Portrait of Mary Elizabeth Garrett, painted by John Singer Sargent. (Photo: Will Kirk)

On Jan. 10, 2018, our dean, Paul Rothman, dedicated our school of medicine’s main boardroom to Mary Elizabeth Garrett.

You may ask, who is Mary Elizabeth Garrett?

I didn’t know either when I started at Johns Hopkins. But I have come to revere this remarkable woman.

Garrett’s father was the head of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. When he died in 1884, she became, at age 30, one of the richest women in America. Unlike her two brothers, though, she wasn’t allowed to go to college or take over her father’s businesses. So she devoted her life to making sure other women had the opportunities that were denied to her.

When The Johns Hopkins University needed money to build its medical school, Garrett and her female friends offered $100,000. They demanded, back in 1893, that the school accept women, and accept them on the same terms as men.

Because of those stipulations, our medical school, 125 years after it was founded, has graduated more than 2,000 women, including Redonda Miller, who is now president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. What’s more, Garrett set a standard for inclusiveness and academic rigor at Hopkins that has been copied by medical schools around the world.

Attending the boardroom dedication gave me chills. Listening to the speeches about Garrett’s story and impact gave me chills.

Thinking about how important it is for any underrepresented minority or person with limited power to graciously push for what is right gave me chills.

Seeing in that boardroom the portrait of Garrett, the only woman among many wonderful and impactful deans, gave me chills.

We celebrate Garrett now, but her family did not approve of her actions and never spoke of her. At the dedication, her great-great-great-grandnephew, Jim Garrett, said he didn’t even know about his “Aunt Mary” until he was in his 40s, and he learned more about her at this special event. This also gave me chills.

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