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Johns Hopkins to scrub name of English professorship due to slavery link

Fellowship named after Woodrow Wilson could be next

Johns Hopkins University is taking steps to scrub the name of a Maryland slave owner’s wife from a professorship program to advance the university’s DEI “values,” campus officials said this month.

Based on a recommendation by the university’s Name Review Board, officials plan to “de-name” the Caroline Donovan Professorship in English Literature and create a new professorship to address the “harm associated with the original funding,” the university news center reports.

Caroline Donovan, whose husband, Joseph S. Donovan, owned and sold thousands of slaves, donated $100,000 to Johns Hopkins for the professorship in 1889 after her husband died and she inherited his fortune, according to the board’s investigation.

“The committee reviewed archival records and documents and determined that Caroline Donovan’s conduct and views, enacted and expressed without acknowledgement of wrongdoing or repair, and the use of funds linked to the domestic slave trade run counter to the institution’s values,” including its “unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the university stated.

However, because Donovan attached legal restrictions to her gift, including the requirement that her name be used, university officials said they cannot change the name without a court order. They recently filed a petition with Baltimore Circuit Court seeking permission to do so, according to the university.

Mark Christian Thompson, chair of the Department of English, said he supports the decision.

“The renaming of the Caroline Donovan Professorship presents an important opportunity to take purposeful action in addressing historical iniquity,” Thompson said in a statement. “We look forward to continued cooperation with our partners as we rethink this professorship’s meaning in the spirit of the university’s wider commitments to humanistic research and respectful scholarly engagement.”

The “de-naming” recommendation is the first action by the university’s Name Review Board. The board is also considering removing President Woodrow Wilson’s name from a fellowship and changing the name of its Gildersleeve Professorship in Classics.

The board, which formed in 2021, considers requests to rename or de-name buildings, monuments, artwork, or programs “whose legacies may now be considered antithetical to the institution’s values,” according to the university.

Notably, in 2020, the university said its namesake also was a slave owner, according to The Baltimore Sun. The Name Review Board website does not mention if Hopkins’ name is among its current considerations.

MORE: Princeton officially drops Woodrow Wilson’s name from public policy school, student residence

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.