An Uncommon Affection
While it may be difficult to fathom today, there actually was a time in the history of Johns Hopkins University when the school's entire administrative staff could be counted on one hand. The proof is right there on page 7 of the forthcoming book Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for the World (Johns Hopkins University Press); a 1915 photo shows two men and one woman--"Assistant registrar Holland, Registrar Thomas Randolph Bell, and President Remsen's secretary Miss Gwilliam"--staring severely back at the camera in their McCoy Hall office on the old downtown campus.
The photographic treasure is one of more than 400 that appear in the hefty 288-page history that editor Mame Warren has woven together to commemorate the university's 125th anniversary in February 2001.
Warren, who says she spent the last 18 months trying to "drown" herself "in the culture of the place," conducted hours-long interviews with 55 key Hopkins figures--faculty, alumni, and administrators, among them Richard Macksey '53 (PhD '57), Robert Pond Jr., Thomas Turner, D. A. Henderson, Chester Wickwire, and Grace Brush. The result: a richly textured portrait of the university--sometimes funny, often moving, surprisingly honest-- captured in the words of those who know and love the place best.
There's former president Steven Muller, for instance, half joking when he notes the resistance he encountered at Medicine and elsewhere after he pushed through a divisional tax to help shore up the financially ailing School of Arts & Sciences in the late 1980s: "It's sort of a personal triumph that I can now be a patient at the hospital, because if I'd gone there earlier, I don't know what kind of treatment I would have had. They would have just as soon done away with me, I think." And alumnus Helen Blumberg '73, "a standard-bearer for feminism," who said that as one of Arts & Sciences' first co-eds, she always "felt a little uncomfortable proclaiming that we are pushing forward" while being aware that most of those filling low-paying support staff jobs at the university were women.
The book strikes plenty of lighter notes as well. A vintage 1901 photo captures a madcap student quintet in the chemistry lab chugging from brown bottles. The caption notes drily that these '01'ers "apparently used themselves as subjects for their chemistry experiments." Fastforward to 1973, when streaking was the fad, to an unflinching posterior shot of a dozen unclad students storming Gilman Hall.
Warren, who was assisted by researcher Jane McWilliams, drew her inspiration for the organization of the book after early on reading the inaugural address of founding president Daniel Coit Gilman. "I had this incredible document in my hands that foresaw what has come to be. I was flabbergasted that this man [Gilman] in 1876 knew what was going to happen." Gilman's prescient phrases leap off the page, she says, inspiring her to use them as themes for the book's 12 chapters. Her challenge: to present a comprehensive, unified portrait of a place best known for its decentralization. Rather than a book "about the school of this, and the school of that," she says, "I knew that if I pursued the same themes Gilman pursued, I'd come up with a vision of the entire university, too." Former Hopkins Magazine art director Gerard Valerio carried through those themes in designing the book.
Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for the World will be available at bookstores beginning next month or can be ordered through Johns Hopkins University Press (1-800-537-5487; www.press.jhu.edu) for a special price of $45. -Sue De Pasquale
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