The Johns Hopkins Club: past, present and future

By JOHN FRYE | March 8, 2018

Hopkins Club members include faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

In the fall of 1899, historian Herbert Baxter Adams organized the Johns Hopkins Club to provide University affiliates with a place to dine together and share ideas. 

The Club, which admitted only faculty, alumni and graduate students, was one of the first social organizations in Baltimore exclusively for the Hopkins community. 

In its first 20 years, the Club moved between multiple buildings throughout the city, at one point settling in the Carroll Mansion, now known as the Homewood Museum. However, when the Carroll Mansion was designated a museum in 1929, the Club found itself without a home. 

Unable to find a stable location, membership dwindled until 1936, when the wealthy Marburg family gifted the Club with $50,000 for a permanent facility. 

Today, the Club is located on the east side of Homewood campus near the President’s Mansion, where it has been since 1937. The building offers guests traditional amenities as well as a glimpse into the past.

Stuart Leslie, a professor in the department of history of science and technology, is currently compiling a history of Hopkins. He has researched the Club’s historical significance and the changes it has undergone over the years. 

He elaborated on the Club’s founding as well as its role in the Hopkins community.

“The idea was that the club would be an intellectual gathering place,” he said. 

“People could discuss their research, writing, and talk to other faculty members.” 

According to Leslie, the Club offered a way for faculty to discuss amongst themselves innovations in their respective fields. 

“They would talk about a topic and there would be people from various academic departments: sciences, humanities, social sciences,” Leslie said. “There would often be tables for particular departments, so everybody from political science or from another discipline might meet for lunch on a regular basis.” 

As a result, Leslie explained, the Club was recognized as an intellectual pillar of Hopkins and fostered open dialogue between faculty members. The Hopkins Club often saw discussion about changing ideas over the years.

“There was an interesting demonstration in front of the Club back in the 1950s,” Leslie said. “Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist, was brought to campus. There was actually a cross burning and pickets in front of the Club to protest bringing this guy to campus. In that sense, occasionally it would serve as a lightning rod for campus debate.” 

While many today are unaware of the Club’s history, it nonetheless functions as a space for guest speakers to share their ideas with members of the community. 

Cem Baraz, the Club’s General Manager since 1997, can recall a list of famous guests who visited the Club during his tenure, from directors like Spike Lee to world leaders like former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. 

“The culture of the Club is what makes the Club live,” Baraz said. “We have to continue that culture for the new generation of club members and alumni.”

To Baraz, who has been a part of the Hopkins community for nearly 42 years, the Hopkins Club feels like a second home.

“It has amazing value and importance,” Baraz said. “When you remember someone from when they were much younger, you see them finish college, and then they come back here when they’re in town to visit us — it’s priceless.”

Tradition holds great importance to many club members. Hopkins Club President Dr. Richard Scholz remembers a custom from his childhood where he would wave to his parents from a window overlooking the dining room — a custom continued today by many Club members’ own children.

“There’s definitely an intense emotional involvement to the Club for people who have been here a long time,” Scholz said. “There’s a sense of wanting to keep it going and prospering. It’s volunteer work; it’s not something we do for employment.”

Though the staff feels impassioned about keeping the Club alive, Scholz contends that its intellectual authority in the University has wavered.

“There used to be heavy involvement of the Club with the University,” Scholz said. “That has declined, in recent years, I think, for many reasons, a lot of which are the way people do things today: not eating lunch like they used to and communicating much more easily by text and email.”

Still, as previous Club President Mark Winter added, the Hopkins Club is searching for new ways to attract members.

“We’re trying to get more into things like encouraging departments to have staff meetings or lectures here,” Winter said. “We have a lot of facilities that could be very helpful for them, so were trying to get more involvement with those who are perhaps not aware we have the capabilities for them.”

The need for new members is a growing priority for the Club. With an average membership age of 64, many are now worried that without younger faculty and alumni members, the Club will fade into obscurity.

Professor of Political Science Matthew Crenson, who is also a member of the Club, shares this concern.

“When San Martin Drive was closed and access to the Club was difficult, the place just emptied out,” Crenson said. “But people are coming back. The dining room is filling up at lunchtime. They’re making it. Things are tight, but they’ve managed to survive.” 

To him and many other long-time members, there is a duty to keep the Hopkins Club alive. The benefits and sense of community it provides, according to Crenson, are something difficult to obtain in a fast-paced, technological society.

“You could talk to people in fields distantly related to your own and learn things you wouldn’t have found out otherwise,” Crenson said. “It’s a way I get to see my friends on the faculty I wouldn’t get to see otherwise. It’s important for social reasons.”

Staff members like sophomore Katie Wick echo Crenson’s belief in the Club’s value. 

“Everyone there is really friendly,” Wick said. “When they find out you’re a student, they want to know about your life on campus. I’ve had 30 minute conversations with customers. A lot of them give you really interesting perspectives on what you want to do with your major.”

Shauna Rosenau, a freshman employee, believes that young people have a lot to benefit from the Club.

“I feel like if we did more buffets and happy hours for students, more people would come,” Rosenau said. “There’s not really many people there other than older people who know about it.”

She added that better marketing campaigns could potentially attract more clientele.

“We just kind of have the Club out there, and we send out a newsletter and that’s it,” Rosenau stated. “We need to broadcast it more. We need to put stuff on bulletin boards and stuff like that.”

Others, such as Leslie, hope that the Club can one day return to its status as a beacon of thought and intellectual commentary.

“In the old days, different disciplines mixed a lot,” Leslie said. “I’d like to see that returned: an intellectual engagement beyond what you’re working on at the moment. We stress, as a University, interdisciplinary and cross-divisional collaboration, but even on our own campus, we hang out in our offices and work as hard as we ever did, but we don’t know each other as well as we used to. That’s a loss.”

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