A History of Georgetown University

November 23, 2010

The discovery and imparting of knowledge are the essential undertakings of any university. Such purposes determined John Carroll, SJ’s modest and surprisingly ecumenical proposal to establish an academy on the banks of the Potomac for the education of the young in the early republic. What began earnestly in 1789 still continues today: the idea of Georgetown University as a Catholic university situated squarely in the American experience.

Beautifully designed with over 300 illustrations and photographs, A History of Georgetown University tells the remarkable story of the administrators, faculty, students, and programs that have made Georgetown a leading institution of higher education. With a keen eye for detail, historian Robert Emmett Curran—a member of the Georgetown community for over three decades—explores the broader perspective of Georgetown’s sense of identity and its place in American culture.

Volume One traces Georgetown’s evolution during its first century, from its beginnings as an academy within the American Catholic community of the Revolutionary War era through its flowering as a college before the Civil War to its postbellum achievements as a university. Volume Two highlights the efforts of administrators and faculty over the next seventy-five years to make Georgetown an ascending and increasingly diverse institution with a range of graduate programs and professional schools. Volume Three examines Georgetown’s remarkable rise to prominence as an internationally recognized research university—both culturally engaged and cosmopolitan while remaining grounded in its Catholic and Jesuit character. Each volume features numerous illustrations, photographs, and appendices that include student demographics, enrollments, and lists of board members.

About the Author:
Robert Emmett Curran is a professor emeritus of history at Georgetown University, where he served as a faculty member for 32 years. He currently resides, with his wife Eileen, in Richmond, Kentucky.

A Library Review for Washingtonians

October 20, 2010

Those in the D.C. area are welcome to join us for an event next Thursday, October 28th, from 4:30-6:00pm, at Georgetown’s Lauinger Library.  Hosted by Georgetown University Library Associates and Georgetown University Press, the event features talks by John J. Glavin, Professor of English, R. Emmett Curran, Professor Emeritus of History, and James J. O’Donnell, Professor of Classics and Provost. The speakers will address the past, present, and future of Lauinger Library to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The event will also launch A History of Georgetown University, a publication by Georgetown University Press. For more information and to rsvp, click here.

Georgetown Midnight Madness

October 15, 2010

Midnight madness is tonight! In honor of the start to the basketball season, here’s a bit of Georgetown basketball history from Emmett Curran’s forthcoming A History of Georgetown University on the beginning years of John Thompson’s coaching at GU.

(Mitchell Layton Photography)

…Jack Magee resigned, and the search for a new coach commenced.

 Charles Deacon, the director of admissions, thought that hiring a black basketball coach would be a giant step in the university’s outreach to its surrounding community “and [would] establish a better identity for Georgetown within the community.” Deacon knew of an ideal prospect for the position—John Thompson, who had been a star at Carroll High School when Deacon had been at Gonzaga and had gone on to further success at Providence College and with the Boston Celtics. He broached the idea with President Henle and his assistant, Dan Altobello, who both thought it was a fine idea. Henle asked Deacon to chair the search committee and attempt to get Thompson selected as a candidate. Through Maurice Lancaster, who was assistant director of admissions and a friend of Thompson, Deacon convinced Thompson to apply for the vacant position. Deacon had little difficulty persuading a majority of the committee (two faculty, two alumni, and two students) of Thompson’s qualifications as well as the benefits to the university of having a black head coach. “Most of us,” Deacon commented much later, “were very aware of what an impact a successful basketball team, with a black coach, would have on the image of Georgetown with blacks, both locally and nationally.”

The committee recommended 5 to 2 that the president appoint Thompson. In announcing Thompson’s appointment, Frank Rienzo, now the athletic director, told the Washington Post in March, “We don’t expect John Thompson to work a miracle, but we’ll be happy if he does.” Little did Rienzo realize just how much happiness Thompson would bring him over the next twenty-three seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Bit of Georgetown History

September 25, 2010

It’s homecoming weekend for Georgetown University! Do you know about Jack the Bulldog’s predecessor, Stubby the Terrier? Did you hear about the GU students in the ’50s who captured rival students trying to sneak on campus before a big game? Have you heard the full story of Patrick Healy’s appointment process? If not, we suggest you check out this video interview with Emmett Curran, author of A History of Georgetown University.

Georgetown University Reunion Weekend with GU Press, part two

June 7, 2010

This past weekend was Georgetown University’s Reunion Weekend. To celebrate, earlier we brought you a Q&A with Emmett Curran, author of the three-volume A History of Georgetown University and expert on all things Georgetown. Today, we wanted to close out the weekend with 12 Little-Known Facts about Georgetown University from the same author.

1. 1789 as a founding date originated in a mistake.
When the university published its first catalogue in 1851, it claimed that “in 1789 the first house was built,” when actually, construction of the first building began in 1788 and was completed in 1790. This misinformation was repeated until the catalogue of 1873 substituted the founding of the institution for the erection of the first building. And so, “founded in 1789” became the standard account of the institution’s beginnings—a serendipitous date, which made Georgetown’s birth year the same as that of the Republic.

2. Georgetown had an international student body from its beginnings.
During the first decade of its existence, nearly 20 percent of its students came from outside the United States, mostly from the West Indies.

3. Among major benefactors of the institution, from the 1800s to the 1960s, women predominated.
In the 1830s, Susan Decatur, the widow of Stephen Decatur, donated $7,000 to the College—the largest gift in Georgetown’s first 40 years of existence. Elizabeth Dahlgren’s gift of $30,000 in the 1890s to build a chapel was the largest benefaction the university had known to that date. In the following decade, Ida Ryan was the principal donor to the university by providing the funds for the construction of a residence/dining hall and a gymnasium. Finally, in 1966, Florence M. Dailey made Georgetown the beneficiary of a legacy worth $9,600,000—nearly as much as its entire endowment at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Georgetown University Reunion Weekend with GU Press, part one

June 3, 2010

June 3-6 is Georgetown University’s Reunion Weekend. To celebrate, we bring you a Q&A with Emmett Curran, author of the forthcoming A History of Georgetown University and expert on all things Georgetown.

Q: How did this book project come about?
Curran: It goes back to the 1960s when Georgetown was preparing to celebrate the 175th anniversary of its founding. Then president Edward Bunn, SJ asked Father John Daley to write a history of the university for the occasion. Daley had already written a history of Georgetown’s “early years” (1780s-1820s), and agreed to add two more volumes that would bring the history up to the present. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, Daley was named regional superior of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. Father Joseph Durkin generously agreed to take up Daley’s work and complete a second volume for the 175th. The result was Georgetown University: The Middle Years, which traced the development of the university from the 1840s to the turn of the century, published in 1963.

He began work on the third volume, including taped interviews with various faculty and university officials. By the time I succeeded him in the History Department in 1972, however, he began urging me to do Georgetown’s twentieth century history as his interests had led him elsewhere. I myself had other projects afoot at the time; besides, I thought one ought not undertake a history of this sort without some official mandate. So I did nothing but to take into my possession the tapes Father Durkin had made. Then in 1982 Father Tim Healy approached me about doing a history for the bicentennial. Eventually I determined, for a number of reasons, that it should be one that was comprehensive: from the institution’s beginning to the end of its second century.

Q. How long did this project take?
Curran: Much longer than either Tim Healy or I thought when we first sat down in 1982 to talk about it. Now it’s hard to believe that nearly three decades have passed. I hope that is not a record for the writing of institutional histories. I think not, but that’s small comfort. Read the rest of this entry »

Author Emmett Curran at GU’s John Carroll Weekend

May 6, 2010


This past weekend, Emmett Curran, author of A History of Georgetown University and professor emeritus of history, spoke on the pivotal moments of Georgetown’s history to help celebrate John Carroll Weekend. Beautifully designed with over 300 illustrations and photographs, Curran’s three-volume history tells the remarkable story of the administrators, faculty, students, and programs that have made Georgetown a leading institution of higher education.

Curran’s seminar last Saturday was an intimate look at the defining moments of Georgetown’s first 200 years with a slide show of university archive images featured in the book. The “hinges of history” chosen were:

1. John Carroll’s Decision to Begin an Academy at Georgetown (1786)
2. Patrick Healy’s Commitment toward Making Georgetown A
University in Reality as well as Name (1874)
3. The Establishment of the School of Foreign Service (1919)
4. Harold Jeghers’ Appointment as Chief of Medicine (1945)
5. Edward Bunn’s Consolidation of the Institution (1952-1963)
6. Byron Collins and the Origins of the Office of Federal Relations
7. Timothy Healy’s Election as 47th President of Georgetown (1976)


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