795, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to a Quaker family. Convinced that slavery was morally wrong, his parents freed their slaves. As a result, Johns had to leave school at age twelve to work in the family tobacco fields. Hopkins regretted that his formal education ended so early. Ambitious and hardworking, he abandoned farming, and, at his mother’s urging, became an apprentice in his uncle’s wholesale grocery business when he was seventeen. Within a decade, he had created his own Baltimore-based mercantile operation. Hopkins single-mindedly pursued his business ventures. He never married, lived frugally, and retired a rich man at age fifty. A series of wise investments over the next two decades—he was the largest individual stockholder in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, for example—further increased his wealth. He used his fortune to found The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, incorporating them in 1867.
Hopkins died in 1873. His will divided $7 million equally between the hospital and the university. At the time, the gift was the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history. Hopkins also endowed an orphanage for African-American children.
Johns Hopkins University opened February 22, 1876. Hopkins’ President Daniel Coit Gilman set a new standard for higher education by focusing on ground-breaking research and advanced study. The research university system he introduced continues to characterize American higher education today. Johns Hopkins Hospital opened in 1889, and the medical school opened four years later. Here too, rigorous academic standards and an emphasis on scientific research profoundly influenced medical practice in the United States.
- Search on Johns Hopkins in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920 to view early-twentieth-century photographs of the Baltimore hospital and university.
- A search on Johns Hopkins in FSA-OWI Photographs, 1935-1945 provides images of an operating room and student nurses.
- Hopkins’ first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, describes meeting young Helen Keller at Alexander Graham Bell’s house in a document available through the Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers.
- William Penn, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Alice Paul are Quaker social reformers featured in Today in History.