July 21, 2008

Presidential Fund Raising

Raising money for Johns Hopkins has always been high on the “to do” list for every president since the university’s first, Daniel Coit Gilman. The need to bring in financial support was especially critical in the 1935-36 academic year.

A Half Century Fund, conducted between 1922 and 1926 in conjunction with the university’s 50th anniversary celebration, raised about $7 million, but nearly half of that was designated for the Wilmer Institute, and most of the remaining funds were targeted for specific purposes that did not always coincide with the administration’s priorities.

By 1932, with the Great Depression in full bloom, investment income had fallen dramatically. Accumulated deficits amounted to $600,000. Expenditures were slashed, and economies were imposed throughout the university. The faculty took voluntary 10 percent salary reductions.

A new president, Isaiah Bowman, arrived in July 1935. He immediately set out to find funds to pull Johns Hopkins from its precarious position. A 1936 Sustaining Fund was launched, and the first year’s receipts covered a $171,000 shortfall for that year and the next two years.

Bowman was making the “case” for supporting Johns Hopkins wherever he could. He got the attention of editors at Time magazine, and they put his picture on the cover of the March 23, 1936, edition. An accompanying 2,800-word article, under the headline “Scholars Without Money,” described the university’s key role in American higher education, research and clinical medicine, and spelled out its financial plight.

Bowman traveled frequently to New York City to meet with potential donors. He recorded the expenses of one of his trips in May 1936, in a memorandum now in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library. Rail fare was $13.30, with additional charges for a “seat and berth to Baltimore” at $4.25. He made 10 phone calls at $.16 each. A room at the Columbia University Club was $3, and taxi fares amounted to $4.40.

On that trip he had hoped to see two of New York’s most influential, and wealthy, citizens, Henry Morgenthau and Bernard Baruch. The meetings were canceled. When he returned to Baltimore, the ever-optimistic Bowman wrote to the two men to reschedule his appointments. Among other things, he wrote, “I am sure that after such a talk you would want to contribute generously.” The record does not indicate whether he saw them again or whether they became donors.

That same year the university’s campaign received an unexpected and unusual assist from an unlikely source — Harvard University. Bowman told the trustees that he had received a letter from one George Simmons, regional chairman of Harvard’s 300th Anniversary Fund. Simmons told Bowman that Harvard’s president, James Bryant Conant, would postpone Harvard’s campaign in Baltimore “until whatever you may wish to do [in your campaign] has been accomplished.”

There was no end to campaigning for funds. The Sustaining Fund was followed, in the early days of World War II, by the Continuing Fund of 1942. Then, as now, alumni and friends stepped forward to support the university and the medical institutions.