History of the Department

The beginning of the Johns Hopkins University and the advent of the Department of Mathematics are intertwined. In October 1876, the new university opened for classes in a modest collection of buildings located at the intersection of Howard and Monument streets in downtown Baltimore. Hopkins boasted a small but distinguished faculty attracted to this new venture in higher education by the university’s equally distinguished first president, Daniel C. Gilman.

This original faculty included such outstanding scholars as classicist Basil Gildersleeve, mathematician James J. Sylvester, physicist Henry A. Rowland, chemist Ira Remsen, and biologist H. Newell Martin. In 1876, the Department of Mathematics consisted of one professor and one instructor. The professor, J. J. Sylvester, was a graduate of Cambridge University, a fellow of the Royal Society of England, and a former professor at the Royal Military Academy. He was assisted by William Story, a Harvard graduate who earned his PhD at the University of Leipzig. There were also three graduate fellows in the department: Thomas Craig (later a Hopkins professor), Joshua Gore, and George Halstead. Each fellow was granted a stipend of $500 to conduct research at the university.

One of the oldest departmental institutions was created in 1878 with the founding of the Mathematics Seminary. In the seminary, the graduate students would present weekly papers on specific mathematical topics. Many of the earlier papers dealt with the lives of famous mathematicians, while others were devoted to recording the evolution of a particular mathematical concept. The department also offered undergraduate courses; the President’s Report of 1876 shows course offerings in calculus, analytic geometry, differential equations, and logic.

In addition to the graduate and undergraduate courses of study, in 1878 Sylvester founded the American Journal of Mathematics. This publication would eventually contain not only articles by Hopkins students and professors, but also pieces by university professors from all over the country.

In 1884, Sylvester resigned his post at Hopkins to assume a professorship at Oxford, having paved the way for a long line of illustrious scholars and professors.