As you know, March is Women’s History month in the U.S. It’s the perfect time to reflect on our past in ways that inspire our future. For me, one of the most inspiring and significant philanthropists in our country was Mary Elizabeth Garrett.
Mary was a strategic philanthropist before the phrase was even conceived! She used her intellect, position in society, wealth and network to advance higher education for women. She accomplished this at a time in American history when women did not have the right to vote nor were they provided opportunities to attain advanced degrees, most especially in the sciences and medicine.
Ms. Garrett was the favorite child of railroad tycoon, John W. Garrett. Mr. Garrett, a member of Johns Hopkins University’s board of trustees, often brought Mary to various business meetings with the likes of Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mary would later use the lessons from these interactions to become one of the most strategic and successful philanthropists of her time.
When her father passed away, Mary became one of the wealthiest women in America. It was then that she began her philanthropic journey. Disturbed by the lack of serious college preparatory schools for women, Mary leveraged her resources and her network of other wealthy heiresses to establish Bryn Mawr School in Maryland.
At Bryn Mawr, young girls studied modern and classical languages, history, math, English, science and physical education. While these topics are common areas of study today, in 1885 when the school opened, this curriculum was cutting edge for girls.
Another philanthropic accomplishment of Mary’s was opening the doors to a formal medical education for women. Ms. Garrett and her friends approached Johns Hopkins in 1887 with a gift of $35,000 (equal to $899,000 today) to establish a coeducational school of science. Unfortunately, this offer was rejected!
A couple of years later, the school was in an unenviable financial position, which caused a delay in opening its new medical school. Mary and her friends saw an opportunity to leverage their philanthropy and advance women’s education.
They approached the trustees again and offered to provide the funds needed to open the medical school, but in return, it had to begin admitting qualified women. The trustees accepted the terms and the gifts, totaling $500,000 (equal to $12,800,000 today), making Johns Hopkins the first modern medical school in America.
The impact of Mary’s two main philanthropic investments is certainly present with us today. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, in 2011, women made up 48% of those graduating from medical schools across America. This is due, in part, to the vision and passion of Mary Elizabeth Garrett and her friends.
Are you ready to follow in Mary’s footsteps? I would love to know what kind of impact you want to see with your philanthropy. Contact me and let’s talk.