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Johns Hopkins (1795-1873)

Born on a tobacco plantation in Maryland, Johns Hopkins was a Quaker businessman who made his fortune from banking, shipping and investing in the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. When he was a child, his family freed their slaves and put their own children to work on the family plantation, a decision which ended the young Hopkins’s education. Nevertheless, he was one of the wealthiest men in America when he died in 1873. In his will, Hopkins left $7million, mostly in railway shares, to trustees who were instructed to build a university and hospital that would bear his name.

When completed in 1889, Johns Hopkins was the most modern hospital and represented everything that was advanced in medicine. Planned by the Civil War surgeon John Shaw Billings, the hospital cost more than $2 million to build. Its first four physicians, William Welch, William Osler, William Halstead and Howard Kelly, are remembered for their ability to wed treatment, research and education. The hospital became a model to which many other institutions aspired.

Hopkins was not the only wealthy philanthropist to give his name to a hospital. Many other less well known donors are memorialised in the hospitals they founded. For example, the Tang Tock Seng Hospital (founded 1844) is the only hospital in Singapore named after an individual; its founder was a businessman and the first Asian Justice of the Peace in that country. Many other medical institutions worldwide might not have been built were it not for such donations. Those unable to build entire hospitals secured their legacies in other ways. Some middle-class donors have funded wards, while others endowed cots, some of which still carry their names.

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H A McGehee, G H Brieger, S L Abrams and V A McKusick, A Model of Its Kind: A Centennial History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins, 2 vols (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989)