On May 31, 1877, at the behest of President Daniel Coit Gilman, Basil Gildersleeve, the first full professor of the Johns Hopkins University, organized the Johns Hopkins Philological Association, for the purpose of "that mutual and informal interchange of opinion ... which is so confessedly essential to the development of the true scholar." It was proposed that the Association, originally composed of professors of languages, literature and history, should meet on the first Friday of every month during the academic year to hear a formal paper, one or more "minor communications," and summaries of important journal articles. These eight meetings were open to the public. Dr. Gildersleeve was named the Association's first president, in which capacity he served until his advanced years dictated that he step down from this office, as well as retiring from his position as Professor of Greek at the University, in 1915, at the age of 84.
The papers and communications were nearly always presented by members of the Association, mainly on topics relating to the study of the Latin, Greek, Semitic and Sanskrit languages and literature, but also in the fields of history, archaeology and modern languages. Early on, abstracts of the long papers were included in the minutes, but this practice was discontinued in December of 1877 and was not resumed until May 1916, when lengthy, often typewritten or even typeset abstracts begin to appear again: hence the sudden drop in the number of meetings' minutes per volume. Attempts in 1921 and again in 1925 to have the Association's proceedings published regularly in the Johns Hopkins University Circular or in the American Philology Journal met with no success.
Until his resignation in 1915, Dr. Gildersleeve had been the Association's only president, with Charles Lanman, Minton Warren, and Edward Spieker serving as secretaries. After 1915, however, elections were held annually for the offices of the President, Vice President and Secretary. The meetings themselves were held downtown through most of this period, in Hopkins Hall from 1877 to 1890, in the original Levering Hall from 1890 to 1894, then in the original McCoy Hall, finally moving to the Homewood campus in 1916.
On the death of a member the Association regularly resolved to send letters of appreciation to the families of the deceased. One occurrence of this was for Dr. Gildersleeve himself, who died in 1924 at the age of ninety two. These resolutions are included in full in the minutes.