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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.

George Peabody College for Teachers


Peabody College SketchBeginnings are subtle things. The beginning of this is the end of that, in name. In reality the essence of the first continues on in the second. The son reflects the father who himself was a son reflecting his father. Effect follows cause which in its turn was effect. Leadership is the assuming of a major role in the endless drama of cause and effect.

Davidson Academy objectified the esteem of the intellectual and spiritual which the earliest of the pioneers brought from North Carolina. It grew into Cumberland College, and Cumberland, after a score of years, built statelier mansions bearing the new label, the University of Nashville. A half century later another label more reflective of the advance of democracy was chosen. This, after successive refinements, became in 1905 GEORGE PEABODY COLLEGE FOR TEACHERS. This title was prophetic of the era in the career of the college which began formally June 25, 1914.

Mention of the consolidation of the Peabody Fund, of the consequent reorganization of the college on a new campus, has been made in a previous chapter. It was no minor task to move from South Campus to Hillsboro. A new environment had to be evolved, a new campus planned, for indeed the first building to rise on a campus should foreshadow the last, which adds enormously to the obligation of those who plan. The Industrial Arts Building, therefore, tells in part the story of that ultimate building far ahead which closes Peabody's architectural chapter.

Except the library, there wasn't much for the trucks to bring from the old campus to the new. But the library would have measured a king's ransom. Thousands of books redolent of a rich past gathered no one knows by whom nor from what sources. A great shelf of them published in the sixteenth century, one in 1509, but a scant half century later than Gutenberg's monumental achievement. There are musty volumes whose flyleaves bear illustrious names: John Marshall, James Priestley, Philander Priestley, E. A. Rutledge (whose father signed the Declaration of Independence) , Wilkins Tannehill, Dr. James Hamilton, Return J. Meigs, Dr. Paul Eve, Henry Crabb (Tennessee Court of Appeals, 1825-28) , Felix Grundy, Philip Lindsley, J. B. Lindsley, Barnas Sears, J. I. M. Curry, Alfred Balch, Consider Parish, John M. Bass, Charles Colesworth Pickney, James K. Polk, to mention but a few. There are foreign names and inscriptions, mostly German. In one the script is in German, so old as to baffle modern scholars — apparently, but not surely, the last words of one about to die. On a blank page of his own biography, curiously enough, Andrew Jackson states with withering force his estimate of his biographer. Doctors Cullen and Munro were the notable influences of Edinburgh University's Medical College for a period following the middle of the eighteenth century. There are six leather-bound volumes of their lectures written in longhand and dated 1762, quaint, beautiful handwriting, surprisingly modern. How these found their way to the Peabody library no one knows. There is the priceless James Robertson collection of letters. There are musty yellow volumes of old newspapers, the most venerable of which is the Salem Register of 1792. Then, the Washington Intelligencer, The Philadelphia Aurora, The Niles Register, a complete file of the unique but short-lived Orthopolitan to edit which Wilkins Tannehill came back from Louisville. The modern part of the library is of a piece with any good library. On the same shelf in order, bearing the same hieroglyphics, stands primly Dewey's How We Think, that is, unless checked out on standardized slips by some standardized student to assist in the preparation of some standardized assignment, but the old section of Peabody's library is safe from the invasion of the standardizationists. The craft of the cataloguer comprehends but vaguely the application of standardized technique in setting forth the hundreds of doctoral theses written in Mediaeval Latin, or of those strange but profound disquisitions of Erasmus and Melanchthon. The standardized janitor does not quite dare to disturb dust that had gathered on a book when Nathaniel Cross read it. Perhaps no ghosts of a glamorous past walk in those dim aisles, but on the shelves hard by royal spirits breathe from a bygone age their story of man's ever lasting adventure with life and mind. There wasn't any building ready, and these volumes underwent an active though precarious existence until 1918 when the Carnegie Foundation, on the endorsement of Elihu Root, supplemented the resources of the college in providing for them a new home.

It is no simple matter to open a new college, but to revise and reorganize an old one is an undertaking of epic proportions. The amount of work performed, of diplomacy undertaken, and of anxiety undergone by President Payne and his associates between 1911 and 1914 is but vaguely sensed by those who were relatively close to the situation. A great group, composed largely of the residents of the section and the alumni of the college, opposed with all the resources at their command the removal from South Campus. That dissent is easily understood. An institution of the quality of Peabody is of social and economic value to a community. Then, one who realizes somewhat the temper and life of Peabody during the eras of William H. Payne and James D. Porter comprehends in part the attention which had gathered about the old campus. Then, the new campus was not the matter of a single simple transaction. It gained symmetry as one by one a dozen transactions were effected, some of which were extremely involved.

Early in 1911, Bruce Ryburn Payne of North Carolina and Virginia was selected after a prolonged search for the fittest one for the college's leadership. He served the college with great distinction for a quarter of a century. He met every challenge with courage and patience and wisdom. He opened informally his administration April, 1911. There had been some apprehension among the alumni that in the reorganization the attempt would be made to start de novo. This concern was allayed by the selection, May 19, 1911, of Professor Little who had been the last member of the old staff, as the first member of the new. The gracious words of the president at commencement, early in June, 1911, lent further comfort:

This college has a noble record for service …. For the administration I wish to assure you that we shall respect, honor, and continue the traditions and ideals of this institution …. Peabody College is not dead and by the help of God it is not going to die.

Then the bulletin of April, 1913, carried as its foreword:

George Peabody College for Teachers will resume active work with the Summer School beginning about June 15, 1914.

Resume! That was a welcome word to the alumni, so welcome that when the college resumed 208 of them enrolled for a more intimate acquaintance with this new phase of their alma mater. Eight of the alumni served on the staff that first summer, three on the staff of the regular session, opening September 16, 1914.

The vital element of any college, new or old, is its staff. Buildings, however noble, can at the best but supplement. The destiny of a college is determined by the richness and discipline of the available personality. The president was conscious of this, and with infinite care canvassed the pedagogical resources of the nation. Doctor Little was the first to appear on the new roster. It was a choice of excellent taste and fitness. Dr. Kary Cadmus Davis was second. The South today is dominantly agricultural, though perhaps less so than in 1913. Dr. Davis, a pioneer in the field, had more than any other man identified the processes of agriculture with the procedures of the schoolroom. Dr. Fletcher Bascom Dresslar, Dr. R. W. Selvidge, Dr. Carter Alexander, Dr. W. F. Russell, Miss Ada Field, Miss Yeda Shoninger followed in order, and before the session opened Miss Lula Andrews, Dr. Thomas Alexander, Dr. Charles Colby, Dr. E. K. Strong, Professor W. K. Tate, Miss Blanche Hyde, Miss Helen Jenkins, Miss Lizzie Bloomstein, and Professor Earl Warner had been added to the permanent staff, and Mr. I. S. Wampler had been assigned to publicity and alumni relations. A casual study suggests and a careful study confirms the superior quality of this group. Dr. Dresslar's monument is the hundreds of lighter, and cleaner, and finer school buildings. The others in various fields and in various sections have made certain for themselves recognition in the reputable future histories of American education. Dr. Charles McMurry became a permanent member of the faculty in September, 1914. And thus the South received one of its major influences in public education. Perhaps the influence of no other man has penetrated so far, affected so genuinely and generally, the South's public schools.

It seems appropriate here to say more of Dr. Little. Fifty years ago, he became a part of Peabody College. He was born and reared in middle Georgia. He performed the customary routines of a farm boy. When he was sixteen he entered an academy at Eatonton. The tradition exists that he added luster to his alma mater not alone by the quality of his school work but by his athletic prowess as well. He filled a part-time clerkship in a store. When a youth discharges three such obligations in a manner delighting all concerned the omens are most felicitous.

In October, 1885, Charles Edgar Little entered Peabody. He took the L.I. diploma in 1887, the baccalaureate degree in the renowned class of 1891 in which year he became regularly identified with the staff. His first teaching in the college was in Latin and mathematics. In 1899 he was granted the doctorate by Vanderbilt. Perhaps no student remained for any period of time on the old campus without work under Dr. Little's guidance. He took all who came and many came.

The term "teaching load," so potent now, had no significance then. Go wherever you will in the Southern states and there some silver-haired man or woman will beamingly tell you of courses taken under Dr. Little back in the old days.

When Peabody came to Hillsboro, Charles Edgar Little came with it. He belongs not alone in the great Peabody past, but is inseparably associated with the greater Peabody present. The power of his scholarship and the wisdom of his counsel have been for a half century vastly helpful in carrying Peabody on to its destiny.

Fifty years of continuous connection with one college. It is a record of tenure, an opportunity, and a challenge granted to few men. Charles Edgar Little — a great figure in the foreground of the Peabody scene.

Bruce Ryburn PayneThere have been some buoyant periods in the institution's career. There was the time when President Payne, through the generosity of Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, fulfilled the obligation of a million dollars in subscriptions, thereby complying with the conditions of the Peabody board for the award of the half million which it still held. Again, in 1921, the General Education Board contributed liberally toward the further development of the campus. The funds thus made available were used in the erection of the Demonstration School and the Administration Building. In 1925 Peabody celebrated with appropriate ceremonies its fiftieth year of service to public education. With but little stretch of imagination it could have celebrated at the same time its one hundred and fortieth year of educational service. Davidson Academy opened in 1785 and in unbroken line, save by shifts of name and scene, it has continued through to the institution today. In 1885 a great program in commemoration of a century of labor in the educational vineyard was held under the auspices of the college. One address, made by Edwin Ewing, has been preserved. The speaker had entered Cumberland College in 1820, had graduated in 1827. He served as trustee of the University of Nashville for fifty-three years, beginning in 1829. It is an eloquent address, tender with fine sentiment and loyal memories, redolent of the classics. In Mr. Ewing's own hand there is written on the flyleaf: "To be kept securely in the Peabody Library until its second centennial in 1985." Another of the institution's high points was that week in 1927 when honor was duly paid Dr. Charles A. McMurray, fifty years a teacher, much of that time a distinguished teacher. Education may gain more high ideals during the course of such a program than in years of routine. There have been for Peabody some solemn and poignant moments, such moments as when in 1917 Mr. Tate died; or in 1919, Mr. Warner; in 1927, Mr. Didcoct; in 1929, Dr. McMurry; in 1930, Dr. Dresslar; in 1931, Mr. Dickinson; in 1932, Mr. Connell; in 1931, Mr. Binnion, Dr. Roller, and Dr. Bachman; in 1935, Dr. Peterson; in 1936, Dr. Davis; in 1937, President Payne; in 1938, Dr. Demiashkevich; in 1910, Dr. Parkins — men whose lives had been fountains of strength and inspiration, and whose influence is immortal.

Peabody has never been reluctant to diverge from conventional procedures. The Englishman whose flesh "crawled" in 1810 at the sight of Professor Troost teaching a class in natural science, and at intervals patting the head of a venomous serpent reposing in a basket, would find the snake patters still on the job. Perhaps Professor Pendleton's using the cover illustrations of the Saturday Evening Post in the teaching of English composition would affect the Briton similarly. Surely he would find consternation in the activities of Miss Gage's class in Education 403. It is suspected that the gentleman in question never heard a foreign language sung outside the churches, nor was he aware of the possibility of a future class in educational psychology adjourning to the juvenile court. The college itself was an innovation. Its status today is in many respects unlike that of any other educational institution in the world. The Peabody Fund pioneered in Southern teacher training. It organized the teachers institute in the South. It sent Joseph Baldwin to Texas, who, while there, produced what is believed to be the first text in education ever written in the South. It sent Louis Soldan and W. T. Harris over the Southern states preaching the newer doctrines of public education. It made of A. D. Mayo an educational evangelist in the Southern states. It brightened dark places throughout the section by the light of the nation's best educational minds. It interpreted the functions of agriculture for the schools of the South. It pioneered in the scientific study of school building construction; and if any other college in America has ever carried such a department, it does not come to mind. It has arranged courses specially for that new but very gracious member of the staff, the school nurse. It awarded the first Ph.D. in education to be given by a Southern institution. It was the first college in the South, likely in the country, to bestow in any year more graduate than undergraduate degrees. Its division of surveys and field studies is unique in the service it offers education. Peabody does not care to tread the beaten path. And yet the institution has always been, and is, conservative. It, at least since the days of Philip Lindsley, has been committed against the maintenance of the status quo. It has never flinched from the exposure and hardship of pioneering. It always has searched eagerly for better ways of achieving its mission. But its eagerness has always been tempered by discrimination, by a determination not to permit zeal to outrun understanding.

Peabody College was administered by the president and various committees until 1927, when certain re-arrangements were effected. At that time a business manager and a director of instruction were appointed; namely, J. J. Didcoct and Dr. Shelton Phelps. In 1931 a deanship was established for the service of graduate students which assignment was given to Dr. Phelps. The directorship of instruction was divided and Dr. S. C. Garrison authorized to supervise instruction in the senior college and graduate school. Dr. Joseph Roemer was brought from the University of Florida to instruct courses in secondary education and to supervise teaching in the demonstration school and the junior college. In 1934 Dr. Phelps resigned to accept the presidency of Winthrop College and Dr. S. C. Garrison became dean of the graduate school. When President Payne died in 1937, Dean Garrison was chosen as his successor.

Assembly Under a Tent During the First Summer SchoolPeabody's building program on the Hillsboro campus began with the Industrial Arts Building, with the Home Economics Building following in close order, both ready for the opening of the college in June, 1914. The Gray Building which had come to the college in the purchase of the campus was used as the Administration Building from the beginning until the summer of 1925. The Social-Religious Building and the Psychology Building were completed in 1915. They relieved greatly the now almost unbelievable congestion which existed in the summer of 1914, when 1,108 students studied and recited in two buildings. The library occupied a part of the second floor of the Home Economics Building. The books, except the old ones, were few, somewhat scrambled, and the lines were long. Those who got the books they wanted were lucky, and those who didn't neither repined nor grumbled. Some vivid memories of that first summer remain: the entrance to the campus, then at Hillsboro and Edgehill, at which one got his first glimpse of Peabody; Dr. Little's meticulous precision of both speech and credit allowance; Dr. Carter Alexander's Calvinistic technique in the assignment of lessons; the sturdy volume of song inspired by Mr. Milton Cook at assembly held in the heat of the day under a tent; the excellence of the teaching in the course conducted in series by Dr. Leon Vincent, Dr. C. Alphonso Smith, and Dr. H. N. Snyder. The superior quality of the meals served at Ward-Belmont; the ubiquity of the president, the cane he carried, equipment hitherto not employed by educational leaders; the twilight story hour conducted on the lower campus by Mr. Wyche; Professor Tate's habitual state of hurry; the eager optimism of those 1,108 students. The Social-Religious Building was used during the second summer, used for almost everything. It contained the bookstore, the post office, the cafeteria, and provided quarters for all extracurricular activities. The Psychology Building was in use during the summer term of 1915. The Library, a contribution of the Carnegie Foundation, was ready three years later. The West Dormitory was completed in 1923, the East Dormitory early in 1921. The Demonstration School, conducted at first in the basement and on the first floor of the Psychology Building, was moved in 1921 to the building later used for music, now as storage of supplies for the building and grounds force, and to its present home January, 1925. The Administration Building opened with the summer quarter of 1925. The Graduate Dormitory was first used during the summer of 1929. The Fine Arts Building was completed in 1930. Confederate Memorial Hall, erected jointly by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the college, was completed in 1935. Peabody now owns and operates forty-six apartments for the use of its married students.

President Payne's administration lasted twenty-six years, a period of remarkable expansion. The president was a man of unusual vigor. In his prime, he, without doubt, manifested the qualities of an educational prophet. He was a leader among a small group of pioneers who brought the South's attention to focus upon the needs of its rural schools. He, as early and as forcefully as any man, demanded a greater equity of educational opportunity for the Southern Negro. He saw very early and very clearly that the soil is man's greatest source of economic security, and his vision and his voice greatly helped to lay the foundation used by later conservationists. He was ever sensitive to beauty in its various phases and forms and to him belongs the major tribute for the beauty of the Peabody campus. But he worked with such intensity and with such lack of concern for his bodily welfare that he wore himself out at the age of sixty-three. Happily, there was no tragic interlude of disease and helplessness. He went as he would have wished. He worked all day, Wednesday, April 21, 1937, and early that evening very suddenly he died. So ended one of the greater episodes in the development of Peabody College.


President Bruce Ryburn Payne died Wednesday evening, April 21, 1937. He had worked throughout the day, but that evening at seven o'clock very suddenly and very quietly he died.

The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees met on the morning of May 1, and asked Dr. Charles E. Little to assume the burden of the presidency until the annual meeting of the Board the following week. It was not the first time that Professor Little, himself committed to the role of teacher, had been asked to guide the college during the shock of transition. In 1910, the college faced a major crisis and Professor Little was asked to add to his professional duties the obligation of serving as president through a turbulent year. During more than a half century Peabody, when troubled, has always felt free to call upon Charles Edgar Little. And, hearing the call, he has always answered.

S. C. GarrisonAt the annual meeting of the trustees on May 6, 1937, Dr. S. C. Garrison was elected acting president. He was a native of Lincoln County, North Carolina, and an alumnus of Wake Forest College. He entered Peabody as a graduate student in the Fall Quarter of 1914. He received the M.A. in 1916, and the doctorate in 1919. He had since then served the college with distinction as Professor of Educational Psychology, Director of Instruction, and Dean of the Graduate School. During the World War he served as Captain in the Adjutant General's office, and as Personnel Adjutant in Walter Reed Hospital. Dr. Garrison's pen had been active and various texts in educational psychology and in spelling and reading had appeared bearing his imprimatur. At home, he raised children and roses, five of the former and three hundred eighty varieties of the latter — all fine. His wife, whom he married on October 16, 1918, was Sara Elizabeth McMurry of Guthrie, Kentucky.

Peabody in 1937 was just beginning to pull out of a melancholy decade, but that summer, 2,214 students enrolled for its courses. The affairs of the college moved forward with smoothness and steadiness. At a meeting of the trustees held on September 21, the status of "acting president" was changed to that of "president." Craighead, Priestley, Lindsley, Kirby Smith, Stearns, William Harold Payne, Porter, Bruce Ryburn Payne, Garrison — an amazing spread of talent and personality, any two presenting a minimum of likeness, a maximum of divergence, yet all men of character, of unusual intellectual alertness and penetration, and all consecrated to the service of the college. Dr. Doak S. Campbell was chosen for the graduate deanship.

The college gradually emerged from its decade of frustration. The anemia which had afflicted securities yielded to an improved business situation. College endowments began to edge slowly upwards. More and more, cash replaced scrip in the payment of teachers' salaries. The index of summer school attendance (of all indices one of the most dependable) moved higher: 1,877 in 1935; 2,086 in 1936; 2,212 in 1937; 2,543 in 1938; 2,567 in 1939; 2,538 in 1940.

Quietly and in terms of his own personality the new president laid hold upon his problems. And there were problems! The problem of the college's income; the problem of redirection of effort to meet an educational philosophy whose old rigidity seems to be lost permanently; the problems of contraction and expansion.

The field of Home Economics belongs both logically and psychologically in the Peabody area. But the challenge of Home Economics was one that the college did not accept wholeheartedly until quite recently. The staff has been increased, the equipment trebled in value, and the curriculum reorganized and integrated. Lately, the department of Home Economics has broken down its old insulation and today it cuts vigorously across most of the hitherto outlying areas: economics, sociology, psychology, art, education, science, thus bringing into one active unity the entire kinship of the field. The work of the department has been duly accredited by the various agencies so authorized. Music, too, was without doubt a special obligation of Peabody College. That obligation placed no accent upon the development of soloists and concert artists. That special phase of artistry could better be achieved by other institutions and conservatories. But Peabody does engage in the democratic venture of carrying the healing virtues of music to the masses. Peabody's dreams prevail, the backwoods will offer no barrier to Beethoven and, still clinging to the good music they have already, the mountains will welcome Mozart. So runs Peabody's dream.

An amplified service in Art and Health education is being planned and Peabody students are now given advantages in speech training and dramatics too long denied them and even now only suggestive of further developments in those arts. In four years the patronage of its work in commercial education has more than doubled.

Joint University LibraryPeabody has part in a unique adventure in collegiate co-operation now under way in Nashville, namely that great library in which the combined resources of the three institutions will serve jointly Vanderbilt University, Scarritt College, and Peabody College, and which was ready for use at the opening of the Fall Quarter, 1941. There is a hint of growth in the air around the Peabody campus.

It is a hint that must come true. When living organizations cease growing they begin dying. The best of any decade is never quite good enough for the next. Last year's learning is never enough for this year's students. There is virtue in Peabody's past. In its one hundred fifty-five years are crowded great men, great motives, and great deeds. But they — men, motives, and deeds — were great because they found the answers to the problems of their times. Men have marched on and their problems have changed, increased, grown more complex and baffling. The old answers are not enough for the newer problems. Their complexity adds enormously to their discovery and clear resolution and then answers become more and more experimental, more and more tentative. Peabody pledges for all of its time to come all of its effort and all of its intelligence in searching out and solving the problems whereunto it is ordained.

Peabody has readied Southern public education in many ways, pre-eminently through the normal schools and teachers colleges. Twelve of its graduates are presidents of state teachers colleges, ten are deans, and there is definite record of 1,005 who teach in 116 such colleges located in 36 states. Ninety-one graduates teach and administer in state universities. Of the eight Southern state colleges for women the presidents of four are Peabody alumni. Peabody is better represented in the Southern state departments of education than any other educational institution. There was the time when Peabody bore no connotation of sections other than the South but the range of its influence has been broadened greatly. Many of its alumni teach on the Pacific coast, a fair group in the New England states, a considerable group in Pennsylvania and New York, and large numbers in the Middle West.

Peabody is wholly conscious that its obligation is limited to the training of educational leaders. It accepts its function wholeheartedly, eagerly, and with whatever intelligence it can summon to its service. More and more, despite depressions, despite the machinations of sinister politicians, despite the intolerance with which some patrons are inclined to regard educational progress, the teacher moves to the front in the march of civilization. It is Peabody's mission to search for teachers and, finding them, to make them ready to take their places in the vanguard as humanity goes forward to its destiny.

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