November 16, 2009

Honoring Dr. Gilman

This is part of an occasional series of historical pieces by Ross Jones, vice president and secretary emeritus of the university. A 1953 graduate of Johns Hopkins, he returned in 1961 as assistant to president Milton S. Eisenhower and was a close aide to six of the university’s 13 presidents.

The last thing Johns Hopkins trustees wanted to do toward the end of 1910 was to offend the two daughters of their late, beloved first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. But they came close to doing just that.

Gilman had died, at age 77, on Oct. 13, 1908. As one might expect, the trustees expressed their sorrow in public statements and formal resolutions. They also pledged to find a suitable way to honor Gilman’s remarkable service to Johns Hopkins, the community and the world of higher education.

But nothing had happened by 1910. The Gilman sisters grew impatient. How and when were the trustees going to honor their father? Elizabeth, in particular, pressed the trustees for action. At the same time, she had another idea of how that might be accomplished.

Here the story must go back to Sept. 30, 1897, when the Country School for Boys began instruction in rented quarters in what was then known by many as the Carroll Mansion, now Homewood Museum on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. The school was founded by a prominent Baltimore woman, Anne Galbraith Carey. As she planned for the school, she had sought and benefited from advice and counsel from Gilman.

When the property was conveyed to Johns Hopkins in 1902, the Country School continued its tenant arrangement with the university, remaining there until 1910, when it moved to its present site north of the university in Roland Park. The school’s trustees sought and received permission from the Gilman sisters to change the name to the Gilman Country School for Boys. (In 1951 it became Gilman School.)

The Johns Hopkins trustees were embarrassed that they had not yet found a way to memorialize Gilman, but they were deeply opposed to the Country School using his name. In a letter to Elizabeth Gilman on Dec. 15, 1910, board chair R. Brent Keyser said that he and his fellow board members “do not agree with the propriety of the present use of your father’s name in connection with the Country School.” He added later, “but we withdraw all objection.” He continued, “Will you please accept from all of us our regret we have not so far been able to do that which we consider a matter of duty and affection.” The correspondence is in the Ferdinand Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library.

Keyser then advised the president of the Country School’s board of trustees that “all objection had been removed.” The president of that board was none other than Joseph S. Ames, the distinguished Johns Hopkins physicist who later served as president of the university (1929–1935).

The memorial to Gilman finally was created when the first major building at Homewood, known in the planning stages as “the academic building,” was completed, in 1915, and named Gilman Hall.