Mary Elizabeth Garrett is born on 5 March in Baltimore to Rachel Anne Harrison Garrett and John Work Garrett. She is their only daughter after three sons: Henry, Robert, and Thomas Harrison. A giant in shipping and transport, John Work Garrett is the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Garrett studies primarily at “Miss Kummer’s School of Girls” on Mount Vernon Place when in Baltimore, and privately with tutors when traveling abroad with her family.
Late 1860s and 1870s “Papa’s Secretary”
John W. Garrett recognizes and nurtures his daughter’s natural aptitude for business. In her teens and early twenties she frequently assists him in his business dealings.
1878 the “Friday evening” group
Garrett meets regularly with a group of high-minded young women in Baltimore to discuss literature, philosophy, and social issues. They refer to themselves as the “Friday evening” group, since they meet on the second Friday of each month. The group includes Bessie King, Mamie Gwinn, M. Carey Thomas, and Julia Rogers.
1879-1882 Advanced Schooling
Garrett fails a college entrance examination because of anxiety and an inability to concentrate. Not passing this exam is a particularly devastating setback since her father had discouraged her from attending college and actively seeking a career and from accepting suitors. She later graduates from a seminary in New Jersey.
1883 Death of Mother
Rachel Harrison Garrett, Mary Elizabeth’s mother, dies on 15 November.
1884 Death of Father
John Work Garrett, Mary Elizabeth’s father, dies on 26 September. Having named his daughter co-executor of his estate, he leaves her one third of his fortune, estimated at $9 million.
1885-1890 Founding of Bryn Mawr School
Mary Elizabeth Garrett funds the establishment of the Bryn Mawr School, the first of her large-gift philanthropies. M. Carey Thomas directs the school’s curriculum while Garrett leads its financing and administration. She oversees the planning and construction of the new building. One of the best-equipped education facilities in 19th Century Baltimore, it meets all the functional needs of the forward-looking new curriculum.
1885-1890 Women’s Industrial Exchange of Baltimore
Drawn to the mission of enabling women of little means to earn income through the sale of their wares, Garrett becomes involved with the Board of Lady Managers.
1887 – 1893 Johns Hopkins
In 1887 Garrett offers to fund a coeducational school of science near her Montebello estate. The University rejects this proposal.
Two years later Garrett, along with the other members of the “Friday evening” group, organizes the Women’s Medical Fund Committee to raise money for the school of medicine planned by Johns Hopkins.
In 1890 the “Friday evening” group launches a national campaign to raise an endowment for the medical school planned for Johns Hopkins. Their ambition is to force the university, through public opinion and financial leverage, to admit women and men on an equal basis at the proposed school. The women raise $111,300 which includes a gift of $47,787.50 by Mary Elizabeth.
In 1891 Garrett offers an additional $100,000 to the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees, on the condition that the balance needed to meet the requisite $500,000 endowment be in hand by February 1892.
On Dec. 22, 1892, Garrett offers to give the remaining balance of $306,977 needed to adequately endow the medical school, provided that the university maintains her strict entrance requirements.
In February 1893, the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees finally accepts Garrett’s gift with its accompanying conditions. Among these conditions are provisions that men and women be admitted to the school and enjoy all its advantages on the same terms, that the medical school be a graduate school, and that admitted applicants have a bachelor’s degree and provide proof of satisfactory knowledge in physics, chemistry, biology, French, and German. The school opens in October of that same year, 1893.
1893 Bryn Mawr College Gift
Garrett offers to donate $10,000 annually to Bryn Mawr College if the trustees elect M. Carey Thomas to the presidency. In doing so, the trustees secure her generous annual donation.
1896 Bryn Mawr College improvements
Garrett contributes $100,000 to renovate the Deanery at Bryn Mawr and make other major improvements to the campus. Over her lifetime, she contributes more than $400,000 to Bryn Mawr College.
1906 Leadership roles at Bryn Mawr College and the Suffrage Movement
Garrett is elected Director-at-Large of the newly formed Board of Directors of the Trustees of Bryn Mawr.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association convenes in Baltimore, at Mary Garrett’s urging. She entertains Susan B. Anthony and members of the Association at a reception in her Monument Street mansion.
1907 Fundraising for the National American Woman Suffrage Association
Garrett chairs a committee that raises $60,000 for the cause.
1908 National College Equal Suffrage League
Garrett is appointed finance chair of the League, and serves in that position at least through 1914.
1909 Withdraw from public life
Garrett’s stamina diminishes as her fragile health worsens. She withdraws from involvement in suffrage and other causes.
Mary Elizabeth Garrett dies on April 3 at Bryn Mawr College, at age 61. She is buried at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore next to her father. It is fitting that they rest near the grave of Johns Hopkins, whose university they both so greatly enriched. Her epitaph reads “A woman of quiet realized enthusiasm she served her day and generation well and will be long remembered by those for whom she laboured.”