2 of 3 Parts: On the Trail of Educational Philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869).

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Part 2 of 3 Parts: On the Trail of Educational Philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869).


(Peabody Homes of London)

His largest gift, $2.5 million total, was for model low rent apartments for London’s working poor. Begun on March 12, 1862, what is now (23)-the Peabody Trust Group, London, in 2002 owned or managed over 19,000 affordable properties across 30 London boroughs housing nearly 50,000 low income Londoners (about 59% white, 32% black, and 9% others). These include, besides Peabody Trust Group-built estates, other London public housing units whose authorities deliberately chose to come under the Peabody Trust Group because of its efficient management, facilities, playgrounds for the young, recreation for the elderly, computer centers, job training, and job placement for its working adults.

For London, GP first considered in 1859 and discarded the idea of building a network of drinking fountains. He then considered a large gift to enlarge the Ragged Schools Union, a charitable trust managing schools for poor children in England, administered by social reformer Lord Shaftesbury (1801-85), before the establishment of tax supported schools. GP asked his friend, Ohio’s Episcopal Bishop Charles Pettit McIlvaine (1799-1873), to consult with Shaftesbury whom he knew well. McIlvaine reported to GP Shaftesbury’s advice that housing was the London poor’s greatest need. This advice determined GP’s gift of low cost model apartments. The Peabody Homes of London inspired imitators elsewhere in England and in the U.S. and brought GP many honors in England.

(Peabody Education Fund, First Multi-Million Dollar Foundation)

GP’s most influential U.S. gift was the $2 million (24)-Peabody Education Fund (PEF, 1867-1914) to promote public education in the eleven former Confederate states with W.Va., added because of its poverty. He actually gave the PEF $3,484,000, but $1.1 million in Miss. state bonds and $384,000 in Fla. bonds were never honored by those states.

For 47 years the PEF helped promote public schools for white and black children in the devastated post Civil War South, focusing first on aiding existing public elementary and secondary schools in larger towns to serve as models, then aiding teacher training institutes and normal colleges, and finally aiding rural public school growth.

The PEF was without precedent, the first multimillion dollar educational foundation in the U.S., cited by historians as the model forerunner of all subsequent significant U.S. educational funds and foundations.

(High Offices Held by Over 50 PEF Trustees)

The over 50 PEF trustees during 1867-1914 included: thirteen state legislators, two U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices, six U.S. ambassadors, eight U.S. Senators, seven in the U.S. House of Representatives, two Civil War generals, one U.S. naval admiral, one U.S. Army Surgeon-Gen., three Confederate generals, three who served in the Confederate Congress, two bishops, and six U.S. cabinet officers.

Other high offices held by PEF trustees: three were U.S. presidents (U.S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland; or eight U.S. presidents if Peabody Normal College and its predecessor institutions are included), six were U.S. state governors, and three were financiers: J.P. Morgan; Anthony Joseph Drexel (1826-93), inspired by GP’s example to found Drexel Univ., Phila., and Paul Tulane (1801-87), inspired to found Tulane Univ., New Orleans, La.

(Peabody Normal College, Nashville, Model Teachers College in the South)

PEF first administrator Barnas Sears (1802-80) wanted a model teachers college for the South in Nashville. When the Tenn. legislature declined to pass funding legislation for several proposals for a state normal school, Sears through the PEF helped establish the PEF-supported (25)-Peabody Normal College (1875-1911) on the Univ. of Nashville campus in place of its moribund Literary Dept. In its 36 years of existence, Peabody Normal College achieved regional and national leadership in the professional preparation of teachers.

GP’s PEF founding letter (Feb. 7, 1867) permitted ending the fund when its work in promoting public schools in the South was done. In 1914 the trustees distributed the fund’s total assets ($2,324,000) as follows: $474,000 went to the education departments of 14 southern universities ($40,000 each to the universities of Va., N.C., Ga., Ala., Fla., Miss., Ark., Ky., and La. [State]; $6,000 each to Johns Hopkins Univ. and to the universities of S.C., Mo., and Texas.; $90,000 to Winthrop Normal College, S.C. (now Winthrop College), founded by PEF trustees Pres. Robert Charles Winthrop (1809-94); and $350,000 to the John F. Slater Fund for Negro Education (a sum given later to the Southern Education Fund, Atlanta, where it still serves African-American education).

(George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, GPCFT)

Most of the PEF principal, $1.5 million plus required matching funds, went to endow (26)-GPCFT (1914-79), with a new campus built next to Vanderbilt Univ. for academic strength. For 65 years independent GPCFT cooperated with neighboring Vanderbilt Univ. in courses, programs, and library facilities. GPCFT was in fact a unique mini-university, focused on teacher education in a variety of fields, with departments of library science, physical education, science education, and music education. It retained and enhanced its predecessor’s reputation as a leading private teacher education institution in the South, with national recognition and an international student body.

GPCFT’s best graduates became state university presidents, deans, leading professors, researchers, and textbook writers. Its success thereby strengthened competing lower cost state university colleges of education and ironically contributed to its own demise. National recession in the 1970s combined with higher energy and other costs adversely affected higher education and particularly private colleges of education.

(Peabody College of Vanderbilt Univ., Nashville, PCofVU)

Wise Peabodians knew that the time was past for the survival of a private single purpose teachers college like GPCFT, despite its proud history, high regional reputation, and national and international influence. Merger took place on July 1, 1979, when GPCFT became (27)-PCofVU, Vanderbilt Univ.’s. ninth school.

PCofVU soon surpassed its predecessor institutions as a leading private southern university’s (VU’s) college of education. It initially led the nation in preparing teachers to apply computers to student learning. Since the 1990s it has consistently ranked among the top U.S. graduate schools of education, highly esteemed in preparing special education teachers, guidance counselors, and educational administrators and researchers.

PCofVU’s history thus goes back to Davidson Academy (1785-1806), chartered by N.C. eleven years before Tenn. statehood; rechartered as Cumberland College (1806-26); rechartered as the Univ. of Nashville (1826-75); whose moribund literary dept. was rechartered as Peabody Normal College (1875-1911; rechartered as GPCFT (1914-79); renamed PCofVU (since July 1, 1979). PCofVU’s lineage of 220 years makes it the 15th U.S. collegiate institution after the founding of Harvard College in 1636.

Faced with greater class and race divisions and with greater financial difficulties than counterpart colleges in other sections of the U.S., it rose phoenix-like again and again to produce educational leaders for the South, the nation, and the world. As part of Vanderbilt Univ., PCofVU carried into the 21st century GP’s motto accompanying his check for his first hometown Peabody Institute Library (1852): “Education, a debt due from present to future generations.”

(Philanthropic Influence)

GP’s philanthropic example, mainly through the PIB and the PEF, directly and personally influenced Enoch Pratt (1808-96) to found the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore’s public library; influenced Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) to found the Johns Hopkins Univ., hospital, and medical school in Baltimore; influenced Anthony Joseph Drexel (1826-93) to found Drexel Univ., Philadelphia; influenced Paul Tulane (1801-87) to found Tulane Univ., New Orleans; and influenced others who gave to institutions, funds, and foundations.

At his death, Nov. 4, 1869, age 74, GP was the best known philanthropist in the U.S. and Britain, a founder of U.S. educational philanthropy. But changing times, larger fortunes, wealthier funds and foundations have dimmed his memory, except at his institutes and among interested scholars.

6 U.S. state governors, (GP as Founder of Modern Philanthropy)

Franklin Parker’s dissertation, “George Peabody, Founder of Modern Philanthropy,” documented these PEF firsts: The PEF was the first U.S. foundation to require the stimulating effect of matching local grants for schools it aided or founded; the first to require state legislation to perpetuate state financial support of its aided schools; the first multimillion dollar foundation recognized as national rather than local; and the first to provide operational flexibility as conditions changed.

The PEF was the first U.S. foundation to elect trustees from professional and financial circles; the first deliberately to use public relations to foster public acceptance and good will; the first whose executives were former university officials (Barnas Sears of Brown Univ; J.L.M. Curry of Howard College, Ala.); the first to allow its trustees to disband after its job was done and distribute its assets
as they saw fit (when dissolved in 1914, PEF assets endowed GPCFT, Nashville, next to Vanderbilt Univ.; funded education departments of 14 southern universities and colleges; and gave its residue to the Slater Fund for Negro colleges).

(Historians on the PEF’s influence):

(1)-Charles William Dabney: [The Aug. 1869 GP-Lee meeting] inspired the Four Conferences on Education in the South from which emerged the Southern Education Board and [John D. Rockefeller’s] General Education Board.

(2)-Abraham Flexner: There was the closest cooperation among, and interlocking officers and trustees of, the PEF, the Southern Education Board, the General Education Board, the Samuel F. Slater Fund, the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation, and the Rosenwald Fund.

(3)-Paul H. Buck: [the PEF was]: a fruitful experiment in harmony and understanding between the sections.

(4)-Thomas D. Clark: [the PEF] worked as an education leaven.

(5)-Harvey Wish: no kindness touched the hearts of the Southerners quite so much as Peabody’s educational bequest.

(6)-Jesse Brundage Sears: [the PEF was] the first successful precedent-setting educational foundation.

(7)-Daniel Coit Gilman: all subsequent foundations adopted the principles Peabody formulated.

Besides these firsts, in their 47-years existence, PEF executives and trustees pioneered the heartbeat of American educational philanthropy-using private wealth as a lever to tackle key educational and socio-economic problems, the results if good serving as models for other agencies and governments to emulate.

GP’s intent and money made this influence possible. In appreciation and to attest to his influence, southern communities have given his name to a score of streets, avenues, elementary and secondary schools, university education buildings, hotels, and one ecological park. GP built better than he knew.

With Franklin’s speech given and nicely illustrated in a 1956 pamphlet (below), with the GP dissertation accepted (first item below), graduation followed in Aug. 1956. We went to teaching posts at the Univ. of Texas, Austin (1957-64); Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman (1964-68); W.Va. Univ. (1968-86), and (after retirement), Northern Arizona Univ., Flagstaff (1986-89), and Western Carolina Univ., Cullowhee (1989-94).

(George Peabody, a Biography, 1971, rev. 1995)

In May 1970, GPCFT Public Relations Director John E. Windrow (1899-1984) brought together prominent New England Peabodys for a Nashville dinner conference at which Franklin spoke. The new Vanderbilt Univ. Press director, in attendance, asked to see a revised GP manuscript. This welcome request threw us into a frenzy of revision. Welcome help came from London Athenaeum Club librarian Eileen Stiff’s friend, Margaret Leland Goldsmith, a professional writer. She and Eileen had befriended us through the years. Margaret’s editorial suggestions helped turn the dissertation into a readable 233 page book.

Fourteen years after completing the GP dissertation, Franklin Parker’s George Peabody, a Biography (Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1971), was published. Twenty-four years later, for GP’s 200th birthday, Feb. 18, 1795-1995, a George Peabody, a Biography, 1995 revision with 12 illustrations was published. In 1994, also for GP’s 200th birthday, our 22 previously published GP articles were reprinted in a special bicentennial issue, “The Legacy of George Peabody,” Peabody Journal of Education, Fall 1994, 210 pp.

(What was His Philanthropic Motive?)

GP’s philanthropic motive may have been expressed in his motto, “Education, a debt due from present to future generations” (May 26, 1852), which accompanied his first gift founding his first Peabody Institute Library in hometown Danvers, later renamed Peabody, Mass.

His motive may also have been to compensate for his own lack of formal education. In 1831 he replied as follows to a nephew who asked his financial help to attend Yale College:

“Deprived, as I was, of the opportunity of obtaining anything more than the most common education, I am well qualified to estimate its value by the disadvantages I labour under in the society [in] which my business and situation in life frequently throws me, and willingly would I now give twenty times the expense attending a good education could I now possess it, but it is now too late for me to learn and I can only do to those who come under my care, as I could have wished circumstances had permitted others to have done by me.”

His motive may have been simply to succeed. In an 1856 speech he said: “Heaven has been pleased to reward my efforts with success, and has permitted me to establish a house in the great metropolis of England. I have endeavored to make it an American house, to give it an American atmosphere, to furnish it with American journals; to make it a center for American news, and an agreeable place for my friends visiting London.”

His motive may have been to gain honors, so abundant in his last years. After death he was elected to the New York Univ. Hall of Fame in 1900, where a bust of him was unveiled in 1926. His likeness was put on a large bronze door intended for the U.S. Capitol Building. Bicentennial programs were held on the 200th anniversary of his birth (1795-1995) at Harvard, Yale, in Nashville; in Danvers and in Peabody, Mass.; at the PIB; and at Westminster Abbey, England, where the marker at his temporary grave was refurbished.

His motive may have come from disappointment in love. Late in life a business friend congratulated him on being the greatest philanthropist of his time. GP reportedly replied, “After my disappointment long ago, I determined to devote myself to my fellow-beings, and am carrying out that decision to my best ability.”

This “disappointment” may have been an early failed romance with Elizabeth Knox (1799-1880) of Baltimore to whom he is said to have proposed twice.

There is also a documented broken engagement to Esther Elizabeth Hoppin (1819-1905) of Providence, R.I. She visited London for young Queen Victoria’s coronation (June 28, 1838). As a school girl she had earlier been infatuated with Alexander Lardner in Philadelphia. GP met her in London, fell in love, and proposed marriage. Returning to the U.S. she again met Lardner, realized her engagement to GP was a mistake, broke their engagement, married Lardner, had two children, and outlived GP by 35 years. Her portrait painted in Philadelphia by artist Thomas Sully shows her in all her beauty.

(His Strengths)

On GP’s strengths his first partner Elisha Riggs, Sr. wrote in his last letter to GP (April 17, 1852): “You always had the faculty of an extraordinary memory and strong mind which enabled you to carry out your plans better than almost any other man I ever knew…. [To] these happy faculties I attribute much of your prosperity. [Unusual] perseverance enabled you to rise to an extraordinary position…”

Economic historian Muriel E. Hidy’s wrote thus of GP’s strengths: “He [GP] had a vigorous personality, and, in spite of a humble origin, apparently found little difficulty in moving in prominent circles. An ability to attract firm friends among his business contemporaries gave him many useful connections….He benefited by the confidence which as a young man he had awakened in Elisha Riggs [Sr.]. Later his amiability brought him close association with “[leading U.S. business men: William Shepard Wetmore, John Cryder, Sherman and Curtis Miranda Lampson, and William Wilson Corcoran….].”

John Bright, British statesman, wrote in his diary (June 4, 1867): “Mr. Peabody is a remarkable man. He is 74 years old, large and has been powerful of frame. He has made an enormous fortune, which he is giving for good objects–chiefly for education in America and for useful purposes in London. He has had almost no schooling and has not read books, but has had much experience, and is deeply versed in questions of commerce and banking. He is a man of strong will, and can decide questions for himself.”

(Old Age Irritations)

Gout, rheumatism, and other ailments in old age sometimes made him irritable, crotchety, and abrupt. On July 14, 1869, four months before his death, he complained irritably to the trustees of his first Peabody Institute, Peabody, Mass.: “You spend too much. You spend too much.” Soon brightening he said smilingly, “Well, well, I must give you $50,000 more to get you out of trouble. And I must say that none of my foundations have given me so much satisfaction as this one at my native place.”

In his last decade he was incredible busy looking after his philanthropies and seeing friends and relatives. He was also set in his ways. The daughter of a business friend wrote of his autocracy in old age during his 1866-67 U.S. visit.: ‘The precision of business habits and a long old bachelor hood, combined with constitutional shyness, caused Mr. Peabody, at times, to appear to disadvantage…. He had himself accomplished so much that he felt [his] wishes…should become instantaneous facts–his small due from those around him….. [T]he ruthless serenity with which [he] countermanded luncheon and advanced the dinner hour to meet business exigencies…dismay[ed]…the hearts of the most devoted hostesses. I do not suppose Mr. Peabody ever thought of giving trouble, and certainly no one ever thought of remonstrating.”

Continued in Part 2 of 3 Parts.


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