Raising Subscriptions: Organizing the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee

In order to raise the pledged $100,000, the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee had several tasks in front of it. They had to convince women that the medical school was in fact going to open, that they were willing to admit women, and that women’s medical education in the United States was something legitimate that they should care enough about to contribute their own money. Once this was accomplished, someone had to keep track of the subscribers and their donations.


Publicizing and Legitimating Women’s Medical Education

In order to publicize their mission and enhance its credibility, the women used several techniques. They wrote to newspapers and magazines, held parties, and recruited the support of eminent Americans. They distributed circulars, and subscribed to a newspaper clipping service. To keep the core group of women (mainly the Friday Evening group) informed, Mary Garrett wrote a series of letters beginning "Dear Girls” about the activities regarding the Medical Fund.

Referring to the innovative model of the recently opened Johns Hopkins Hospital, the circulars promoted the plans for the Medical School, and cited the reasons why the money was needed and should be raised as soon as possible. The authors assured the readers that “the embarrassment under which the university was suffering has proved to be only temporary.”1 It mentions the “high standard heretofore maintained by the university” and the preliminary medical course organized in the college. “There is every reason to think,” the circular continues, “that the gift with the proposed condition will be accepted if offered at the present time, but that, should the medical school open without women among its students, it would be difficult to secure their admission later”2 In other words, the authors of the circular argued that the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine would open, that it would be of the highest quality, and that it would accept women into its ranks if, and only if, readers acted immediately.

A luncheon in November 1890 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital which was followed by a reception at the home of Mary Elizabeth Garrett also aided the women’s attempts at publicity and legitimacy. The trustees issued the invitation for the members of the various local committees to visit the Hospital in order to see the facilities and advantages offered. At the lunch, Francis T. King, Henry M. Hurd, Daniel Coit Gilman, and Mary Putnam Jacobi each spoke. The reception was a great success, perhaps driven by people’s curiosity to see what they rarely could: the home of Mary Elizabeth Garrett and the First Lady Mrs. Benjamin Harrison who was in attendance. These events sparked much attention in the newspapers, which were clipped and sent to the committees by their clipping service.3

The Women’s Medical School Fund committee eventually comprised 15 chapters across the country and included many nationally prominent women. Among the luminaries of society and trailblazers for social change who joined the efforts of the committee and made financial contributions as well were Caroline Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison, the sitting president; Jane Stanford, wife of Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University and then a U.S. senator; Bertha Palmer, the queen of Chicago society, whose husband, Potter Palmer, had built the Palmer House Hotel; Louisa Adams, wife of President John Quincy Adams; Julia Ward Howe, the abolitionist who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"; Alice Longfellow, daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Sarah Orne Jewett, who featured strong and independent women in her novels; physician Mary Putnam Jacobi, organizer of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Education for Women; and Emily Blackwell, who, with her sister Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Zakrzewska, had opened in New York the first American hospital for and staffed by women.

The Committee also enlisted the support of distinguished men. According to Alan M. Chesney, the November luncheon and reception attracted the attention of Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine.4 Six essays in support of the Women’s Medical School Fund appeared in the February 1891 issue of Century Illustrated Monthly. Written by Charles F. Folsom, James Cardinal Gibbons, Mary Putnam Jacobi, Josephine Lowell, William Osler, and M. Carey Thomas, each essay presented arguments in support of women’s medical education. Reasons included the expense of two, single-sex medical schools, the need for women physicians in dealing with the insane, and the basic right of women to the same opportunities as men. These essays helped to sway public opinion in favor of the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee.

Raising Money

The women were organized into several committees based on geographic region. Each regional committee, charged with collecting and recording gifts, had a chairman, a secretary and a treasurer. Nancy Davis headed the Baltimore committee, with Mary Garrett serving as secretary and Camilla R. Morris as treasurer. M. Carey Thomas is listed as secretary of the Philadelphia Committee. The core group asked the most prominent women they knew in each city to head their committee. In Washington, Caroline Harrison served as chairman, her address listed only as The White House. Donations collected by the individual committees were sent to Baltimore, where a central bank account held the money until all $100,000 could be raised.

Report of the Women’s Fund for the Medical School of the Johns Hopkins University






Mary Elizabeth Garrett drew on her connections to the wealthy and influential. She could call upon important friends in many major American cities: Mrs. Billings of Washington, Mrs. Hearst of San Francisco, Mr. Childs of Philadelphia. During her visits, Garrett aimed to engage these friends in the committee’s work, acquire donations, and learn of others who should be contacted.

In the beginning, the funds were slow to come in. Even as publicity increased, donations did not. In response, Garrett raised her initial contribution from $10,000 to more than $47,000. By the time that the women offered their funds to the Board, they had collected more than the projected $100,000. When the funds were turned over, the amount had reached $111,300.5 The trustees were charged with finding the remainder of the $500,000 endowment required to start the medical school.



1General Circular. Women’s Medical School Fund for the Johns Hopkins University. Founding Documents. Alan M. Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore.


3Henry Romeike’s Bureau of Press Cuttings. Founding Documents. Alan M. Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore.

Alan M. Chesney. The Johns Hopkins Hospital and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: A Chronicle. Vol. 1: Early Years. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1943, 200.

Nancy Morris Davis. Letter to the Honorable George W. Dobbins. May 1, 1891. Founding Documents. Alan M. Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore.

The Women's Medical School Fund
Raising Subscriptions: Organizing the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee