“Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA: Brief History.”
By Franklin Parker & Betty J. Parker, 63 Heritage Loop, Crossville, TN 38571-8270, email@example.com
From: Franklin & Betty J. Parker, “Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville: Brief History,” Tennessee Encyclopedia & Culture. Ed. By Carroll Van West, et. al Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society, 1998, pp. 359-360.
Peabody College of Vanderbilt University (since 1979) has a more than 210-year lineage through seven name changes, making it the fifteenth U.S. college founded after Harvard College in 1636.
Nashville, settled in 1779 as Fort Nashborough, had one of its three land tracts set aside (1784) for a collegiate institution. Davidson Academy (1785-86) was chartered by North Carolina eleven years before Tennessee statehood in 1796.
Administered by Principals Thomas B. Craighead (d. 1821) and then James Priestley (1760-1821), Davidson Academy was rechartered by the Tennessee legislature as Cumberland College (1806-26), administered by Presidents Philip Lindsley (1786-1850) and his physician son John Berrien Lindsley (1822-97).
John Berrien Lindsley became chancellor of the rechartered University of Nashville (1827-75). It was the Peabody Education Fund’s first administrator Barnas Sears (1802-80) who helped transform the University of Nashville’s moribund Literary Department into Peabody Normal College (1875-1909).
George Peabody (1795-1869) was born in Massachusetts; became a wholesale dry goods merchant in the South, first in Georgetown, D.C. (1812, when he was age 17), then in Baltimore (1815-37). After four previous mercantile buying trips to Europe, he went to London (1837) to sell part of Maryland’s $8 million bond issue to finance the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He remained in London for the rest of his life (1837-69), a merchant turned U.S. securities broker-banker, head of George Peabody and Co.
Getting older and often ill, he took as partner on October 1, 1854, Boston merchant Junius Spencer Morgan (1813-90), whose son, John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) began his international banking career as New York City agent for George Peabody and Co. George Peabody retired October 1, 1864, withdrew his name from the firm which continued as J.S. Morgan and Co. (1864-90), and continues as Morgan Grenfell Co. George Peabody was thus the root of the banking house of Morgan.
Now largely forgotten, George Peabody was, before his death on November 4, 1869, the best known philanthropist in the U.S. and Britain.
At a time when lyceums and chautauquas were popular adult education centers, he founded seven U.S. Peabody Institutes (lecture halls, lecture funds, and libraries). His libraries still serve as public libraries in Peabody, Danvers, Newburyport, and Georgetown (all in Massachusetts); in Thetford, Vermont, and Georgetown, D.C.; and in Baltimore, which included an art gallery and Conservatory of Music. The Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Institute Reference Library, Baltimore, are now part of the Johns Hopkins University system.
He founded three museums of science: the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (maritime history and Essex County Historical Collections).
His Peabody Homes of London (1862, 1869, $2.5 million) still house 29,000 low income families. His Peabody Education Fund (1867, 1869, $2 million) established him as the model founder of all subsequent large U.S. foundations.
During George Peabody’s May 1, 1866 to May 1, 1867, U.S. visit, he was shocked by Civil War devastation he saw in the South. Wanting to help heal Civil War wounds and knowing that the ruined southern states lacked the means or will to establish public schools, his $2 million Peabody Education Fund aimed to aid the establishment of public education for both races in 12 former Confederate states.
The Peabody Education Fund was fortunate in its administrators, particularly in its first administrator, Barnas Sears, a distinguished New England educator, whose policy used limited resources as a lever to help achieve tax-supported public schools.
Sears’s policy was to support existing schools in larger towns to serve as models for other communities. He set a rising scale of monetary aid based on enrollment, required Peabody Education Fund-aided schools to meet ten months a year, have at least one teacher per 50 pupils, required that local citizens more than match Peabody Education Fund grants, and required enactment of laws for permanent tax-supported public schools.
Sears’s second priority was to support teachers institutes for short term teacher training and to encourage at least one teacher training normal school in each of the southern states for long term professional training. Sears particularly wanted a state-funded normal school in Nashville as a model for the South.
Despite Peabody Education Fund financial inducements, the Tennessee legislature failed to pass normal school supporting bills in 1868, 1871, and 1873. In 1874 Sears offered $6,000 annually if the University of Nashville trustees gave land and buildings for a normal school. Relieved not to spend state funds, the legislature amended the University of Nashville’s charter to establish State Normal School (officially so named, 1875-89; officially renamed but previously also called Peabody Normal College, 1889-1909).
State Normal School opened December 1, 1875, with 13 students and ended the year with 60 students. When the Tennessee legislature failed to pass State Normal School funding bills in 1877 and 1879, Sears considered moving it to Georgia. This threat prompted Nashville citizens to guarantee $6,000 annually until state aid began. Stung into action, the legislature passed appropriations, which totaled $429,000 during 1881-1905. Peabody Education Fund aid totaled $555,730 during 1875-1909.
Peabody Normal College functioned for 34 years (1875-1909) under three distinguished educators as presidents: Massachusetts-born Eben S. Stearns (1819-87), president during 1875-87, New York State-born William Harold Payne (1836-1907), president during 1888-1901; and Tennessee-born James Davis Porter (1828-1912), president during 1901-09.
Peabody Normal College became a leading U.S. normal school in the South and had a national reputation approaching that of Teachers College of Columbia University. By 1910, however, state university departments of education were replacing normal schools in the professional preparation of teachers. This changeover coincided with the Peabody Education Fund’s dissolution.
Founder George Peabody’s original letter of gift permitted the trustees to dissolve after 30 years. The trustees gave $1.5 million (requiring matching funds) to transform Peabody Normal College into George Peabody College for Teachers (1911-79).
The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, had also established in Nashville a Central University, August 6, 1872. It was renamed Vanderbilt University, June 6, 1873, after Bishop Holland McTyreire (1824-89) obtained a $1 million donation from Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877). Wanting a strong university center, Vanderbilt Chancellor James H. Kirkland (1859-1939) offered the Peabody Education Fund trustees land adjacent to Vanderbilt University as a site for the new George Peabody College for Teachers.
The new George Peabody College for Teachers campus rose during 1911-14, modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia design. Peabody’s first president, Bruce R. Payne (1874-1937), president during 1911-37, directed the building, raised additional funds, and assembled a first-rate faculty. Classes began in the summer of 1914.
Payne’s academic cooperation with but independence from Vanderbilt control continued under George Peabody College for Teachers Presidents S. C. Garrison (d. 1944), Henry H. Hill, (1894-1987) and Felix Robb (1914-) through the 1960s.
Building on its reputation, George Peabody College for Teachers was a distinctive mini-university. It had its own liberal arts, music, physical education, and art departments, a library school, demonstration school, Knapp Farm for Rural Studies, and a nationally used Peabody School Survey Unit. George Peabody College for Teachers produced more graduates with master’s and doctoral degrees than undergraduates and enhanced its regional and national leadership.
Post-1970 rising energy and other costs and a national recession adversely affected higher education, especially colleges of education. George Peabody College for Teachers lost 30 faculty members during 1970-72, undergraduate enrollment dropped from 1,200 to 800 during 1972-76, and graduate enrollment also shrank.
Despite its highly regarded past reputation, the time for a single-purpose private teachers college seemed over. George Peabody College for Teacher’s best graduates became state university presidents, deans, leading professors, researchers, textbook authors, and public school superintendents and principals. By strengthening lower cost public university colleges of education, its best graduates had ironically contributed to the demise of George Peabody College for Teachers.
In the 1970s George Peabody College for Teachers, lacking a large endowment, experienced financial difficulty. Peabody’s President John Dunworth (1924-) began merger talks with Vanderbilt University officials at the end of 1978. After an April 27,1979, agreement, George Peabody College for Teachers became Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, July 1, 1979, Vanderbilt’s ninth school.
Acting Dean Hardy C. Wilcox administered Peabody College during 1979-80. Dean Willis D. Hawley during 1980-89 sharpened its focus, upgraded programs, added new faculty, and made it a national leader in applying computers and telecommunications to learning and teaching. He said in 1986, “Peabody, more than any other school of education and human development, [is] national in scope and influence.”
Under Dean James Pellegrino, since 1992, the Social-Religious Building was renovated at a cost of $14.5 million into an Administrative and Technology Education Center. Peabody installed state of the art computers, interactive video and audio, fiber optics, and satellite systems to sharpen and expand learning and teaching. This advance is reflected in its Center for Advanced Study of Educational Leadership, Corporate Learning Center, Learning Technology Center, and over 30-year-old John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Education and Human Development. Peabody’s counselor and guidance program has annually since 1990 been voted among the nation’s best.
In retrospect Davidson Academy, Cumberland University, and the University of Nashville spread learning and culture in what was then an isolated southwestern frontier. By giving superior teacher training, Peabody Normal College advanced public education in a Civil War-weakened South. George Peabody College for Teachers set a high teacher education standard regionally and nationally.
Faced with greater challenges than teachers colleges elsewhere, Peabody and its antecedents struggled, were transformed, and arose phoenix-like to produce educational leaders. Frequently rated among the top U.S. university departments of education, Peabody College of Vanderbilt University (since 1979) still proclaims the 1852 motto George Peabody sent with his first check for his first Peabody institute: “Education, a debt due from present to future generations.”
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