Elizabeth Palmer Peabody


Born: 1804, Billerica, Mass.

Church membership in Salem:

   North Church (Unitarian)

Salem homes:

• Brown Building (corner of Union

  and Essex Streets)

• 35 Charter Street

Died: 1894, Jamaica Plain (Boston)

Buried: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery,
   Concord, Mass.


Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, the oldest of the Peabody sisters, was one of the most important women of her time. The daughter of a Harvard-educated physician and a school teacher, she was drawn into the world of education and ideas early in life.

As a young girl, Elizabeth heard William Ellery Channing, the Unitarian minister from Boston, preach in Salem. She was inspired to learn Greek and read the Bible in its original for herself. She wrote a spiritual autobiography when she was twenty.

By the age of thirty, Elizabeth had opened and run two schools and worked at Bronson Alcott's progressive Temple School in Boston. Elizabeth later opened the nation's first kindergarten—on Boston's Beacon Hill, in 1861—and was largely responsible for the spread of the (German) kindergarten movement in America.

Elizabeth was also one of America's first female publishers, printing anti-slavery tracts, children's books by Nathaniel Hawthorne (her brother-in-law), and the Dial, the journal of her Transcendentalist friends who gathered at her Boston residence and bookstore on West Street.

Elizabeth's own writing reveals her connections to some of the most important thinkers of her time: Reminiscences of Rev. William Ellery Channing (whose Unitarian church in Boston she attended), Record of a School (Bronson Alcott's Temple School), and A Last Evening with Allston (the painter Washington Allston, who admired and encouraged Elizabeth’s sister, Sophia, to paint).

Elizabeth Peabody's bookstore was the site of "Conversations" held by Margaret Fuller, where women engaged in high-level intellectual and political discussions. There, Elizabeth provided an early forum for women lecturers such as the English social commentator Harriet Martineau.

Throughout her long life, Elizabeth worked to improve the lives of women and minorities, and founded a school for the orphaned children of former southern slaves. After her death in 1894, Elizabeth's friends opened the Elizabeth Peabody House—a social service agency and kindergarten in Boston—to carry on her work. The house continues to function today.

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