Jesuit settlers from England founded the Province of Maryland in 1634. However, the 1646 defeat of the Royalists in the English Civil War led to stringent laws against Roman Catholic education and the extradition of known Jesuits from the colony, including missionary Andrew White, and the destruction of their school at Calverton Manor. During most of the remainder of Maryland's colonial period, Jesuits conducted Catholic schools clandestinely. It was not until after the end of the American Revolution that plans to establish a permanent Catholic institution for education in the United States were realized.
Because of Benjamin Franklin's recommendation, Pope Pius VI appointed former Jesuit John Carroll as the first head of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, even though the papal suppression of the Jesuit order was still in effect. Carroll began meetings of local clergy in 1783 near Annapolis, Maryland, where they orchestrated the development of a new university. On January 23, 1789, Carroll finalized the purchase of the property in Georgetown on which Dahlgren Quadrangle was later built. Future Congressman William Gaston was enrolled as the school's first student on November 22, 1791, and instruction began on January 2, 1792.
The proposal for a school at Georgetown was conceived in 1787, after the American Revolution
allowed for the free practice of religion.
During its early years, Georgetown College suffered from considerable financial strain. The Maryland Society of Jesus began its restoration in 1805, and Jesuit affiliation, in the form of teachers and administrators, bolstered confidence in the college. The school relied on private sources of funding and the limited profits from local lands which had been donated to the Jesuits. To raise money for Georgetown and other schools in 1838, Maryland Jesuits conducted a mass sale of some 272 slaves to two Deep South plantations in Maringouin, Louisiana from their six in Maryland, ending their slaveholding.
President James Madison signed into law Georgetown's congressional charter on March 1, 1815, creating the first federal university charter, which allowed it to confer degrees, with the first bachelor's degrees being awarded two years later. In 1844, the school received a corporate charter, under the name "The President and Directors of Georgetown College", affording the growing school additional legal rights. In response to the demand for a local option for Roman Catholic students, the Medical School was founded in 1851.
Post-Civil War expansion
The U.S. Civil War greatly affected Georgetown as 1,141 students and alumni enlisted in one army or the other, and the Union Army commandeered university buildings. By the time of President Abraham Lincoln's May 1861 visit to campus, 1,400 troops were living in temporary quarters there. Due to the number of lives lost in the war, enrollment levels remained low until well after the war. Only seven students graduated in 1869, down from over 300 in the previous decade. When the Georgetown College Boat Club, the school's rowing team, was founded in 1876 it adopted two colors: blue, used for Union uniforms, and gray, used for Confederate uniforms. These colors signified the peaceful unity among students. Subsequently, the school adopted these as its official colors.
Union soldiers on the Potomac River across from Georgetown University in 1861
Enrollment did not recover until during the presidency of Patrick Francis Healy from 1873 to 1881. Born in Georgia as a slave by law and mixed-race by ancestry, Healy was the first head of a predominantly white American university of acknowledged African descent.[c] He identified as Irish Catholic, like his father, and was educated in Catholic schools in the United States and France. He is credited with reforming the undergraduate curriculum, lengthening the medical and law programs, and creating the Alumni Association. One of his largest undertakings was the construction of a major new building, subsequently named Healy Hall in his honor. For his work, Healy is known as the school's "second founder."
After the founding of the Law Department in 1870, Healy and his successors hoped to bind the professional schools into a university, and focus on higher education. The School of Medicine added a dental school in 1901 and the undergraduate School of Nursing in 1903. Georgetown Preparatory School relocated from campus in 1919 and fully separated from the university in 1927. The School of Foreign Service (SFS) was founded in 1919 by Edmund A. Walsh, to prepare students for leadership in diplomacy and foreign commerce. The School of Dentistry became independent of the School of Medicine in 1956. The School of Business was separated from the SFS in 1957. In 1998 it was renamed the McDonough School of Business in honor of alumnus Robert E. McDonough.
Besides expansion of the university, Georgetown also aimed to expand its resources and student body. The School of Nursing has admitted female students since its founding, and most of the university classes were made available to them on a limited basis by 1952. With the College of Arts and Sciences welcoming its first female students in the 1969–1970 academic year, Georgetown became fully coeducational.
Georgetown ended its bicentennial year of 1989 by electing Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J. as president. He subsequently launched the Third Century Campaign to build the school's endowment. In December 2003, Georgetown completed the campaign after raising over $1 billion for financial aid, academic chair endowment, and new capital projects.
houses classrooms and the university's executive body.
John J. DeGioia, Georgetown's first lay president, has led the school since 2001. DeGioia has continued its financial modernization and has sought to "expand opportunities for intercultural and interreligious dialogue."
In 2005, Georgetown received a $20 million gift from a Saudi businessman, theretofore the second-largest donation ever to the university, to promote the study of Islam and the Muslim world. It was used to expand the activities of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
In October 2002, Georgetown University began studying the feasibility of opening a campus of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar, when the non-profit Qatar Foundation first proposed the idea. The School of Foreign Service in Qatar opened in 2005 along with four other U.S. universities in the Education City development. That same year, Georgetown began hosting a two-week workshop at Fudan University's School of International Relations and Public Affairs in Shanghai, China. This later developed into a more formal connection when Georgetown opened a liaison office at Fudan on January 12, 2008 to further collaboration.
DeGioia also founded the annual Building Bridges Seminar in 2001, which brings global religious leaders together, and is part of Georgetown's effort to promote religious pluralism. The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs was begun as an initiative in 2004, and after a grant from William R. Berkley, was launched as an independent organization in 2006. Additionally, The Center for International and Regional Studies opened in 2005 at the new Qatar campus.
Georgetown University was founded by former Jesuits in the tradition of Ignatius of Loyola; it is a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Georgetown is not a pontifical university, though seven Jesuits serve on the thirty-six member Board of Directors, the school's highest governance. Catholic spaces at the university fall within the territorial jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Washington, such as Dahlgren Chapel, the university's principal Catholic place of worship. Fifty-two members of the Society of Jesus live on campus, and are employed by Georgetown mostly as professors or administrators. Jesuit Heritage Week has been held every year since 2001 to celebrate the contributions of Jesuits to the Georgetown tradition.
Students studying outside Wolfington Hall Jesuit Residence
The role that Georgetown's Catholic heritage has played in its policies has been controversial at times, even as its influence is relatively limited. Stores in University-owned buildings are not allowed to sell or distribute birth control products. The university hosts the Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life every January to discuss the pro-life movement. Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, operated by MedStar Health, are prohibited from performing abortions. However, as of 2004 , the hospital did perform research using embryonic stem cells.
Georgetown has been criticized by religious groups, such as the Cardinal Newman Society, for not following the teachings of the church. The school has come under particularly strong criticism for hosting prominent pro-choice speakers, such as John Kerry and Barack Obama. Washington's Archbishop, Donald Wuerl, also criticized the university for inviting pro-choice Kathleen Sebelius to be a commencement speaker. Religious groups have likewise denounced Georgetown for being too LGBT-friendly and for allowing provocative gay-themed events, including a performance, during which "a male student went as a high-heeled Mary and danced to Madonna’s 'Like a Virgin' while Jesus (a woman) looked on."
Between 1996 and 1999, the administration added crucifixes to many classroom walls, a change that attracted national attention. Before 1996, crucifixes had hung only in hospital rooms and historic classrooms. Some of these crucifixes are historic works of art, and are noted as such. According to Imam Yahya Hendi, the school's on-campus Muslim cleric, pressure to remove the crucifixes comes from within the Catholic community, while he and other campus faith leaders have defended their placement. The Intercultural Center is an exception to this controversy, rotating displays of various faith and culture symbols in the lobby. In 2009, Georgetown's religious symbols were brought back to national attention after the university administration covered-up the name of Jesus in preparation for President Barack Obama's speech on campus.