University History

Established in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. After more than 200 years of continuous operation, Georgetown has grown to be a major international research University with five campuses, an affiliated hospital and many highly ranked academic programs. As the fourth largest employer in the District of Columbia, the University has a large and diverse workforce that employs more than 5,000 faculty and staff members.

Archbishop John Carroll, S.J., founded Georgetown College (now known as Georgetown University) in 1789 on the banks of the Potomac River in what was then Maryland. Classes began in 1792 with two students in attendance. By June the roster grew to more than 40 students from as far away as the West Indies.1 Catholic priests, seminarians, former students, and lay faculty taught classes in general studies and religious teachings.2

Carroll envisioned an academy as both a Catholic and distinctly American institution. Moreover, he welcomed to the school students of all faiths and economic classes. In accordance with Carroll’s determination that his academy be “open to Students of every religious Profession” nearly a fifth of the student population during the first decade was Protestant. Throughout the 19th century, religious pluralism characterized Georgetown’s student population, and Carroll’s academy eventually evolved into a Jesuit undergraduate college and graduate school. Georgetown is built on a centuries-old commitment to academic excellence, spiritual growth, and the development of leaders devoted to public service. At the heart of Jesuit education is a commitment to “educate the whole person,” to attend to students’ intellectual, personal, and spiritual formation while nurturing their growth as members of a single, human community. This is called “cura personalis.”

By 1871, Georgetown had expanded to include two professional schools: medicine (1850) and law (1870). The Law Center changed locations five times before settling in its current home on New Jersey Avenue NW in 1971.

Georgetown moved forward significantly in the 19th century, due mainly to the efforts of the Rev. Patrick F. Healy, S.J. Often referred to as one of Georgetown’s most dynamic leaders, Healy was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. and the first to head a predominately white university. He served as president from 1874 to 1882, and he is credited with Georgetown’s evolution from a small liberal arts college to a modern University.

During the past 200 years, Georgetown has grown into a University comprising eight schools, five campuses and an affiliated hospital. With only 40 students in 1792, Georgetown now boasts more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students who take classes at five locations: Main Campus, Medical Center, Law Center, GU-Northern Virginia, and the University’s School of Foreign Service-Qatar. Georgetown also operates study abroad centers in Fiesole, Italy, and Alanya, Turkey. The University’s faculty and staff members work from offices on the previously mentioned locations, as well as other buildings in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and New York.

Women have studied at Georgetown continuously since the founding of the School of Nursing (now the School of Nursing and Health Studies) in 1903. The University became fully coeducational by the end of the 1960s with the admission of women to Georgetown College, the University’s undergraduate school of arts and sciences.

Academic programs are administered by eight schools: Georgetown College (est. 1789), School of Medicine (1851), Law Center (1870), School of Nursing and Health Studies (1903), Walsh School of Foreign Service (1919), Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1920), McDonough School of Business (1957), and the School of Continuing Studies (1974).

The School of Medicine and Georgetown University Hospital, which opened its doors in 1898, have long played important roles in Georgetown’s mission of service to others. On July 1, 2000, the University’s clinical enterprise (the hospital, a faculty practice group and a network of community physician practices), was purchased by MedStar Health. Under the Georgetown University-MedStar Clinical Partnership Agreement, the University continues to own and operate the educational and research enterprise known as the Georgetown University Medical Center. The Medical Center comprises the School of Medicine, the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

The Jesuit Community at Georgetown University

The Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, has been an integral part of Georgetown throughout history. While the University and the Jesuit Community are now distinct and separately governed entities, they are united in a tradition and common spirit of learning and faith. The Jesuits who live and work on campus are a visible sign of Georgetown’s ongoing commitment to its Catholic, Jesuit heritage.

Jesuits have cared for Georgetown from its earliest days. Histories of the University celebrate Jesuits’ numerous contributions as teachers, scholars, researchers, administrators, chaplains and counselors, and many Georgetown buildings bear their names. Jesuits today continue the work of their predecessors, contributing to all aspects of University life. Most live in the Jesuit residence in Wolfington Hall. Some live in student residence halls and apartment buildings. The Georgetown Jesuit Community is led by its local religious superior, called the rector, and is connected to the worldwide Society of Jesus through a regional superior, known as the provincial. Ultimately, all Jesuits come under the jurisdiction of the superior general, who resides at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.

1 Emmett Curran, S.J., “The  Bicentennial History of Georgetown University: From Academy to University,  1789-1889. Volume 1.” Georgetown University Press, 1993. Page 34.
2 Curran, page 32.