Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was born on May 16, 1804 in Billerica, Massachusetts. Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, was a dentist while her mother, Elizabeth Peabody, was an educator and author. She was the eldest of five siblings, Mary, Sophia, Nathaniel, George, and Wellington. Both of her parents played a strong role in Peabody’s early education. Due to their rigorous teaching and support, she was able to open up her own private school at age sixteen. In 1840, Peabody opened up a bookshop and lending library in Boston. This bookstore soon became a meeting place of the Transcendentalist Club. In 1849 she edited the literary journal Æsthetic Papers which only lasted for one issue but which contained the first printing of Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government.”
Inspired by Friedrich Froebel, a German educator who initiated the concept of guided play for children, Peabody opened the first English-speaking kindergarten in 1860. The first school of its kind in America, Peabody’s kindergarten was located on Pinckney Street in Boston. In 1867, Peabody ventured out to Europe, intending to learn more about Froebel’s kindergarten philosophy. Throughout her lifetime, Peabody went on to organize many other schools, trailing her beliefs on the importance of education with her.
She was a well known Transcendentalist, alongside Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Margaret Fuller. Peabody tirelessly campaigned to establish Froebel’s kindergarten throughout the public school system, and it is still in place today. Some of Peabody’s most notable literary pieces include First Steps to the Study of History, and many articles included in The Kindergarten Messenger. Peabody never married. On January 3, 1894, Peabody died at age 89. She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA.
Texts by Elizabeth Peabody: