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Harriet Lane Johnston

Harriet Lane Johnston


Johnston, a benefactor to Johns Hopkins, was born in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Orphaned at age eleven, she requested to live with her favorite uncle James Buchanan, who was then Secretary of State. When he was appointed ambassador to England in 1852, Johnston went with him, and became well admired in English society. From 1857 to 1861, when Buchanan served as president of the United States, Johnston acted as first lady for her bachelor uncle. She used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans on reservations.

In 1866, Johnston married Baltimore banker Henry Eliot Johnston. They had two sons, both of whom were affected by a sudden, unknown illness that left both boys physically impaired. The Johnstons sought expert medical treatment to no avail. One son died at the age of fourteen, and the other died at twelve years old.

The Johnstons wanted to spare other families with less means who had children with long-term or terminal illnesses. They chose to fund a medical facility for children requiring lengthy care. When Henry Johnston died in 1884, he left his estate to his wife. She continued to live in Washington, D.C. until her death.

Johnston left her extensive art collection to the Smithsonian Institution. She also left over $400,000 to establish a medical facility devoted to the care of children as a memorial to her sons. In 1906, her trustees elected to build the facility at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, with the hospital providing land and supplying medical and nursing staffs. In October 1912, the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children officially opened. It was the first children’s clinic in the United States associated with a medical school.

Eventually treating over 60,000 children a year, the Harriet Lane Home became a pioneer treatment, teaching, and research clinic. In 1972, the pediatric outpatient service moved to the new Edwards A. Park Building and was named the Harriet Lane Clinic. Since it could not readily be renovated to meet modern medical requirements, the Harriet Lane Home building itself was demolished in 1974. In 2006, the Harriet Lane Clinic was relocated to the David M. Rubenstein Child Health Building. The Harriet Lane Outpatient Clinics continue to serve thousands of children, and the widely used manual for pediatric house officers, The Harriet Lane Handbook, bears her name.

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