Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, 1804 - 1894
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was one of nineteenth-century America's most important Transcendental writers and educational reformers. Unfortunately, she has also been one of the most scandalously neglected and caricatured female intellectuals in American history. Peabody's ceaseless devotion to education was both broad and practical. She saw the classroom as mediating between the needs of the individual and the claims of society. In 1820 she opened a private school in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and two years later another in Boston. She opened another school in 1825 in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she made the acquaintance of William Ellery Channing
, with whom she shared a remarkable intellectual intimacy. From 1825 to 1834 she served informally as his secretary, copying down his sermons and seeing them into print. In 1834 she helped Amos Bronson Alcott
establish his radical Temple School in Boston. Her Record of a School
(1835), based on her journal of Alcott's methods and daily interactions with the children, did much to establish Alcott as a leading and controversial educator and thinker.
A member of Ralph Waldo Emerson
's social circle and the Transcendental Club, Peabody introduced the Transcendentalists to the work of the Salem poet-mystic Jones Very
and the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne
. In 1839 she opened her West Street bookstore, which became a gathering place for the intellectual community of Boston. She was probably the first woman book publisher in the United States. On her own printing press she published translations from German by Margaret Fuller
and three of Hawthorne's earliest books. She published and wrote articles for the Transcendentalist Dial
, as well as other periodicals. In 1849 she published a single number of a Transcendentalist journal, Aesthetic Papers
, which contained, among other essays, Henry David Thoreau
's "Resistance to Civil Government."
Peabody's particular brand of Transcendentalism was anchored in the idea of a just society informed by liberal Christianity, and stressed the need for historical knowledge to balance the movement's focus on individual intuition. Her great emphasis on the education of the young led her to embrace the kindergarten movement in 1859. Inspired by Friedrich Froebel's kindergarten work in Germany, she opened the nation's first formal kindergarten in Boston in 1860. Later she toured European kindergartens and wrote numerous books concerning kindergarten education. In 1873 she founded the Kindergarten Messenger, of which she was editor during its two years of publication, and in 1877 she organized the American Froebel Union, of which she was the first president. From 1879 to 1884 she was a lecturer at Alcott's famous Concord School of Philosophy. She published Reminiscences of Reverend William Ellery Channing, D.D. in 1880 and Last Evening with Allston in 1886. In addition, she championed antislavery, European liberal revolutions, Spiritualism, and, in her last years, the Paiute Indians.