MICA History

Coming of Age in the Gilded Age

Historical Milestones (1847-1878)


“New Maryland Institute” reorganized in rented space over the downtown Post Office. Horace Greeley, the publisher of the New York Tribune, kicks off first lecture series, which over the next two decades features Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic explorer; Alexander D. Bache, physicist and educator; Joseph Henry, first head of the Smithsonian; John Tyler, 10th president; Matthew Fontaine Maury, oceanographer; Edward Everett, orator and statesman; Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and abolitionist; and Anna Dickinson, women’s rights activist.


Annual exhibitions highlight the latest industrial marvels, drawing submissions from inventors, mechanics, and artists from across the country, who competed for “premiums” awarded in more than 50 categories.


Night School of Design established to meet growing demand for skilled artists and designers spurred by advances in printing technology and an expanding industrial design market.


The new Center Market Building opens in October above the Center (“Marsh”) Market on Baltimore Street, funded in part by the city. It covered an entire block and had “the largest clear floor in America.” Scientific American pronounced it “the finest Exhibition Hall in the country.” With capacity for 6,000, its Great Hall hosted many notable events and national political gatherings. School of Chemistry opens, equipped through gifts from philanthropist George Peabody and B&O President Thomas Swann, then vice president of the Institute’s board (and subsequently Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland). The first school of its kind in the city, it flourishes for two decades until other institutions open similar departments.


Fine arts gallery at annual exhibitions showcased collections of leading art patrons, artists featured included several members of the Hudson River School: Asher B. Durand, John F. Kensett, Albert Bierstadt, and Baltimore native, Alfred J. Miller, famous for his landscape paintings of the American West.


Two presidential nominating conventions hosted in the Great Hall - nominees were General Winfield Scott (Whig) and Franklin Pierce (Democrat), who went on to become president. Later conventions there nominated Millard Fillmore in 1856 and John C. Breckinridge in 1860. Illustration from Minifie’s Drawing Text Book, 1852 Night School of Design reorganized by new principal William Minifie, architect and early advocate for art education whose drawing textbooks were widely used by schools in the U.S. and Britain—featured an advanced curriculum emphasizing instruction in original design and new courses in architecture and engineering. Loyola College founded.


George Peabody funds the Maryland Institute’s first student awards; the “Peabody Premiums” were awarded to the School of Design’s highest-ranking graduates each year until the late 1960s.


Day school program for men opens, providing instruction in fine and applied arts subjects previously limited to female school. First embassy from Japan to the United States feted in the Great Hall.


American Civil War begins, with first blood shed April 19 when federal troops clash with Southern sympathizers on Pratt Street, just 150 yards from the Maryland Institute. The Great Hall serves briefly as an armory; classes, exhibitions, and lectures continue, although night school classes for men are temporarily suspended.


School of Music of the Maryland Institute opens, offering classes to youth and adults in voice, piano, string and wind instruments (phased out in 1883). Great Hall transformed into makeshift hospital September 17–18 for 700 Union soldiers wounded at the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, Maryland.


President Abraham Lincoln delivers his Freedom Speech April 18 at the Great Hall during a fair to benefit Union Troops, one year almost to the day before he was shot. Also attending: members of his cabinet, including William Henry Seward, Secretary of State, and ministers from several foreign nations including Russia, Prussia, Belgium, France, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Peru, and Chile.


Great Southern Relief Fair held in the Great Hall, raising close to $150,000 for post-war rebuilding efforts. Towson University founded.


Morgan State University opens.


The Day Schools of Design become co-educational; Both Night and Day Schools add more fine arts courses to existing program including photography, modeling in clay, and sketching from nature. Development of Bolton Hill begins. By the 20th century, this fashionable area attracted such famous residents as the writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Hamilton, and will become MICA's home.


Depression of 1873 brings economy to a stand-still for the next seven years. Memberships and enrollment drop sharply. Exhibitions and lectures are canceled. Revenues shrink. Institute struggles to maintain its comparative position with schools more generously endowed.


Maryland Institute was sustained through 1870s depression by gifts from three of Baltimore’s most prominent businessmen, Johns Hopkins, John W. Garrett, Enoch Pratt, who joined other 19th century supporters including A.S. Abell, George Peabody, William and Henry Walters.


Art Students League founded in New York. Among the founders was C. Y. Turner (Maryland Institute class of 1871), prominent muralist and later Director of Maryland Institute.


The Johns Hopkins University opens. Artwork by Maryland Institute students displayed in the Maryland Pavilion at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the first major U.S. world’s fair, attended by nearly 9 million, and David Woodward, head of the Schools of Design, receives a medal there for improved models of his solar cameras. The Centennial’s vast displays of commercial, decorative, and fine arts inspire Americans to implement art training on par with Europe and fuels the proliferation of art schools and museums across the country.


A delegation from the Chinese Embassy and U. S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, visits the Maryland Institute’s last industrial exhibition. Due to changing tastes, exhibitions and lectures at the Great Hall are suspended.