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Today, one of the most prestigious universities in this country bears his name. In some parts of Maryland, his home state, you can't avoid his legacy. A hospital, the longest continuously operating academic press in America, a school of nursing, all named after this man because when he died, in 1873, he left money for those worthy causes.

Before any of those efforts were started, though, a home for black orphans was established.

In 1875. A pretty phenomenal thing to do — for most people. But for a man who grew up under the Quaker teaching that darker skin color meant only that tanning was out of the question, this was far from a philosophical stretch.

Because his parents emancipated the family slaves, this man learned not only the value of hard work but the equality of people. His care for his family would, one might argue, pave the way for his caring for Maryland after his death.

He never married (he was forbidden from marrying his one true love, a first cousin of his), and he never had any children. But today his children live on in, most famously, Johns Hopkins University.

For the enduring legacy of giving to a future unknown.

Yesterday I profiled a man whose name is remembered less by my generation than is the building named after him.

Today I examine an equally honorable and giving man whose life is largely unknown by my generation.

Despite our sharing a last name, much of his life was unknown to me before I checked today's notable births and saw among them a man whose name I recognized.

His life is equally worthy of recognition.

(This is so much more fun than quoting Nazis.)

If I didn't already know otherwise, I'd swear Johns Hopkins was born in the South: His family owned a tobacco plantation and a slave for every acre, all 500 of them.

The similarities end there, friends. Or, as Hopkins might have said: The similarities end there, my Society of Friends. A Quaker by birth and to his death, Hopkins was (as I noted in the introduction; y'all like the anticipation?) steadfast in his opposition to slavery. He had the perfect setup for a rebellious, pro-slavery adolescence when he had to quit school to help out at home once the slaves were gone, and especially after his father died.

Hopkins is one of those businessmen who learned how to do things by doing them, not by reading about them. He left school when he was 12 (similar to what more famous philanthropist and friend George Peabody did), and much of his learning on the job. No MBA, just an eventual mastery of business acumen.

He did get a little lucky, though. In his middle age, the railroad industry started picking up: This one, in particular, served him well, and served Maryland well upon his death. And he was not afraid to pay for his beliefs, so to speak, having used his railroad to benefit the Union during the Civil War.

When Johns Hopkins died, he guaranteed the disadvantaged black children of Maryland that they would be kept better than white children in orphanages. The Johns Hopkins Hospital Colored Orphan Asylum:

[was] built separate from the hospital but managed by the hospital trustees and operated by their funds. In 1875 the asylum opened at 206 E. Biddle Street in Baltimore with twenty six children. In 1894, it moved to Remington Avenue. In 1913, the Hospital’s Board of Trustees converted the asylum into a convalescent home and school for crippled colored children who had received orthopedic treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The former wards of the asylum were placed under the supervision of the social service department of the hospital, at other schools, or with families.

In many places in this country, we do not provide such coverage to poor children of any race 95 years later. And how do I know Hopkins meant this coverage to be for the poor? Because the asylum is part of the hospital, and:

Hopkins had stated to the trustees by letter his wish that the hospital care for "the indigent sick" and "the poor of the city and state of all races who are stricken down by any casualty."

But Hopkins didn't care only about the poor and the black. He also enhanced the medical scene in Maryland:

The opening of the Medical School, delayed because of a lack of funds, would have been forced further into the future had it not been for the efforts of a group of prominent Baltimore women desiring to promote medical education for women in the United States. Led by Mary Elizabeth Garrett who contributed $354,764, they organized a national Women’s Fund Campaign and raised $500,000 to guarantee the admission of women to Hopkins. They further insisted that Hopkins establish a medical school of high standards requiring a bachelor’s degree representing specific attainments in chemistry, biology, physics, German and French. The Hopkins University Trustees accepted this money with its conditions and immediately prepared to admit the school’s first class.

(I somehow doubt Hopkins would have disapproved of his medical school's accepting female students ...)

And before J.P. Morgan rescued the U.S. from bankruptcy, Johns Hopkins rescued Baltimore. Twice. It helped that his railroad was winning the battle for commercial dominance:

The State of Maryland concentrated its efforts on completing the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, designed to link the Potomac and Ohio River valleys, but the city of Baltimore supported an overland link in the form of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Although the two competed for routes and freight, to the eventual ruin of the canal and the financial embarrassment of the state, Baltimore's railroad reached Cumberland in 1842 and, by 1874, stretched to Chicago.

(And while Hopkins' donations to the city have forgotten where they come from, that shouldn't be a strike against the man.)

We have lost sight of Johns Hopkins' philanthropy because men like George Peabody, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Alfred Nobel and George Westinghouse did more, but we would do well to remember the largest philanthropic gift to that point in American history.

May we all leave the world better than we found it.

Originally posted to iampunha on Mon May 19, 2008 at 01:36 PM PDT.


Coolest thing about Johns Hopkins:

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