Looking at the cover picture of this book, a painting of Mary Elizabeth Garrett by John Singer Sargent you wouldn't never imagine that behind the sweet, tender and just apparently remissive face of that mature lady, there was a pioneer of human rights and one of the most remarkable women who changed, with her immense donations and innovative ideas the existence of women in the USA, of course, for better.
This new book by Johns Hopkins University Mary Elizabeth Garrett
Society and Philantropy in the Gilded Age by Kathleen Waters Sander, author also of John W. Garrett and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad will be highly appreciared.
Sanders returns in the family Garrett, this time, taking in consideration one of the most crucial members of the family: the daughter of John Work Garrett, Mary Elizabeth.
Her existence, she was born before the advent of the Secession War, in 1854 if the state of things would have remained that one, was written by her destiny: a girl of the upper class with privileges and a predictable life.
But the existence of Mary hasn't always been predictable: at 8 months, maybe for an error of a baby-sitter, she developed a problem at an ankle and she walked only at 4 years, with many difficulties till at the age of 8-9 years.
These problems affected her so badly and probably marked the rest of her existence.
The arrival of the Secession War meant for the family Garrett, as always happen in common families sometimes a division regarding who support in that segment of the existences.
A sibling of Mary became a devoted of Southerner cause; her father was a supporter of the cause of the North; John would have helped in many ways President Lincoln, alive and...dead thanks to the railroad created and expanded continously.
Growing up, Mary, in the schools where she studied in, met a lot of females friends with which she will remain united forever; Mary became, after the Secession War and when the problems in their family regarding political issues were sorted out, the secretary of mr. Garrett.
In this position she left for Europe with her father, when John Garrett fell sick and the main suggestion was changing air and enjoy Europe.
Months and months spent in Europe, father and daughter not only visited many places, but met many interesting people. To Mary Elizabeth this trip meant work and relaxation.
Returned home, Mary Elizabeth in her twenties had developed her character and it was a character that whispered of human rights in the direction of women, thanks also to her friends, progressive girls: Bessie King, Julia Rogers, Martha Carey Thomas, Mary MacKall Gwinn.
Children of prominent Baltimore leaders these girls had in common love of reading and sense of adventure.
These friendships between women incredibly important in the nineteenth century because created a strong alliance with the same sex people and a sort of less dominance of the power of men on women.
Not only: being thinkers, women could start to model, to shape the kind of world they would have wanted to live in.
The group, during their night dedicated to reading, discovered a lot about sexuality and marriage and Mary defined what it meant to be married in that moment also for her brothers's wives; victorian wives, an a predictable existence.
Mary didn't felt all of it.
She had had some men who courted her and she would have found anyway a great husband considering her social position, but she didn't never become a married woman.
Another problem developed by Mary was the father; the father would have wanted a male, and the father, under many ways wouldn't never have wanted that she would have married anyone. And, psychologically, when parents "asks" this to children, children obey.
A problem once the high school was over, was college. Girls couldn't study in college. It wasn't for them. They had to marry someone, build a family, create several children growing up them and that was the existence expressed in that society.
Mary asked to herself why it should have been in this way.
Mary insisted: the father refused any kind of college-idea. There was so a teacher just returned from Paris, who had created a school to Paris for women. Oh, Mary fascinated, asked for this to his father. Paris!
Nothing to do, but, the father, resigned, said her, if you want, you can take some classes with this lady it's OK.
Mary was at that time 25 years and still completely dependant from his father, who controlled how she spent money.
Her friends went to Cambridge, Zurich, and other places for studying in college.
Mary felt she still was behind them; they all left Baltimore for realizing their dreams.
Mary, alone and without a marriage, without a perspective apart following here and there his father when sick, fell depressed.
Garrett spent some time in Bellagio, Italia, where recovered again from the stresses he was living.
There's to say that they were not the just the only sick Garretts; in the family Garrett sometimes members suffered of weird illnesses.
This illness reduced the girl at a pretty poor state, because doctors asked her of reducing her social life; more than what had done by John Work Garrett.
In the while, the departure of Johns Hopkins at 78 years meant the creation thanks to the massive amount of money left for the purpose, of an University and a new Hospital.
Hopkins was an exceptional man: he wanted that everyone could be cured in the hospital. Rich and poor. This city made the difference. No, wait: that men made the difference!
The creation of another Ivy League university as Harvard and Yale were and are, was not what the city was searching for: Baltimore wanted, with the Johns Hopkins University to feed the hunger of the middle-class students, giving a chance to everyone.
The main field was medicine. Of course the Johns Hopkins University wanted the best minds of Europe and America. University's first building was a simple one; no one wanted a beautiful buildings; men were more important than buildings.
Mary when the university opened insisted with the father: Johns Hopkins didn't believe that men were more important than women. Why not taking classes at the local university?
Problem was that many people thought that the future of women was substantially different; they had to marry someone, have babies, taking good care of family.
In the case of Mary Elizabeth the "brakes" for a common life as everyone know it was her father and the problem maybe at the ankle.
Once the university started courses there were attacks for several reasons made by Garrett at the university. He would have wanted to see more courses and more quality. Things needed to be done well.
Mary Elizabeth understood that she still didn't have her own place in the world and that people were thinking at her destiny.
A destiny that it hasn't been after all ungrateful although it meant to her, in the first part of her existence a great subordination.
After the death of her mother for a disgrace and the end of her father 10 months later, Mary Elizabeth inherited a real fortune.
One of the brothers became the new chief of the B&O. Mary started to receiving wagons of letters from the most diversified people asking for help, asking for money. At the end she "hired" someone for taking this correspondence under control.
Her destiny, would have been the one of dedicating the rest of her existence to philantrophy and women's existence. Who had more money served in local communities, helped the communities in the most diversified ways.
Mary, simply wanted "to help women" as remarked the author.
What these women did was promoting the arts, but also working for obtaining women's suffrage, helping women in the straggle with financial security and much more.
What, if, in fact women's limitations would become women's opportunities?
With her friends returned from Europe after the years attended in college, decided that it was time for the creation of a school for girls in their homeland. So in 1885 was founded a school just for girls.
The school met its problems when refused Jewish people. The news reached the press and the institution treated as an anti-semitic one.
If at school there were frictions and important differentations of thinking, Mary has had the privilege of knowing very well two first ladies.
Robert the new guidance of the B&O didn't reach the same success of his father and wasn't maybe a business man as his father was.
Plus new health problems constricted him the wife and Mary at a long trip. It was beautiful and the trip restored soul and body; a tragedy, the departure of Harry devastated them when they were to Paris.
The story absolutely shocking, destroyed the mood of the family.
There were several changed in the B&O, Mary's life continued but she was severly touched by this departure.
Considering what happened in her existence, the death of Harry, and Robert's breakdown, she was now the primar executor of her father's estate.
Mary at the end donated to the Johns Hopkins University a very large amount of money asking to them to opening to women.
It hasn't been simple but the most important fight of Mary.
When the agreement was signed the university was celebrating the 17th anniversary of its birth and Mary at the age of 38 years became the most important and influential philantropist of the USA.
Changes introduced by Mary were many and significants and meant real progress for the university that was still searching for a solid reality.
If this biggest fight was over and now the university could realistically fly with different standards, Mary unfortunately fought at long because of her patrimony.
When she decided of moving legal action against the family, one of her siblings, Robert died abruptly, while Horatio one of the sons of her brother fell ill with bone cancer. After the disappearance of her brother, it became much more difficult and intricated to see an end at the story of the family's patrimony.
Mary Elizabeth Garrett passed to the history for as a woman who, thanks to her Philantropy produced a profound change in the American way of thinking medicine and higher education, donating possibilities at high level at women.
I thank Johns Hopkins University Press for the physical copy of this book.
Anna Maria Polidori