Representative women of New England/Elizabeth P. Peabody

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ELIZABETH PALMER PEABODY, educator and author, was born in Billerica, Mass., May 16, 1804, daughter of Dr. Nathaniel Peabody and his wife, Elizabeth Palmer. She was the eldest of three notable sisters, of whom in her latest years she was the sole survivor. The one nearest her in age was Mary Tyler, born in Cambridge in 1806, who married Horace Mann; and the other was Sophia Amelia, who became the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The father, Nathaniel Peabody, a lineal descendant of Francis Peabody, of Topsfield, the immigrant progenitor of the family of this name in New England, was graduated at Dartmouth College in 1800. For some years, later in life, he practised dentistry in Salem and Boston. He married in 1802 Elizabeth Palmer, who had been preceptress of the girls' department of an incorporated school in North Andover, Mass., of which he was the principal, the school in 180.'^ being named Franklin Academy. A "lady of rare gifts and attainments," Miss Palmer was a successful teacher, winning the respect and affection of her pupils and inciting in them a love of learning. She was the daughter of Joseph Pearse and Elizabeth (Hunt) Palmer and grand-daughter of General Joseph Palmer of 'Revolutionary times, who with his wife Mary, sister of Judge Richard Cranch, came to Boston from Devonshire, England, in 1746. Her maternal grandfather was John Hunt, of Watertown (Harvard College, 1734), whose son, Samuel Hunt, her uncle, was for about thirty years master of the Boston Latin School. Joseph Pearse Palmer (Harvard College, 1771) was one of the Boston Tea Party in December, 1773, and he also served his country in the Revolution. Some years after the close of the war he removed to Framingham, where he taught school. He died in Vermont in 1797, seven years before the birth of the grand-daughter whose name heads the present sketch. After his death his wife and children resided in Watertown.

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, descended from this worthy, patriotic, and scholarly ancestry, was a precocious child, early displaying unusual mental abilities and a fondness for study. At the age of sixteen she began to teach school in Lancaster. She subsequently taught successively in Hallowell, Me., in Brookline, Mass., with her sister Mary, and in Boston. She was acquainted with a number of languages, ancient and modern, learning Polish when she was well advanced in years; and she excelled as a teacher of history, in which she had classes. In September, 1834, Mr. A. Bronson Alcott opened hi.s* school at the Masonic Temple, Boston. His diary thus mentions his assistant: "Miss Peabody, whose reputation both as regards original and acquired ability is high: she unir^s intellectual and practical qualities of no common order."

Miss Peabody's great work, begun after she was fifty years old, was as an interpreter of Froebel's system of education and introducer of the kindergarten into this country.

For about ten years (1840-50) she kept at the family home, 13 West Street, Boston, a shop for the sale of foreign books and journals, and a circulating library, the place becoming for the time a "centre of the finest intellectual culture." Here were held some of Margaret Fuller's conversations.

Miss Peabody was a contributor to the Christian Examiner, the Dial, Barnard's Journal of Education, and other periodicals. Among her books were (not to make an exhaustive list of the works of her pen): "Moral Self-education," translated from the French, 1828; "First Steps in History"; "Key to Hebrew History"; also "Keys to Grecian and to Roman History," 1833; "Record of a School" (Mr. Alcott's), 1835 (third edition, revised, 1874); with Mrs. Mann, "Moral Culture of Infancy" and "Kin- dergarten Guide," of which after her visit to Europe she issued early in the seventies a revised edition; "Reminiscences of William E. Channuig, D.D."; and "A Last Evening with Allston."

Mrs. Mann, besides being a writer on educational topics and a translator, was the author of "A Physiological Cook-book," "Flower People," "Life of Horace Mann," and "Juanita, a Romance of Real Life in Cuba."

Toward the close of her life Elizabeth Peabody became blind. She died in Jamaica Plain, January 3, 1894, in her ninetieth year.

On May 2, 1904, two weeks before the one hundredth anniversary of her birth, at meeting of the New England A'omen's Club, of which she had been a valued member, heart-felt tribute in the form of letters and addresses of some length was paid to her memory by Mrs. Howe, president of the club, Mrs. Cheney, Colonel Higginson, Dr. Hale, and others who had known her long and well.

Mrs. Howe, after speaking of her as one who "recognized everywhere the beauty and glory of existence," said: "I cannot remember ever to have known any one who carried through life so much of this serene atmosphere, the result of high aspirations, genuine culture, and sweet humanity. Her nature was very expansive and her life full of benevolent activity. . . . She helped Margaret Fuller to arrange her first conversations in Boston. Slie espoused the cause of the Pole, the Hungarian, the Indian. She was the devoted frientl of Kossuth's sister. Whom has she not befriended when they most needed a friend? Her declining years were followed with love and gratitude." Mrs. Cheney alluded to the fact that in her old age [*;iizabeth Palmer Pealxxly was often spoken of as "the grandmother of Boston," and added: "She was rightly named if the constant outflow of her warm heart to every one with all manner of loving feelings and helpful deeds and the best of all instructions to the children of every age in the city of her love could entitle her to this distinction. . . . Her large and varied reading filled her mind with stores of history, poetry, and philosophy. She gathered special advantage from the hobbies into which she entered with all her heart for the time. Out of them she gained always something rich and rare.

"She certainly had not the reputation of being a practical person. She was too readily interested in every scheme that offered good to the human race, too credulous of any intlividual who sought her help or comfort. In trying times her unselfish help, her advice, her sympathy, were all fruitful of good results which had seemed hopeless to less believing and ardent natures.

"Goethe says, 'All philosophy must be lived and loved.' Such was the spirit in which Elizabeth P. Peabody spent her ninety years in constant service to mankind."

M. H. G.