Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (pē´bädē, –bədē), 1804–94, American educator, lecturer, and reformer, b. Billerica, Mass. The Peabody family moved (c.1809) to Salem, where the father began practicing dentistry. Of the three Peabody sisters, the second, Mary, married Horace Mann, and the youngest, Sophia, married Nathaniel Hawthorne. Elizabeth, after a period as governess in Hallowell, Maine, with her sister Mary, established a school for girls in what is now Brookline, Mass. Although she was an inspired teacher, she was a poor businesswoman, and her ventures were short-lived. After giving up this school she wrote a series of history textbooks and became a successful lecturer on history. She assisted Bronson Alcott in his Temple School and created an annotated transcript of conversations regarding his educational theories in Record of a School (1835). Her path crossed those of most of the great New Englanders of her day—Emerson, William Ellery Channing, Henry David Thoreau, and many others.

The bookshop Peabody opened in Boston in 1840 was a literary center. Margaret Fuller held her conversation classes there, and Elizabeth soon found herself a publisher as well as a bookseller; the transcendental magazine, the Dial, pamphlets of the Anti-Slavery Society, and several of Hawthorne's early works were published by her. Of a projected periodical, Aesthetic Papers, only one number appeared, in 1849. After closing her bookshop she traveled about, lecturing and selling historical charts. An ardent abolitionist, Elizabeth went to Richmond in 1859 to plead unsuccessfully with the governor of Virginia for the life of one of John Brown's aides at Harpers Ferry. In Boston she opened (1861) one of the first kindergartens in the country. With her sister Mary she wrote Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide (1866). In 1867–68 she studied Froebel's methods in Germany and on her return she established a Froebel Union and opened the first kindergarten training school in the country. From then on kindergarten training was the cause that took her traveling about the country. Two years after her death a Boston settlement, Elizabeth Peabody House, was established as a memorial; it moved to Somerville, Mass., in the 1950s and is still in operation.

See L. H. Tharp, The Peabody Sisters of Salem (1950); study by R. M. Baylor (1965); M. Marshall, The Peabody Sisters (2005).

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