Skip to main content

Garrett papers

Identifier: MS 0979


The Garrett Papers primarily concern Robert Garrett (1847-1896) and his wife Mary F. Jacobs (1851-1936), spanning 1816 to 1950, although the bulk of material is dated from 1885 to 1896. The collection is comprised of 38 boxes containing an estimated 25,000 items.


  • 1816-1950


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Garrett (1847-1896)

Robert Garrett's future was decided upon at an early age. His father was John Work Garrett, the resolute and firm President of the B and O Railroad from 1858 to his death in 1884. Robert's grandfather was Robert Garrett, founder of the prosperous investment and banking house of Robert Garrett and Sons. A career in business was then nearly inevitable. To prepare for it, Garrett was sent off tbethe Dahl School of Baltimore and later to the Friend's School in Providence, Rhode Island. It has been claimed that Garrett ran off at age 16 to joingGeneral Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, only to be persuaded to return by his father. In any event, he entered Princeton College and graduated at the age of 20 in 1867.

Immediately after leaving Princeton, Robert began work with his younger brother Thomas Harrison in the Family banking business. Evincing an apparent interest in railroad management, Robert assumed the Presidency of the Valley Railroad of Virginia in 1871 while T. Harrison remained with Robert Garrett and Sons to become its operational head. By 1875, Robert was working with his father at the B and O. Steadily promoted, he was named Third Vice-President in 1879, First Vice-President and a Director in 1881. He became President Pro-Tem in 1883 while his father was ill and was voted President in 1884 two months after his father's death.

Garrett's administration has not been seen as a very successful one. He insisted upon maintaining a B and O owned telegraph system to challenge the near monopoly of Jay Gould's Western Union, but found that his company could not compete effectively. The result was the loss of a sizeable sum of money and the humiliation of being forced to sell out to Gould. This and other problems resulted in a mounting financial crisis within the B and O and forced Garrett to go abroad in 1887 to procure aid from London banking houses. Later, aid was solicited from New York and Philadelphia firms such as Drexel Morgan and Company and Drexel and Company.

Garrett's health, both mental and physical, was greatly afflicted due to the strain of managing the faltering B and O. In October of 1887, he resigned as President and embarked upon a world tour. During this trip, his health was said to have picked up, but it was quickly reduced in June of 1888 when he be learned of his brother T. Harrison's yachting accident death. Greatly upset over this misfortune, Garrett lapsed into a severe chronic depression that impaired his activity until His death in 1896.

Despite the inactivity that characterized the last eight years of his life, Robert Garrett was up to that point active in business and the community. He was a Director of the Mercantile Trust and Safe Deposit Company, the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company, the Baltimore Dry Dock Company, the Consolidated Coal Company, the National Mechanics Bank. He was also a Trustee of Johns Hopkins University and the McDonough School as well as Vice-President of the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor. Garrett also contributed a good deal to the beautification of Mt. Vernon Square by donating fountains and financing the reproduction of the George Peabody statue across from the Peabody Institute.

Mary Frick Garrett Jacobs (1851-1936)

In 1873, Robert Garrett married Mary Sloan Frick, daughter of William F. Frick, a leading Baltimore lawyer. The new Mrs. Garrett had been raised according to strict social conventions. She was, for example, forbidden to leave her house without a guardian until she was 18 years old. She herself advocated the necessity of observing such proprieties from her lofty position in Baltimore high society.

Beginning in about 1883, Mary decided to renovate her house at No. 11 Mt. Vernon Place. She commissioned the well-known New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to handle the job. One of the first steps was the aquisition of the house next door (No. 9) and joining the two together. The present structure was made complete with the purchase in 1902 of No. 7 to allow for even more expansion. The result was an impressive dwelling that must have been constructed only for social events, as its interior does not evoke the comforts of home. Nonetheless, Mary took a great deal of interest in the work on the house and, as a result, she made McKim, Mead and White earn their commission. She continually was dissatisfied with one thing or another and she often had work re-done or demanded substantial discounts on the charges. Possessed of an indominable personality, she usuallly got her way.

Mary was also heavily involved with various enterprizes in Baltimore. She maintained the Robert Garrett Hospital for Children, the Garrett Free Dispensary, and the Garrett Sanitarium at Mt. Airy for over 40 years. She was also a frequent and liberal donor to various organized charity groups. Other involvements included the Colonial Dames of America and the Baltimore Museum of Art, of which she was a founding member. She was also an active supporter of the Women's Cathedral League and later, during World War I, she worked with the Woman's Section of the Maryland League of National Defenc. In 1920, Mary became Vice Chairman of the Republican City Committee.

After marrying the reputable Baltimore physician Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs in 1902, she ended a widowhood of six years. The couple divided their time between frequent European visits, Mrs. Jacobs' Baltimore estates, and summer travels to Newport, Rhode Island. Mrs. Jacobs died in 1936, survived only by her husband, having had no children by either of her marriages.

Mary Elizabeth Garrett (1954-1915)

Sister of Robert and T. Harrison Garrett, Mary E. Garrett can be said to have taken the most after their strong-willed, indomitable father, John Work Garrett. Firmly committed to her ideals, Miss Garrett used the fortune inherited from her father to advance the opportunities for women in school, college and professional education. In 1885, she founded the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore with the help of Mary Mackall Gwinn, Elizabeth T. King, Julia R. Rogers and M. Carey Thomas. She had a 400,000 dollar school building constructed in 1889 in the city that was said to have been the best equipped in the country at the time. The program of studies at Bryn Mawr was broad as well as challenging, and as a result profoundly influenced girls' education. It also influenced the secondary education for boys as well by raising educational standards.

Miss Garrett also did much for Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania as well. She liberally donated funds and contributed in 1906 100,000 dollars to re-build the College Deanery.

Mary E. Garrett's role in the endowment of the Johns Hopkins Medical School was also noteworthy. She helped to raise funds and herself donated over 525,000 dollars toward the goal. She did, however, place the condition upon her bequest that women would be entered into the institution on equal terms with men and that the standards for acceptance for all would be uncommonly high. Although reluctant at first, the Johns Hopkins Medical School finally accepted the terms and the money and eventually cited the wisdom of her conditions.

Amzi B. Crane (1850-1907)

Amzi B. Crane acquired the skills of telegraphy and shorthand early in life and this enabled him to earn a respectiable living first at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and then the B and O under John W. Garrett as confidential secretary. Transferred to the office of Robert Garrett, Crane became his chief secretary, a position herheld until Garrett's death. After this point, Crane was retained by Garrett's former wife, Mrs. Henry Barton Jacobs, as her confidential agent. He relinquished this post in 1907 upon his death. Crane married in 1874 and had six children.


18.18 Linear Feet (38 boxes (34 full Hollinger boxes; 4 flat boxes))

Language of Materials



Materials in this collection are arranged by series. Files within each series are arranged chonologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. Robert Garrett, 1958.

Scope and Contents

The Garrett Papers are built around former B and O President Robert Garrett and his wife Mary F. Jacobs. In a general sense, the most valuable aspect of the collection in terms of research is the correspondence. The bulk of the collection is made up of the correspondence of Robert Garrett, his wife, their private secretary, Mr. A.B. Crane, Miss Mary E. Garrett and others in some fashion connected with the Garretts. Also included are numbrous accounts, bills and receipts. The nature of materials in the collection is oriented toward the personal business, activities and concerns of the Garrett family. While Robert Garrett's connection with the B and O Railroad and the banking house of Robert Garrett and Sons is evident, many such references are tangential to private concerns. The only portion of the collection dealing extensively with B and O business is the Field-Garrett telegraph controversy material. Dated May through September 1885, this related to efforts by Jay Gould and Cyrus Field of Western Union to purchase the B and O Telegraph Company and Robert Garrett's resistence to the proposal. Robert Garrett's letterbooks also deal with some B and O business, but to a rather limited extent. There is no significant material in the collection relating to the banking house of Robert Garrett and Sons.

The Garrett's life style and personal activities are the [UNK] of this collection. Robert Garrett's club activities, his network of friends and associates along with his private financial dealings are all well-represented. A sensitive man, Garrett was much troubled by the death of William H. Vanderbilt in his presence during a private interview in 1885. Public speculation that he had precipitated Vanderbilt's death through arguing business matters resulted in Garrett's vigorous denial. In two lengthy letters, Garrett patiently explains that he did not excite or inflame Vanderbilt and thus had no hand in his death.

Incidents such as this coupled with the strain of running the B and O pushed Garrett into retirement at the age of 40 in October of 1887. It was barely six months later that Garrett slipped into a severe emotional afflication after hearing of the death of his younger brother Thomas Harrison Garrett. He never recovered from his disability and died at the relatively early age of 49.

Robert Garrett's papers center around the years 1884 to 1887, the height of his involvement with the B and O. Seemingly his personal life was then closely tied to his business activity. Certainly this is somwhat demonstrated by his near isolation after 1887. Many of Garrett's friends and associates were intimately connected with business professions and when he abandoned his own business life, he abandoned his social life as well. To be sure, many associates wrote to Garrett encouraging him to regain his health just after he became ill, but these letters became less numerous and drop off to nothing fairly quickly.

Prior to his infirmity, Garrett was rather involved with the social side of Baltimore. When he married Mary Sloan Frick in 1873, he acquired a mate even more socially inclined than himself. It was probably Mrs. Garrett's idea to expand and renovate their Mt. Vernon Place home; certainly it was her project. This collection contains a good deal of correspondence relating to this work, including a number of letters from McKim, Mead and White. As it was not fitting and proper for a woman to become too visibly involved in business dealings, Garrett's secretary Mr. A.B. Crane handled most of it at her direction. It would not be surprising to find most of the builders and other contractors involved with the effort came to wish they had never taken the job, for Mrs. Garrett was continually dissatisfied with the work done and the prices charged. Crane's correspondence is replete with letters expressing Garrett's displeasure over one thing or another and her unwavering insistence that it be rectified. Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White proved to be a most adroit diplomat and managed to keep the work going despite the many disputes. His letters to Crane and Mrs. Garrett were always rational, cordial and often empathetic. The Garrett accounts, bills and receipts as they relate to No. 11 Mt. Vernon Place are useful in that they fully illustrate the work materials and effort involved in the project. It can be seen that a number of firms were forced to re-submit and even alter their bills due to Mrs. Garrett's intransigence.

Mrs. Garrett did not appreciably slacken the pace of her life style when her husband fell into near disability. Accounts, bills and receipts from numerous European trips can be found in the collection, many dating later than 1888. Work also continued unabated at 11 Mt. Vernon Place. Furthermore, a number of letters dating from the 1890's to the 1900's evince a significant involvement of Mrs. Garrett with the Colonial Dames of America. Also, Mrs. Jacobs' continuing support of the Robert Garrett Hospital for Children is discernable through the numerous accounts, bills and receipts connected with that institution in the collection. After her marriage to her husband's former personal physician Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs in 1902, Mrs. Jacobs' papers become less numerous possibly because they were being kept by somebody not associated with the Garrett family.

Mr. A.B. Crane's correspondence does not for the most part relate to his own personal affairs. First as private secretary to Robert Garrett at the B and O and then as personal agent to Miss Mary E. Garrett, Mrs. Robert Garrett as well as Garrett himself, Crane handled a good deal of family business. Much of it deals with work at No. 11 Mt. Vernon Place as well as the hiring of domestic servants. His fundamental role in the performance of Garrett family business makes his correspondence rather valuable for research purposes. Mary E., Robert and Mrs. Robert Garrett all directed him to act for them; this connection is well documented in the collection.

The only personal material relating to Crane involves his two sons and their difficulties at Dickinson Preparatory School around the turn of the century.

The quantity of material relating to Mary E. Garrett in this collection minimal. Most of what is contained in her papers are letters requesting financial aid. On many such requests, Miss Garrett has written a response and forwarded it to Crane for him to relate to the sender. Her outgoing correspondence is for the most part directed to Crane directing him to perform various corresponding duties for her. While the material here is useful to some extent, its research potential is not extensive.

The remaining correspondence in the collection concerns Garrett business and interests similar to those already described. There are groupings of correspondence connected with Robert Garrett secretaries/agents Dr. William B. Barnard and William E. Guy as well as letters to and from various Garrett family members, including John W. Garrett.

Other materials in the collection also deal mostly with Garrett private matters. These papers, although not as numerous as the correspondence or the accounts, bills and receipts, are highly interesting in their own right as they are in many cases very informative. They deal in financial and legal areas as well as in numerous others.

Guide to the Garrett papers
Under Revision
William G. LeFurgy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-19: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States