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Historical Background of Peabody College

Reprinted from Crabb, Alfred Leland. The Historical Background of Peabody College. Nashville: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1941.

The Mother of Peabody College

Peabody College SketchThe University of Nashville never quite knew where the next year's income would come from. Frequently, it wasn't sufficient to warrant much mention. The university was accustomed to lean years, but a belt may be tightened just so far. After that neither the belt nor the wearer serves any human purpose. By 1873, the university had adjusted its belt to its least common diameter, so to speak — but there was to be a happy ending, after all.

In 1867 George Peabody of Massachusetts established a fund of one million dollars which he doubled in 1869 for the benefit of Southern education. The administration of this was placed in the care of Barnas Sears, one of America's great educational diplomats. The choice of Sears was a notably fortunate one. He was precisely the sort of educational friend the South needed most, keenly sensitive to its wounds, intelligently discerning as to its educational needs. He had been held in great esteem in New England. When in 1848 Horace Mann resigned his secretaryship of the Massachusetts Board of Education, Sears was chosen to succeed him. Seven years later he had become president of Brown University. He had been associated intimately with the normals of Bridgewater and Lexington and had used both voice and pen in the promotion of their mission. In 1851 he had written:

If there were a normal school of a higher order, persons who already had received a good literary education might repair to it and attend exclusively to the theory and practice of teaching.

Then entrance requirements to the normal schools were negligible even if they existed, and this seems to express the hope that those who make education their stock in trade might themselves in time tend to become educated.

There was nothing new in the proposal to establish a normal school in Tennessee. The normal school had Philip Lindsley's approval in his inaugural address at Cumberland College the year after Samuel Hall opened his at Concord, sixteen years before Massachusetts opened the one at Lexington. An attempt was made to create one in Tennessee in 1857, another attempt in 1865.

Peabody Trustees
First Trustees of the Peabody Education Fund

The curtain of the great drama of the sixties was rung down at Appomattox three months before the teachers of Tennessee met at Knoxville and organized their state educational association. At the initial meeting a resolution "looking to the promotion of normal instruction" was adopted without dissent. In June 1867, J. Berrien Lindsley, chancellor of the University of Nashville, recommended to his trustees that "it would seem advisable to correspond with the trustees of the Peabody Fund with reference to co-operating with them in this field." This action the board authorized, and Chancellor Lindsley, a month later, presented a tentative plan to Sears, who "grasped both the brilliance and weakness of the scheme." But the matter was to be matured further.

Doctor Sears, in the fall of 1867, proposed to the state superintendent that if the state would establish three normals, the trustees of the Peabody Education Fund would pay to each one thousand dollars for the year. If it would establish one normal, two thousand dollars would be paid it. On January 15, 1868, measures to establish normals were introduced in the legislature of the state. After much maneuvering, the proposal failed. Sears met with many rebuffs during his labors in the South. Time after time his plans were thwarted by those for whose help they were shaped, but he never quit. Quietly, unobtrusively, he proceeded to recast his lost plans, to formulate others. The desirability of a "normal school of higher order" at Nashville obviously appealed to him early. He addressed the state association in November, 1869, and again in 1870, this year at Nashville.

In 1871 the association memorialized the legislature for an appropriation for normal schools. There was no response from that body. In 1872 Chancellor Kirby Smith of the university (J. Berrien Lindsley having resigned) spoke in favor of normal schools. In 1873 Sears, assisted by Superintendent Jones of Nashville, prepared a bill providing for the organization of one or more normals, which was introduced March 8. The bill expressed the offer of the Peabody trustees of six thousand dollars for annual expenses of one normal, provided the state would pay an equal amount. The bill was rejected, but the idea persisted. In December the addresses made at the state association were more insistent than ever, at least four being made on the crying need of normals.

March, 1874, the trustees of the University of Nashville, whose "literary department was again about to suspend," appointed a special committee to consider carefully the future organization of the university. Then, assembled the legislature of 1875. Just prior to the session, however, the trustees of the university met with Dr. Sears, at which conference it was agreed "to take such steps as may secure the establishment of a normal in connection with the University of Nashville." On March 3 the bill was introduced. Six days later the Senate rejected it. Six days after its rejection it was brought up on a motion to reconsider, with an amendment relieving the state of any part of the expenditure involved. It passed the Senate that day, the House on the 22nd, and was signed by Governor Porter the 23rd. Relieved of the necessity of an appropriation, the legislature moved swiftly. March 24th, it authorized a change in the charter of the University of Nashville and gave it power "to make an agreement with the trustees of the Peabody Fund for the establishment of a normal school." On May 10 Doctor Sears, in writing, formally proposed the offer of $6,000 annually on condition that the equipment and income of the university be assigned to the new institution. This was agreeable to the trustees, and two weeks later the State Board of Education "accepted the proposition of the University of Nashville." So began the State Normal College, known after 1889 as Peabody Normal College.

Eben S. StearnsSeptember 28, 1875, E. S. Stearns was elected to be the first president of the institution. He was a native of Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard, and had succeeded Cyrus Pierce as president of the West Newton Normal, thus becoming the second president of the first state normal.

The college was opened with impressive ceremonial December 1, 1875. The meeting was held in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Governor Porter presided. Addresses were made by Superintendent Trousdale, Judge Samuel Watson, Honorable Edwin Ewing, and Doctor Stearns.

Thirteen students came in for the first day; sixty was the total readied for the entire session. Of these only thirty-five remained until the end of the year. A note of laconic humor is carried by the statement following two of of the names, "Not seen after the examination."

The first catalogue declared that the normal college would be "strictly professional." It would not attempt work which could be as well performed in ordinary colleges. It existed to prepare students for the organizing, teaching, and general management of schools. Those applying for admission were "to declare their intention to become teachers and to pass an examination in the ordinary grammar school studies." The curriculum included three years of work of three terms each. One term was devoted to review and the others to subjects approximating the present high school level. Indeed, the normal college course and the Montgomery Bell course carried much in common. The claim of the school to be "strictly professional" is somewhat weakened by reference to its program of studies. Only two courses obviously "professional" were listed.

Presently the wolf that had so harassed the University of Nashville was lifting its voice again. The institution's poverty is easily comprehended. It received from the Peabody grant $6,000, from the endowment of the University of Nashville, $3,000, and that was approximately all. No charge was made for tuition, incidental expenses, or textbooks. It was a state normal in name and in practice, without a penny having been appropriated by or received from the state. In 1877, the state board made a plea of the Peabody board for a supplementary grant of $3,000. This was allowed. One member of the Peabody board wrote of the meeting: "Our trustees show a decided and almost unanimous disposition to make our normal the normal of the Southwest." This may indicate the board's first conception of a large central institution for the training of teachers. In the same communication was stated the board's determination to allow a large number of scholarships. Nineteen scholarships were awarded for the session 1877-78. These scholarships came to be a major influence in Southern education, there being granted for them by the Peabody board, during the twenty-seven years of their issuance (1877-1901), a total of $570,810. There were 3,751 issued. Each carried $200 annually until 1891 when the award was reduced to $100 plus railroad expenses. There can be no doubt that these gave notable aid in the discovery and development of educational leadership in Southern states.

Vigorous rumors now began to spread to the effect that the institution would presently be moved to some other state. Doubtless, these rumors were encouraged by those who might profit from the change of location. There was some minor friction in the administration of the institution. Montgomery Bell Academy was, by the agreement with the trustees of the university, to serve as a "model school" for the normal college. This end was made difficult by the insistence of the trustees of the university to select the teachers for the academy without special regard for their ability to fit into the program. In 1877 Chancellor Stearns asked for the separation of the two, but his request was ignored at the time, but in 1880 a separate building on Lindsley Avenue east of the campus was provided for the academy, and it was moved, thereby almost completely severing its connection with the normal college.

Vague stories of the probable removal of the college from Nashville persisted. J. B. Lindsley, who had become secretary of the State Board of Education, called attention to the danger in his report of 1878. After mentioning Mr. Peabody's provision for the disposal of the fund at the end of thirty years he said: "It will appear that unless stupidity without parallel is exhibited, Tennessee has a noble opportunity to gain one of the greatest institutions in America." Continuing: "It would be disastrous from every point of view to move the college to a new field." On June 30, 1879, Sears wrote to President Stearns: "In view that arrangements in good faith have been made it would probably be better to continue one year more and allow the board time to make a plan or the legislature time to make an appropriation."

But the legislature apparently had no particular concern as to the welfare of the college. It had done nothing at its session in 1877. It voted down an appropriation for the college in 1879. September, 1879, Sears wrote Stearns: "If anybody in Tennessee will stir in the matter, will do something to accommodate us, the college will remain in Nashville." He reported to the board that the college was flourishing, but that financial support was needed to such an extent as to require the consideration of removal. He was greatly disturbed, not only by Tennessee's apathy as to the college's financial plight, but by the small attendance from the state, it being at the time 53.

For more than a year communications had been exchanged with authorities in Georgia relative to the possible transfer of the institution to that state. In October, 1879, Sears wrote again to Stearns advising that the Georgia legislature was considering a bill to make a bid for the normal college, adding his impression that the Peabody trustees would give "Tennessee just one more chance to hold the school." October 14, the Georgia legislature passed an act appropriating $6,000 annually to match an equal sum from the Peabody fund provided the college should be transferred to Georgia. It seemed that everything was over but the formalities. Sears thought so, the Peabody board thought so, Stearns was beginning to think so. But some curious complications arose. Tennessee apparently would not turn a hand, but destiny did. Georgia's constitution required that all of the state's educational institutions must be under the direction of the University. That irked the Peabody trustees who wanted independent control. Then, Georgia wanted the school placed at Athens under the shadow of the University, and where buildings were already available. The Peabody trustees preferred Atlanta. Even these could be waived, however, but the insistence of the administration in Georgia for a new staff could not.

In the meantime the people in Nashville, and particularly the trustees of the University of Nashville, were becoming aroused. The trustees, as has been mentioned, provided a new plant for Montgomery Bell, and granted the entire university equipment to the normal college. Early in April, 1880, a mass meeting was held at the Maxwell House to urge the claims of Nashville for the institution. Unexpected enthusiasm developed. Those present guaranteed $2,000. Two days later this had swollen to $6,000. Again the university board met. Gone was its nonchalance. A new atmosphere pervaded the meeting. It agreed to borrow $10,000 to be expended on equipment. Furthermore, the board agreed to give to the normal college the income on $50,000 worth of bonds which it held. Finally, on February 4, 1881, the Peabody board decided the location in favor of Nashville. That year the legislature appropriated $10,000 per annum for the use of the college. Two years later this was raised to $13,300. Various shifts in the sum were made until 1895 when the amount was placed at $23,300, where it remained until the appropriation was discontinued in 1905. It was then that the Peabody board agreed to consolidate its resources for the development of Peabody into a major institution, thus ratifying formally Barnas Sears' magnificent dream. In all, the state appropriated $442,300 in annual grants for the college's maintenance.

President Stearns brought with him two teachers, both from Massachusetts, Miss Julia Sears and Miss Emma Cutter. Both were products of Bridgewater in a day when that institution led in the training of teachers. Miss Sears remained thirty-two years, retiring in 1907. A professorship in the teaching of mathematics, partly endowed by her gift, bears her name today. Miss Cutter married after six years of service. Miss Lizzie Bloomstein graduated in 1877, in the first graduating class. She became a member of the faculty at the opening of the ensuing session and remained until her death in 1927. The later period of her service was as librarian. John L. Lampson was professor of Latin from 1882 to 1899. His service was of outstanding quality, a major item of which was the development of Charles K. Little of whom more will be said subsequently. Miss Julia Doak taught mathematics from 1883 to 1899. Benjamin B. Penfield was professor of biology during the same period. A. L. Purinton was professor of chemistry from 1889 to 1899. Hiram A. Vance was in charge of English for seventeen years, beginning in 1889. Albert Pike Bourland taught English literature from 1890 to 1906. E. C. Huntington taught Greek from 1888 to 1900. Wickliffe Rose taught philosophy and education from 1890 to 1906. Elizabeth R. Clark was in charge of art and the library from 1890 to 1902. James M. King was professor of chemistry and physics from 1896 to 1901. Priestley H. Manning was professor of geography from 1891 to 1909, with an intermission from 1900 to 1903. After his return, biology and physics were added to his assignments. William R. Garrett held the professorship of American history from 1895 to 1904. J. W. Brister was professor of mathematics from 1903 to 1911. Eugene Tavenner was assistant professor of Latin from 1904 to 1911, and George Herbert Clarke was professor of English literature during the same period. These probably exerted the most influence on the college in particular and Southern education in general. Of all of these personalities it remained for Charles Edgar Little to place the clearest and most indelible stamp upon the institution's career. He came to it as a student in 1885. He graduated in 1891 with the A.B. degree. He was for eight years instructor of mathematics and Latin. In 1899 the catalogue indicated his withdrawal from the field of mathematics. His doctorate was awarded by Vanderbilt in that year. Since then he has been professor of Latin, with supplementary service in various administrative capacities. He was director of the summer sessions (1903-1909), and as chairman of the faculty in the session of 1910-1911 he was in position to give distinguished assistance in the transfer of the college to its new campus and organization. Of such wisdom was his counsel that the wastage of morale incident to the transfer was held at the minimum. First and last his personality has become a part of the Peabody tradition as has that of no other man.

Barnas Sears died in 1880. So passed from the scene one of America's great educational diplomats. He was succeeded by Dr. J. L. M. Curry, one-time president of Howard College. Dr. Curry evidently lacked the sympathetic comprehension, the healing touch of Dr. Sears, but he had enormous vitality and purposefulness.

President Stearns died April 11, 1887, and was carried back to Boston and buried there. Professor Benjamin Penfield was asked to serve as acting president pending a permanent selection.

William Harold PayneIn 1879 William Harold Payne had been elected professor of pedagogics in the University of Michigan. He was America's first and the world's second professor of education, Dr. Laurie having preceded him in that distinction in the University of Edinburgh. Payne's fame had gone abroad, and Ann Arbor had become the Mecca for the country's pioneers in the science of education. Dr. Curry was in Europe at the time of President Stearns' death. When the news reached him he immediately decided upon Payne for the presidency, and wrote him to that effect. Payne replied that he was well pleased at the university and did not care to change. Curry wrote again with great emphasis, and Payne came to Nashville to investigate, but with little thought of acceptance. James Priestley came to Nashville "to investigate" in 1809 — and accepted the presidency of Cumberland College. Philip Lindsley came "to investigate" in 1824. It is likely that he did not regard his acceptance as probable, but he also accepted. Bruce R. Payne came "to investigate" in 1911 — and became president. Nashville is obviously able to convince presidential desirables. So, on October 5, 1887, W. H. Payne was inducted into the presidency of the college. He was then fifty-one years old, of superb physical bearing and elasticity, cold and unemotional in business dealings, but radiant in the schoolroom. He continued as president for fourteen years, returning to his position at Ann Arbor in the fall of 1901. His administration was the golden era of Peabody Normal College. He opened and enlarged the library for use of the students, built the Winthrop model practice school, greatly increased the strength and size of the faculty, and raised the enrollment from 177 in 1887 to 607 in 1901. He knew intimately the outstanding educators of his day, and his correspondence with such men as Soldan, Quick, Harris, Edwards, Welsh, Pierce, and Parker carried the notable educational values then current. The fame of Peabody spread through all of the quarters of the nation during the presidency of William Harold Payne.

He was succeeded by James D. Porter, a graduate of the University of Nashville, Class of 1846, who had been Governor of Tennessee in 1875 when the institution was organized. In some ways the missionary spirit of the college during the Payne era lost some of its zeal during the Porter era. There were two reasons for this. It is exceedingly difficult to keep long sustained the professional eagerness which characterized Peabody under Payne. Then, before Porter had been in office long, work was begun upon the proposed reorganization, and this tended to withdraw interest from the daily routine. At the annual meeting of the Peabody board in 1902 a resolution had referred to "the building up of Peabody Normal College."

At the meeting of the Peabody board held January 29, 1903, this resolution was passed:

.... In the opinion of this board the trust funds in its hands, or a portion thereof .... should be applied to the establishment or maintenance of a teachers college to be called GEORGE PEABODY COLLEGE FOR TEACHERS at such a point in the southern states as may be found advisable.

A committee was duly appointed to consider the matter and means of expansion.

This is the first explicit sanction to the proposal, though it had been under discussion in various quarters for several years. The committee submitted, through Judge Fenner, its report at the meeting January 21, 1905. This endorsed the appropriation of one million dollars for the enlargement and continuance of the school at Nashville, conditioned on the securing of $800,000 from other sources, distributed in sources and amounts as follows: Davidson County, $50,000; Nashville, $200,000; Tennessee, $250,000; the equipment and land of the University of Nashville, valued at $250,000; the further sum of $50,000 in money or its equivalent. On October 4 the board ordered that inasmuch as the aforesaid conditions had not been met, a further extension of time until July 24, 1907, be granted. At the board's meeting on December 10, 1907, there was some further discussion as to whether full compliance with the board's conditions had been met. A majority thought not. There were further delays arising from the seeming inability of the Peabody board and that of the University of Nashville and the Tennessee donors to arrive at a mutual understanding. All difficulties were overcome by June, 1909. On October 5, GEORGE PEABODY COLLEGE FOR TEACHERS was duly incorporated. These articles fixed the location of the institution "in close proximity to Vanderbilt University." Various reasons were assigned for this.

J. D. PorterPresident Porter resigned August 1, 1909, after eight years of distinguished but exacting service. He was at the time eighty years old. Dr. J. I. D. Hinds, dean of the college and professor of chemistry, was appointed acting president. He remained through the year. Professor Charles E. Little acted as chairman of the faculty during 1910-1911.

On October 5, 1909, the trustees of GEORGE PEABODY COLLEGE FOR TEACHERS held their first formal meeting. By-laws were ratified, officers were elected, and the meeting adjourned. After that, meetings of the board came with but brief intervals between. The matter of relocating the institution involved serious problems. The neighbors of the institution in South Nashville vigorously opposed its removal from "South Field," by which term an area of which the campus formed a part had been known since the early days of Nashville. On March 8, 1910, an eloquent petition to the board set forth the advantages of its remaining on the old campus. There ensued an ardent campaign to retain the college in South Nashville. The assistance of the courts was sought, but neither petitions nor injunctions served to stop the processes of evolution. It was decided finally to move the college to the fourth campus of the series. It was a decision the wisdom of which cannot now be questioned.

On March 10, 1910, the board ordered a committee to attend the Conference for Education in the South to be held at Little Rock in April to study the delegates with reference to their fitness as president. Obviously, the committee wasn't deeply impressed by its visit, except by Dr. E. A. Alderman and Dr. Wickliffe Rose. Dr. Wickliffe Rose was questioned as to his availability. He wasn't interested. His refusal doesn't excite special wonder. He had an excellent estimate of the trials and agonies which lay in wait for the new president. It may have been that in his mind the agony loomed larger than the opportunity. On July 5 Dr. Bruce R. Payne's name enters the consideration, but only tentatively. It appears, however, that even a casual investigation on the part of the committee developed a decided interest in the young professor of education in the University of Virginia. The committee worked thoroughly. It learned of his part in the promotion of Virginia's secondary schools. It took careful note of his administration of the university's summer school. It became familiar with his record at Teachers College. On January 11, 1911, he was elected president. On April 7 he accepted the place which he held for a quarter of a century.

Peabody, as it existed from 1875 to 1911, was a beacon carrying educational light to all Southern quarters. From its beginning, Peabody was irrevocably committed to public education, and educational opportunity for all the children of all the people was then as now the South's greatest need. Only the State Normal at Florence, Alabama, preceded Peabody in the South, and its function as a "state" institution was not quite explicit at first. In the near South the normals of West Virginia take precedence. From 1875 to 1911 thirty-one state normals were created in Southern territory, and one engages in no idle platitude who asserts that in this great "drive" for public education Peabody manifested notable leadership. Peabody contributed such leadership to all the major enterprises of Southern public education.

The University of Nashville was, in point of quality, a most exclusive institution. It never compromised with weakness. It received into its care and keeping only strong young men. It permitted no lapses in these. Those whom it took and kept were made stronger, and their strength affected all phases of the section's public life, particularly the legislative and ministerial phases. A few went into teaching. Alfred Hume and John Berrien Lindsley come to mind. But the schoolroom could not match the glamor and romantic appeal of the pulpit and the courtroom. As the meanings of democracy emerged into dearer outline the conviction gradually dawned that American civilization could not be achieved in its fullness if built on a foundation other than the enlightenment of all the people. The shift from the University of Nashville to Peabody Normal College was in part from economic necessity, but even more it was in response to the collapse of artificial groupings and segregations. The teacher came to be the missionary of light to all people. Peabody has served teachers now for sixty-seven years and such has been the quality of its service that it is altogether likely that it more than any other institution has helped to raise to higher levels the estate of the teacher.

Introduction | Great-Great-Grandmother of Peabody College | Great-Grandmother of Peabody College | Grandmother of Peabody College | Mother of Peabody College | George Peabody College for Teachers