Johns Hopkins Magazine -- April 2000
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APRIL 2000


The university's founding faculty were men "skilled in their specialties" and "eminent in their calling."
APRIL 2000
Pioneers of Scholarship

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The Six Who
Built Hopkins

By Neil Grauer '69

Editor's Note: The article that follows had to be shortened considerably in the print version of Johns Hopkins Magazine. Below you will find the story in its entirety.

"It is on the Faculty, more than any other body that the building of a university depends," Daniel Coit Gilman wrote.

"It is not the site, nor the apparatus, nor the halls, nor the library...which draws the scholars -- it is a body of living teachers, skilled in their specialties, eminent in their calling, loving to teach. Such a body of teachers will make a university anywhere."

When Gilman set out to "make a university" as the first president of Johns Hopkins, he sought to find just such teachers for Hopkins' first faculty.

Gilman would consult with scholars nationwide and visit many of the universities of Great Britain and Europe, particularly Germany, to seek advice and recruit talent. The initial six full professors he selected included three Englishmen and two Americans with degrees from German universities -- yet the first of the six men he picked was a purely home-grown talent he happened upon largely by chance: Henry A. Rowland.

Just 27 years old when Gilman met him in 1875, Rowland was born on November 27, 1848 in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, the son of Presbyterian minister. At the age of three, he had demonstrated his extraordinary precocity by making a model of a clock out of a cardboard carton. At the age of 21, he invented the first continuous current dynamo ever built. He was trained as a civil engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Later switching to physics and electricity, he would proudly assert that he never saw a machine, no matter how complicated, whose workings he could not instantly grasp.

Rowland was teaching at Rensselaer when a professor of physics at the nearby United States Military Academy at West Point recommended him to Gilman, who was on the Academy's Board of Visitors. Gilman found Rowland to be exceptionally promising -- "a young man of rare intellectual powers and of uncommon aptitude for experimental science," he wrote. Gilman offered Rowland the Hopkins professorship in physics at a salary of $1,600 a year ($400 more than he was earning at Rensselaer), and invited the young physicist to accompany him on a trip to Europe to purchase equipment for his laboratory and meet the leading physicists there. With almost a year to prepare for the convening of Hopkins' first classes in October 1876, Rowland accepted, promising to "do my best to make the institution a success." Later arriving in Baltimore, he told Gilman: "Give me time and apparatus, and if our University is not known, it will not be my fault."

At first, Rowland did not seem to fulfill Gilman's requirement that a faculty member love to teach. He intended to focus on research, and when asked what he would do with his students, he replied: "Do with them? Do with them? Why, I shall neglect them, of course!" Yet as one of his students, Thomas C. Mendehall, later observed: "To be neglected by Rowland...was more stimulating and inspiring than the closest supervision by lesser men." As A.D. Moore noted in a 1982 article in Scientific American, "As a well as a scientist, Henry A. Rowland must be reckoned among the founders of physics in America." Of the 90 American physicists "starred" by a vote of their colleagues in an edition of American Men of Science in the mid-1920s, 29 were Hopkins graduates.< p> Rowland's greatest achievement was the revolutionary design of his "Ruling Engine" for dividing the visible spectrum of light into constant, reproducible components. The impact of this accomplishment extended far beyond the scientific community, even so impressing renowned artist Thomas Eakins that he painted Rowland's portrait -- with the Ruling Engine. Eakins wrote to Rowland: "The directness and simplicity of that engine has affected me and I shall be a better mechanic and a better artist."

Despite an often shy, reticent manner, Rowland had a compelling personality and broad interests. He loved Chopin, Raphael's paintings, photography, fishing, sailing and fox hunting. An enthusiastic, somewhat reckless horseman, he joked that many of the trees in Baltimore's rural outskirts were adorned with lost pairs of his beribboned pince-nez spectacles. "Nobody could walk with him, hunt with him, sail with him, talk with him, work with him, without perceiving his firms grasp, his clear aim, his concentrated energy, his extraordinary powers," Gilman later wrote.

Tragically, Rowland's spectacular career in pure scientific pursuits came to an abrupt end when in 1890 he was diagnosed with diabetes, then an untreatable, invariably fatal illness. Knowing he had at best a decade or so to live, he began concentrating on projects that would produce commercial profits and provide security for his wife and two young children. Among his inventions was a "multiplex" telegraph apparatus that could carry up to eight messages at once. It won a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. When Rowland died on April 16, 1901 at the age of 53, Gilman mourned him as "our departed brother, our dear colleague, our honored teacher, our ornament, our pride and our delight."

In 1929, the University built a new physics building on the Homewood Campus and named it for Rowland. When the Department of Physics moved to the new Bloomberg Center in 1991, Rowland Hall was renamed for Zanvyl Krieger. Rowland's name -- and greatest invention -- remain memorialized at Homewood by a small stone monument on Wyman Quadrangle, commemorating his Ruling Engine, and by the designation of the physics department as the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics.

Gilman's second appointment to the Hopkins faculty was a scholar who had been just as precocious as Rowland when a child -- and lived much longer: Basil L. Gildersleeve, professor of Greek. Gildersleeve reached the age of 92, and at his death in 1924 was likely the last man to have known Edgar Allan Poe personally. (They both had lived in Richmond in the 1840s, and Gildersleeve, though just a teenager, was a fellow contributor with Poe to the Southern Literary Messenger. Gildersleeve liked to recall how he once had heard Poe recite The Raven.)

Gildersleeve was born on October 23, 1831 in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of a Presbyterian evangelist who was responsible for much of his early schooling. Gildersleeve's passion for classical learning and early brilliance led first to the College of Charleston and thereafter to Jefferson College in Pennsylvania and Princeton, where he received his bachelor's degree at 18. Seeking advanced studies in Europe, he obtained his Ph.D. at Gottinger in 1853, when he was 22. In 1856, he assumed a professorship of Greek at the University of Virginia.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Gildersleeve joined the Confederate Army, as did many other faculty members at UVA. In the summer of 1864, during a skirmish in the Shenandoah Valley, he was taking orders to the front when he was severely wounded by gunfire. He later succinctly summarized this military exploit: "I lost my pocket Homer, I lost my pistol, I lost one of my horses, and finally I came near losing my life...." Because of his wound, he ever afterward walked with a pronounced limp.

The prospect of a defeated South dominated by the North prompted Gildersleeve to consider emigrating to Mexico. Instead, he returned to the devastated University of Virginia and helped rebuild it. He would later write: "At the University of Virginia I learned what scholarship and toil meant in terms of growth and inner rewards."

At Hopkins, Gildersleeve enhanced his reputation as a demanding, sometimes sarcastic teacher of the Greek masters whose students nonetheless thrived under his intense tutelage. He founded the American Journal of Philology in 1880 and edited it for 40 years. In 1891, he praised the atmosphere at Hopkins: "The greater freedom of action, the larger appliances, the wider and richer life, the opportunities to travel and for personal intercourse have stimulated production and have made the last fourteen years my most fruitful years in the eyes of the scholarly world." In 1912, the National Institute of Arts and Letters compiled a list of the country's "Forty Immortals," and placed Gildersleeve among them -- along with Theodore Roosevelt, Henry James, John Muir, John Singer Sargent, and Woodrow Wilson.

Gildersleeve retired from teaching in 1915 but retained his lively mind -- and rapier wit -- until his death. Although he supposedly had mellowed over the years, on the eve of his 92nd birthday, he brusquely berated a reporter for the Baltimore News who sought to interview him: "How long have you been interviewing? You're not particularly good at it." He then confided to the bemused but awed journalist: "At night, when I can't sleep, I repeat passages of Greek poetry that I remember." Shortly after Gildersleeve's death on January 9, 1924, Felix Morley wrote in The Nation: "If ever a man of 92 carried the spirit of youth unquenched it was Professor Gildersleeve."

James Joseph Sylvester, the third man chosen by Gilman for the Hopkins faculty, was considerably older and more accomplished than any of his colleagues -- and also had overcome bigotry in order to achieve acclaim as one of the world's foremost mathematicians.

Sylvester, born in London on September 3, 1814, was Jewish. Although he displayed remarkable mathematical skills at an early age, most British universities refused to accept him because of his religion. He finally was admitted to the University of London -- at the age of 14. Although he completed examinations at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1837, he was refused a degree and forbidden to compete for prizes or fellowships because he could not subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. Since British universities, as Sir William Osler later observed, still were "steeped in port and prejudice," Sylvester saw little hope for pursuing his profession there. Seeking to escape what he diplomatically called the "frozen formality of our academic institutions," Sylvester accepted the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia in 1841.

Sylvester's arrival at UVA was hailed by fireworks and bonfires, but he quickly found the students there to be a rowdy -- sometimes dangerous -- group. One of them even had murdered a faculty member shortly before Sylvester arrived. When, within a year, another student threatened Sylvester and received what he deemed a perfunctory reprimand, Sylvester packed up and left, returning to an England whose universities remained no more hospitable to him than before.

Sylvester took a job with a life insurance firm in London, became a lawyer, and even gave private mathematical instruction. Among his students was a friend's young niece -- Florence Nightingale. In 1855 he at last was appointed to an academic position at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He spent 15 years there studying the invariant and partition theories, as well as polynomial equations, before being compelled to retire in 1870. Up to that point, Sylvester's career in mathematics might have been considered acceptable but not outstanding, yet those familiar with his work knew he was capable of far greater achievements -- and recommended him to Gilman. Endeavoring to find the finest men for his new faculty, Gilman was concerned that at the age of 61, Sylvester might lack the drive to create a mathematics department and take on new students. He ultimately decided that Sylvester's desire to begin his academic career anew would be sufficient motivation. Although Sylvester made unusual demands -- initially he insisted on being paid in gold, receiving his students' fees, and on having his housing costs covered -- agreement was reached for him to come to Baltimore in May 1876.

Sylvester proved to be "great as a maker of mathematicians, no less than as a maker of mathematics," observed David S. Blondheim (BA '06; Ph.D. '10) in a 1921 article in the Alumni Magazine. Although he spent just seven years at Hopkins -- 1876 to 1883 -- Sylvester had a profound impact on both the university and on his field. He would prove to be extremely adept at selecting faculty members who would later have exceptional careers on their own, and as Homewood Campus archivist James Stimpert has noted, Sylvester launched and edited the American Journal of Mathematics while pursuing and overseeing considerable research in higher mathematics. (Recognizing prejudice when he saw it, Sylvester also insisted that a gifted female graduate student, Christine Ladd, be accepted for admission.)

Renowned British philosopher Herbert Spencer contended that Sylvester's Theory of Invariants, and the methods of investigation that have grown out of it, "constitute a step in mathematical progress greater than any made since the Differential Calculus." As the Baltimore Sun observed nearly a half century ago, Sylvester's work provided much of the "foundation upon which Einstein and others built the theory of relativity."

With his success at Hopkins widely recognized, Sylvester was offered the Savilian professorship in geometry at Oxford. He returned to England, eager to be accepted for a prestigious post where once he had been scorned. He was preparing a mathematical paper in February 1897 when he suffered a severe stroke and died a few weeks later, on March 16.

Many tales -- some probably apocryphal -- arose about Sylvester's absent-mindedness and quirky behavior at Hopkins. He was famous for concentrating so thoroughly on a problem that he became oblivious to everything else. He also was known to go off on unrelated tangents in the middle of a lecture, befuddling his students. One of them recalled: "So abstruse was Sylvester's work...that after the lapse of years he himself was unable to understand a certain paper he had written." Yet when he once was asked the nearly imponderable question, "What is mathematics," Sylvester had a quick, almost romantic response: "Why, gentlemen, mathematics is poetry."

Ira Remsen, Gilman's fourth choice for the first faculty, remained at Hopkins longer than any of the others -- and in a significant way, he still is here, his ashes resting in the building that bears his name.

Remsen was only 30 years old when Gilman offered him the chair in chemistry, but he already had established a national and international reputation in his field. He would greatly enhance that reputation at Hopkins.

Remsen was born on February 10, 1846 in New York City and was educated in its public schools. He then obtained a Doctor of Medicine degree from the city's College of Physicians and Surgeons, but only did so at the behest of his parents. He practiced medicine for a short while before abandoning it to concentrate on his true love, chemistry. He went to Munich, where he spent a year, then transferred to Gottingen, from which he earned his Ph.D. in 1870. He remained there for two more years as an assistant to one of his professors.

When Remsen returned to the United States, he became a professor of chemistry and physics at Williams College. He received little encouragement to conduct original research there, so he focused his energies on teaching and on translating a German chemistry textbook so he would have one for his students. Soon he wrote his own textbook, Theoretical Chemistry, in which his skill at condensing the fundamentals of the field was so pronounced that the book was promptly translated into German and Italian, winning Remsen international acclaim. The success of the book also caught the eye of Gilman, who offered its author the Hopkins chemistry chair.

Remsen eagerly grasped the opportunity to build his own chemistry laboratory in Baltimore and to welcome students there. He wrote additional textbooks that would remain standards for decades; was the founder and sole editor for 35 years of the American Chemical Journal; and was an extraordinary teacher who helped establish Hopkins as a leading institution for teaching graduate science. His laboratory "became a Mecca for graduate students, many of whom subsequently became outstanding figures in chemical education in many of America's colleges and universities," an admirer once wrote. He was a pioneer in chemical research, mostly in the field of organic chemistry but in other fields as well. His work led to the synthesis of the first sulphophthaleins.

When Gilman retired as Hopkins' president in 1901, Remsen was chosen to succeed him. Remsen's first great challenge was to raise the money required to take advantage of a tremendous new gift -- the land that would become the Homewood Campus. While seeking contributions for the university's endowment and extension fund, Remsen proposed that among other activities, Hopkins establish a School of Public Hygiene and a Training School for Teachers. Thus were sown the seeds that grew into the School of Hygiene and Public Health and the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.

It is ironic that despite all he did to foster graduate and adult education in the U.S., Remsen today is best known for something that earned him little recognition -- and no money -- during his lifetime: the discovery of saccharin. In 1879, a visiting research fellow, Constantin Fahlberg, working under Remsen's guidance, accidentally discovered an artificial sweetener while analyzing a derivative of coal tar. With Remsen as the lead author, they published their findings in 1880, but four years later, Fahlberg patented the discovery -- without mentioning Remsen. Fahlberg grew wealthy while Remsen fumed. He wasn't interested in the money, Remsen always said, but in receiving credit for the discovery. The controversy over the discovery of saccharine still is raised at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, where a life-size likeness of Remsen -- replete with a recorded "voice" offering his views on the responsibilities of a university and on Fahlberg's duplicity -- is displayed in the "Science in American Life" exhibition.

The last survivor of the original Hopkins faculty, Remsen died on March 4, 1927. The following year, at his wife's request, his ashes were placed behind a plaque in Remsen Hall, the Homewood Campus's chemistry building that had been named in his honor.

When Gilman set out to fill the first chair of biology, he wished to find someone who could bridge the gap between undergraduate study and the work in medical school, as Homewood Campus archivist James Stimpert has noted. In this way, Gilman hoped that whoever held the biology chair could help establish the School of Medicine when it later opened.

While in Europe seeking advice, Gilman met with famed British biologist Thomas Huxley, an early proponent of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Huxley recommended that Gilman hire his assistant, Henry Newell Martin, a brilliant young researcher who had aided Huxley in the preparation of various textbooks and was a superb teacher as well.

Martin was born on July 1, 1848, the oldest of the 12 offspring of a Congregational minister in Ireland. He went to the University of London in 1863 when he was only 15 -- his early brilliance being enough to warrant a waiver of the age requirement for entrance (as had been the case years earlier for Sylvester). In 1870 Martin won a scholarship to Cambridge, where he became closely associated with Huxley.

At Hopkins, Martin shared his old mentor's desire to popularize science. He began a series of Saturday lectures for school teachers and published new textbooks while revising older ones.

In his own research, Martin became fascinated with the new field of circulatory physiology, or the study of how the heart pumps blood throughout the body. Soon he was the country's leading cardiac physiologist and mentor himself to such future scholars as Harry Sewall, William T. Sedgwick, William K. Brooks and William H. Howell -- with both Brooks and Howell remaining at Hopkins for many years.

Martin believed in a multidisciplinary approach to biological study. In an 1877 article in Popular Science Monthly, he wrote: "No mistake is more disastrous than the idea that a man can be a botanist and nothing more; a zoologist, and nothing more; a physiologist, and nothing more. It is true that no one can be a master of all these physical sciences, but it is none the less true that hardly one of them can be entirely neglected by the biologist.... [D]efinite knowledge of various sciences is constantly required by the biologist."

Because Martin's cardiac research involved experimentation on animals, he was denounced by antivivisectionists both locally and nationally for his "barbarous" activities. Martin denied inflicting unwarranted pain on his animal subjects and insisted that the results of his experiments would aid humanity, but the vociferous protests against his work may have caused him to begin drinking heavily. By 1891, Martin had become an alcoholic; and a painful neurological condition led to an added addiction to morphine. In 1892, his wife died and Martin's deterioration advanced more rapidly. Gilman, realizing that Martin could no longer teach or help in the foundation of the medical school, was compelled to urge him to resign.

Returning to England in 1894, Martin resumed his physiological research in Huxley's laboratory, but his health was beyond repair and he died on October 27, 1896. Despite his tragically truncated career, Martin made significant advances in cardiac research and in establishing professionalism in physiology. His successors at Hopkins would use these contributions to medical science as foundation stones for building the School of Medicine.

Charles D'Urban Morris, the last of the six original Hopkins faculty members selected by Gilman, was the first of them to die; and partly as a consequence of his early death, Morris also was the founding faculty member to have the least impact in his field and on the future of the university.

Having already chosen Gildersleeve to be the Professor of Classics, Gilman demonstrated how important he and the trustees viewed classical studies by choosing to devote yet another of the rare initial faculty posts to it, offering Morris the post of Collegiate Professor of Latin and Greek.

Morris was born in 1827 in Dorset, England, one of the 10 children of Rear Admiral Henry Gage Morris of the British Navy. He earned his bachelor's degree at Oxford in 1849 and obtained his master's degree from its Oriel College in 1852. The following year he emigrated to the United States and taught in private schools before being appointed to the professorship of classics at the City University of New York.

Because Morris had written two highly regarded Latin textbooks, Gilman made inquiries about him and found that he was considered one of the finest classical scholars in the U.S. or Britain. Since Gildersleeve already had the classics professorship, Gilman offered Morris the lesser collegiate professor post, in which he would be expected to concentrate on teaching undergraduates and thereby enable Gildersleeve to focus on graduate students. Although Morris had hoped to be able to teach more advanced students, perhaps the exciting prospects offered by Hopkins's founding -- and the chance to be a colleague of Gildersleeve -- prompted him to accept Gilman's offer, even though it contained no raise in pay. Gildersleeve praised Morris's appointment, saying his younger associate was "full of sap and fervor -- he will prove a valuable acquisition."

Morris enjoyed teaching and was much admired by his students -- but there were few of them, regrettably. Although Hopkins accepted undergraduates from the beginning of its classes in 1876, it had been founded as a research institution designed to concentrate on graduate studies, and Morris was given little official encouragement or support. At a university where emphasis was placed on science, research and individual initiative, Morris's focus on classical Greek and Latin scholarship -- albeit offered in some innovative ways -- had limited appeal. His classes were small; his impact slim. Gilman observed that "the times seemed to be against him, and the number of students who elected his courses was never very large."

Nevertheless, Gilman recognized that Morris's students "honored and loved him as a father, as an elder brother," and they grieved at his sudden death on February 7, 1886, after a brief illness. Morris had nearly finished a new edition of Thucydides, and his associates promised to ensure its publication.

In a eulogy that would do honor to any scholar -- and in many ways describes the attributes that the finest of Hopkins faculty members since have striven to demonstrate -- Gilman wrote of Morris: "As a teacher, he carried into the classroom the strength and warmth of thorough conviction.... Enthusiastic devotion to his subject, confidence in his methods, an ardent desire to impress and impart, gave him a hold on his pupils that is given to few, and his instruction will ever be memorable to those who had the privilege of his inspiration and guidance."