Author Discusses Biography At Berlin Book Signing Event

Author Discusses Biography At Berlin Book Signing Event
Author Ross Jones is pictured at last week’s book signing event at the Greyhound Indie Bookstore. Photo by Bethany Hooper

BERLIN – A book signing and meet-and-greet event in Berlin drew a crowd of supporters last week as the author of a new biography presented his work to the Eastern Shore.

Last Friday, retired Johns Hopkins University Vice President Ross Jones spent the afternoon hours speaking to locals and visitors alike and signing copies of his new book, “Elisabeth Gilman: Crusader for Justice,” at the Greyhound Indie Bookstore in Berlin.

Jones said the book is a biography of Elisabeth Gilman, the daughter of Johns Hopkins University’s founding President Daniel Coit Gilman, and her pursuit of social justice.

“I’m not making any money from this,” he joked. “I just want her story to be told.”

Proprietor Susan Ayres Wimbrow said the book signing and meet-and-greet was a significant occasion for her bookstore. Last week’s event was well attended by Johns Hopkins University alumni, members of the business community, locals and visitors to Berlin.

“This is very significant for the town of Berlin that he would choose us, our small indie bookstore, to do his debut on the Eastern Shore,” she said.

For Jones – who made his rounds to various speaking engagements and signings across the Eastern Shore last week – the biography was years in the making. He said he first stumbled upon Gilman’s writings while exploring the archives at Johns Hopkins University.

“I was prowling around in the files one day when I saw this name Elisabeth Gilman, who I found out was the daughter of the first president of Johns Hopkins,” he said. “I didn’t know he had one daughter, let alone two, so I asked if I could see her papers. She donated all of her papers to the university in the 1940s. That’s hundreds of letters, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings.”

It was during this research of Gilman’s letters and journal entries that Jones decided to write a book.

“It took a couple of hours to give me the flavor,” he said, “and then I decided it was too good of a story to pass up.”

Over the next 10 years, Jones focused his research on Gilman, her family, and significant achievements and events in her life, including her relationship with clergyman Mercer Green Johnston.

“Gilman and he were followers of what was called the ‘Social Gospel,’ a movement at the end of the 19th century, early 20th century,” he said. “It was a message to churches to not just preach about the Gospel and Christian teachings, but to get out and do something about it, serve the public.”

Jones said he was intrigued by Gilman’s story. An active Episcopalian, he said Gilman first embraced the concepts of the socialist movement while at a church conference in Boston.

“She was from a wealthy family and yet she inherited from her father a deep social conscience …,” he said. “She went off to France in World War I and worked for the YMCA as a canteen hostess in a hotel where soldiers came for rest and recreation. When she came back, she dove into social issues. She was the centerpiece of social reform and justice in Baltimore for 30 years. Those were the things that really interested me.”

Jones also noted his passion for writing and finding stories. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 1953, he pursued a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and held jobs as a reporter before returning to Baltimore in 1961.

Jones said he began his career at Johns Hopkins University as an assistant to then-President Milton Eisenhower, the youngest brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“It turned out the president of the university always hired assistants who had journalism training on the theory they were generalists, they could handle things and they could write reasonably well,” he said. “I came to Baltimore and was interviewed by him. We hit it off, and I became his assistant. As time went by, I got more responsibilities and that kind of thing.”

Jones spent more than four decades at Johns Hopkins University before retiring. He said he spent many of those years as university vice president and secretary to the board of trustees.

“It’s hard to imagine, but there was never a dull moment,” he said.

Last week, Jones visited communities across the Eastern Shore to promote the book he spent roughly a decade researching and writing.

“I didn’t do it full-time, so it took me about 10 years on and off, but the last three years were really concentrated in terms of nailing down the research and writing,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.