Libraries & Spaces
Historical Sketch of Georgetown University
Origins and Early Years
In 1789, John Carroll and the directors of a proposed "Academy at Georgetown" received the deed to the property on which they were already constructing a school building. Planning for the school had begun as early as 1783; fund-raising in 1786; construction in 1788; the building was completed and the instruction of students begun in 1791. This school was the first institution of higher learning opened under Roman Catholic auspices in the new republic; indeed, without the fruits of the American Revolution, the school would have been impossible, since under colonial law, Roman Catholics were forbidden to conduct schools or to celebrate the mass in public. The spirit of the revolution is also evident in the statement that the school "should be open to students of every religious profession", and the numbers of non-Catholic students and teachers have always been substantial.
Who were these men? John Carroll, the founder, was the son of a prominent Maryland merchant. His cousin Charles Carroll was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his brother Daniel signed the American Constitution. John had left America at the age of 14 in order to attend Catholic school on the continent. While there he decided to join the Society of Jesus. In time he was ordained and began a career as a teacher. Had not the Vatican abolished the Society of Jesus, Carroll would probably have lived out his life as a teacher and administrator in Jesuit schools in Europe. With the suppression, Carroll decided to return to America where he intended to serve as a simple country pastor, but it was not to be. First the Continental Congress asked him to join a diplomatic mission to Canada; later, with Independence won, Carroll developed an organization plan for the America clergy, who had been cut off from ecclesiastical authority by the Revolution. Carroll was named superior of the American mission and then the first American Roman Catholic Bishop.
The other directors of the Academy were also former members of the Society of Jesus, but many of the early faculty were members of the Sulpician order and refugees from the French Revolution. With the restoration of the Society of Jesus, the school passed fully under Jesuit auspices, and the long tradition of Jesuit liberal arts education has inspired our programs ever since.
Other traditions established in these early years include: - Internationalism: Our first printed prospectus was published in Spanish, French, and English, and many students came from the West Indies and the Iberian peninsula. -Public service: Over a hundred of our graduates have served in the American congress, including our very first student, William Gaston, who represented North Carolina in congress, and was later Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. A number of our alumni are members of the present congress, including Senators Patrick Leahy and George Mitchell. President William J. Clinton is a member of the class of 1968.
Growth of the School
With the full restoration of the Jesuits, it was decided to seek civil recognition for the school. William Gaston helped guide the Charter through Congress. It was passed and signed by President Madison March 1, 1815. The first Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded in 1817. During the Civil War, the College all but closed, as troops occupied the campus and most students returned home to join the two armies. After the war, the colors Blue and Grey were adopted to symbolize the reunification of North and South.
Georgetown College gradually moved towards University status in the nineteenth century. Master's degrees were first awarded in the 1820's. The School of Medicine was founded in 1851, and the Law School in 1870. The University Hospital was established in 1898; the Dental School in 1901; the Nursing School in 1903. The international focus of the school received recognition in the establishment of the School of Foreign Service by Rev. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., in 1919. The School of Languages and Linguistics and the Business School grew out of programs in the School of Foreign Service. Fr. Walsh later developed an international reputation as a student (and opponent) of totalitarian regimes of both the left and the right. He would serve on the Nuremberg Tribunal as an expert on geopolitics.
Georgetown has often been revitalized by refugees from the upheavals of the Old World. In the 1790's it was the French; in the 1840's and 1870's it was the Italians; and in the 1930's and 1940's it was the Germans. Particularly noteworthy are Professors Heinrich Rommen, Heinrich Kronstein, and Ernst Feilchenfeld. Among our alumni helping with the reconstruction of Germany were Major General George A. Horkan, who, as Chief Quartermaster of the European Command, directed the Berlin airlift.
Georgetown University has grown from a small academy into a modern university with 12,000 students coming from all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries; indeed, we are the largest private enterprise operating within the Nation's capital. Our alumni are active in all phases of the life of the nation and the world. A representative sampling might include: President William J. Clinton; Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating; broadcast journalist Maria Shriver; Project Hope founder William Walsh; Tony-award winners Jack Hofsiss and John Guare, authors William Peter Blatty and Michael Dorris; AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland; NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and basketball star Patrick Ewing.