Saturday, June 12, 2010

12 June 1913: Peabody Hall Opens

On this day in 1913, "impressive exercises at the chapel of the University of Georgia and ... a subsequent brilliant reception in the new building on campus" marked the opening of Peabody Hall and the new Peabody School of Education. Among those making remarks at the chapel were Dean T. J. Woofter, the new dean of the school, Chancellor David C. Barrow, former Governor Henry D. McDaniel, and Dr. H. H. Horne of the New York School of Pedagogy.

The Athens Banner noted that while the Universities in Mississippi and North Carolina were also working on Peabody Halls, the one in Georgia was the first to be completed. All three buildings were funded by a grant from the Peabody Education Fund, created in the aftermath of the Civil War by financier and philanthropist George Peabody to promote education and teacher training in the South for all people, regardless of race. He put a total of $3.5 million into the fund between 1866 and 1869.

Over the years, the Peabody Education Fund gave $2,175.00 to the State Normal School here in Athens, and created the Peabody School for Teachers in Nashville, which later became part of Vanderbilt University. Money was distributed from the fund for schools and libraries throughout the South to prepare and train professional educators.

This George Peabody is not the one with the famous media award. In Georgia, especially, this shared name with another great philanthropist from New England has obscured the work the first George Peabody. This older George Peabody was born in South Danvers, Massachusetts in 1795 to a poor family. He started working at age 11 as a clerk in a grocery store, and at 19, moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue the dry goods business. He moved to London in 1837, and began his career in finance, where he was extraordinarily successful, amassing a fortune of more than $20 million.

At a time when grand philanthropy was not common among the wealthy classes, Peabody began to give away his fortune. He funded the American exhibit for the International Exhibition of 1951 in London after Congress failed to appropriate funds for the venture. In Baltimore, where he had spent many years of his youth establishing his business, he created the Peabody Institute for the city, which included "a free library, courses of lectures, an academy of music, gallery of art, and accomodations for the Maryland Historical Society."

In 1862, Peabody spent over $2.5 million on housing for the poor in London, building more than 40,000 housing units in order "to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis." When offered a barony by Queen Victoria, he turned it down, saying a letter of appreciation would be honor enough, though in July of 1869, the Prince of Wales presided over a dedication ceremony of a statue of Peabody that still stands today outside the London Royal Exchange.

He is quoted as saying, "From a comparatively early period of my commercial life, I had resolved in my own mind that, should my labors be blessed with success, I would devote a portion of the property thus acquired to promote the intellectual, moral and physical welfare and comfort of my fellow-man."

In the United States, his donations created, among other things, the Peabody Institute Library in his home town (renamed Peabody in 1868), the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers, the Peabody Institute and Library of Baltimore, the Peabody Academy of Sciences, the Yale Museum of Natural History, and the Harvard Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.

Peabody died in London in November, 1869, after months of declining health. His funeral was held at Westminster Abbey, and his body returned to America early the next year aboard the HMS Monarch and accompanied by French and American warships. His birthplace home has been turned into the George Peabody Museum, and the Peabody Group continues to work toward making London "a city of opportunity for all."

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