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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 Grandmother of Peabody College

Peabody College SketchIt is not clear why Philip Lindsley accepted the presidency of Cumberland College. One who attempts to recapture his mental processes leading to that choice is likely to meet with frustration. To begin with, he was, it seems, ideally located at Princeton. It is known that he was offered the presidency of the University of Ohio, that a similar offer came from Dickinson College. Then, in 1823, when the first overture was made from Cumberland, Nashville was a struggling outpost of the western frontier. Cumberland College had twice suspended operations within the brief span of fifteen years, lacking the wherewithal for its daily bread. In 1823 Cumberland had no equipment of importance, and its other resources were meager, indeed. It must have been the eager, insistent, compelling lure of the West, the lodestar that has drawn thousands of Americans to destruction, and other thousands to immortality. Kentucky offered a notable precedent to Dr. Lindsley's choice. In 1818, Horace Holley of Boston had accepted the presidency of Transylvania. Material reasons for Dr. Holley's action are quite as unconvincing. Logic would certainly have held him in Boston. But Transylvania was the West! And that transcended logic! The comparison may be carried further. The administrations of both Holley and Lindsley were remarkably successful in many ways and yet financially they must have been periods of disillusionment, almost tragic. More will be said presently of that phase of the situation in Nashville.

James Priestley died suddenly, February 6, 1821, and with equal suddenness the session disbanded. But Craighead and Priestley had made Nashville college conscious in all respects except one — money. There was an obvious unrest occasioned by the inactivity of the college almost from the day it closed its doors. Andrew Jackson took note of it in a statement in the summer, "The college must be reopened." A little later, Felix Grundy addressed what today would be called a mass meeting on the subject. Grundy was a notable lawyer, a great orator, and militantly interested in all of the city's constructive activities. He had studied under Priestley at Bardstown and regarded him as a great schoolmaster. Felix Grundy surely had part in bringing Philip Lindsley to Nashville. He was a member of the Board of Trustees until 1849 and later his blood was to fuse with that of Lindsley in providing one of Nashville's major social inheritances.

Philip Lindsley arrived in Nashville Christmas, 1824. On the New Year's he became president of Cumberland College. Even then, he had very definite ambitions for the expansion of the college. It should become a center from which educational impulse should radiate in every direction. Upon his recommendation and insistence the charter was revised November, 1826, and the institution renamed the University of Nashville. The use of the term Cumberland was discontinued primarily because a newly organized college at Princeton, Kentucky, bore that name.

University of Nashville, 1856And so began the University of Nashville, which in many respects achieved greatness, and which in other respects met only with frustration. Although Philip Lindsley remained its administrative head for a quarter of a century, he could never gather the means for the expansion which he so coveted. Until 1850, there was a quality of irony in the "University." In speaking of the situation, J. Berrien Lindsley, in 1865, said:

The University of Nashville was thus inaugurated and the educational eyes of all America were turned with fond affection upon her auspicious birth. Twenty-six years of poorly appreciated and worse requited toil and disappointment followed this hopeful beginning.

In 1847, in the twenty-third year of his presidency, Philip Lindsley said :

When this college was revived in 1824 there were no similar institutions in operation within two hundred miles. There were none in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, or in Middle or West Tennessee. There are now thirty or more within that range, and nine within fifty miles of Nashville. These all claim to be our superiors, and at least the equal of old Harvard. Of course, we cannot expect to command a large range of what is miscalled patronage. I have now before me a list of twenty colleges in Tennessee alone. Several of these belong exclusively to individuals and are bought and sold in the open market like any other sort of private property. They are authorized to confer all university degrees at pleasure. This is probably a new thing under the sun, but Solomon's geography did not comprehend America.

Mention has been made of the financial difficulties of the university. The institution was always harassed. Poverty was its permanent lot. It had no endowment, political trickery having defeated most efforts to that end. It had no income from state or municipality. Its principal source of revenue was tuition, and that must have been disappointing. Its students were few and its tuition low. From 1824 to 1829 this tariff or charges per term applied: tuition, $25; room, $2; library, $2; servants, $2; damages, $1; total per student, $32 per term, or $64 for the year. One hundred students in constant attendance (usually there were fewer) would then have yielded the university $6,400. At intervals and in emergencies a few lots were sold and the funds thus derived used to lessen the arrears due professors. Since it survived, the institution must have been favored with some unrecorded benefactions. Its survival could only be explained by something of the kind. All fees were cut to a total of $25 the term of 1829, and raised to $35 in 1837. Professorial salaries were by no means the only expense involved. In 1837, for instance, 339 loads of wood were used, each load costing $1.50.

Philip Lindsley resigned in 1850. He had offered his resignation six months before, but the trustees did not accept it. No hint of conflict between him and the board, and in only one instance had he failed to see matters eye to eye with them. He had opposed the removal of the university from its original site to the hilltop, which the board selected. The board was probably right in its choice. Undesirable social conditions had developed in the university's environment, and the city had disfigured and altered the campus by extending streets across it. The enrollment had dwindled steadily from 1846. The climax of distress was reached by a severe epidemic of cholera in early 1850. So Philip Lindsley resigned after long and brilliant service and the university was suspended.

J. Berrien LindsleyBut his influence did not die. Furthermore, his blood relationship to the university was not terminated. His son, J. Berrien Lindsley, became its chancellor.

As early as 1829, Philip Lindsley had emphasized the desirability of a medical college as one unit of the university. In 1843, he appointed John M. Bass, R. C. Foster, and Edwin Ewing as a special committee to consider the propriety of such a venture. Early in 1844 the committee reported that "the Medical School ought to be established at once." Two weeks later, President Lindsley formulated an administrative outline of procedure, but outside the medical fraternity little interest was developed. In 1850 Dr. W.K. Bowling, Dr. A.H. Buchanan, Dr. Robert Porter, Dr. Charles K. Winston, Dr. John M. Watson, and Dr. J. Berrien Lindsley, a distinguished son of a distinguished father, formed a sort of club with the major goal a college of medicine. In preparation for the venture Dr. Lindsley, himself a graduate of the college of medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, had spent the preceeding winter studying medical schools in Louisville and New York. He was therefore familiar with their techniques and procedures.

On October 18, 1850, Trustees Ewing, Meigs, and Bass were authorized to enter into contracts with professors for the various departments of the "Medical Department of the University of Nashville." This staff was chosen: C. K. Winston, Materia Medica and Pharmacy; J. M. Watson, Diseases of Women and Children; W. K. Bowling, Institutes and Practice of Medicine; R. M. Porter, Anatomy and Physiology; A. H. Buchanan, Surgery; J. Berrien Lindsley, Chemistry. Under the contract with the University of Nashville the college of medicine was granted the free and unhampered use of certain buildings and equipment for an initial period of twenty-two years. Furthermore, the professors were granted full authority in the conduct of the new institution, even to the election of subsequent members of the faculty. Two administrative officers were provided, president of the faculty and dean, the former calling all meetings and presiding at them. The dean managed the daily routine of the college. Dr. Winston held the office of president for twenty-three years. J. B. Lindsley was dean during the first six years, then twelve years later, 1868, he again assumed the deanship, continuing until 1873. Early in the life of the medical college, Dr. Paul F. Eve, a native of Georgia, but at the time connected with the medical department of the University of Louisville, was added as professor of clinical surgery. He was a man of not only local but international importance, having served with distinction in Poland. In 1874, the medical department of the University of Nashville and Shelby Medical College, an institution founded in 1857, and conducted under the auspices of Southern Methodists, effected a partial consolidation. Within a year the Methodist college became one unit of Vanderbilt University. The schools of medicine of the University of Nashville and Vanderbilt continued under joint management until 1895. The medical department of the University of Nashville continued to operate independently until 1911, when it was merged with the medical college of the University of Tennessee. It should be stated that the school of medicine, aside from the use of the university buildings, was entirely self-supporting, the faculty obliging itself to pay all arrears, which at times amounted to a severe tax.

A department of law was organized in 1854, with Francis B. Fogg and W. F. Cooper, Yale, 1838, as instructors. The catalogues of the years immediately subsequent bore no reference to the department. It was again scheduled in the bulletin of 1871-72 with Judge Nathaniel Baxter, Judge W. H. Humphrey, and Judge E. H. East as staff. No further announcement was made of the department. In 1872, schools of "Agriculture and Mechanical Arts" and "Civil Engineering" were announced. They continued until 1875.

Another division of the university attaining distinction was the Western Military Institute, chartered in Kentucky in 1847, and conducted at Blue Lick Springs until its affiliation with the University of Nashville, February, 1854. It was under the direction of General Bushrod Johnson, uncle of Dr. Robert Underwood Johnson, for many years director of the Hall of Fame (New York University). The Institute was notably successful. The spirit of the times exalted military instruction, and the enrollment averaged around two hundred. Quite naturally, the war drained all eligible fighting men from the campus, and during those bleak days from 1802 to 1865 the campus served only the medical college and for hospitalization purposes. The energy and diplomacy of Chancellor J. Berrien Lindsley probably saved some of the institution's most valuable assets from destruction, as the following statement from his daughter, Miss Louise Lindsley, will indicate:

Now these books have a thrilling war record if they could only tell it. Dr. J. Berrien Lindsley was Chancellor of the University of Nashville when Tennessee entered the War between the States. He was appointed Post Surgeon, having charge of all the Confederate hospitals. The university's buildings became one of those hospitals. He took every care of these books, reserving two rooms in the Stone Building in which to store the library and Girard Troost's famous collection of minerals.

When the Federals took possession of Nashville, everything changed. The following is copied from Dr. Lindsley's diary:

"February 25, 1862. 8 A.M. Witnessed from University Hill the arrival of the Federal fleet, — a noble but distressing sight. Nelson's Brigade of 5,000 passed by the University about 4 P.M. A number of Federal surgeons came by the University during the day. Being directly in the way of the army, it was not surprising that the surgeons so quickly took it.

"February 26. Troops passing all day — busy visiting our hospitals and advising incoming surgeons. By sunset both of our buildings crowded. Army passing still; all with the art and assumption of a conquering host. The surgeons with whom I had to do, not a little truculent."

Some time later, Dr. Lindsley called on Maj. Gen. Thomas at his headquarters (now the Hermitage Club) and from him obtained the following special Field Order No. 85: "The Medical College of the University of Nashville with the Library, Museum, and chemical apparatus, surgical instruments, will be turned over by the Medical Department of the U. S. A. to the Chancellor of the University, and all military persons in the service of the U. S. are forbidden to interfere in any manner with said property except upon an order from these Headquarters."

Then came the task of moving these books from the Stone Building to the Medical College Building, and here is the pass given Dr. Lindsley: "Pass Chancellor Lindsley and his men into any of the University buildings and allow them to box and remove the property of the University. Police guards will also pass the same persons in and out of camp between Reveille and Tattoo."

When George Peabody College fell heir to these books, Dr. Lindsley felt that they were safe and that his guardianship was over. So these books have heard the laughter, the jokes, and the light tread of many hundred merry cadets. They have also heard the heavy tread of the soldier and the groans of both Confederate and Federal wounded. They have listened to the music from the Confederate and Federal bands. Now they rest in the quiet of the beautiful George Peabody College Library.

In 1867, Montgomery Bell Academy opened as the preparatory department of the university. It was made possible by the bequest of Montgomery Bell, an iron manufacturer, who bore the unique distinction of having furnished all the cannon balls used by the Americans in the battle of New Orleans. The original grant was for twenty thousand dollars, but by reason of judicious investments the value of the capital fund increased rapidly. Its initial purpose was to provide free education for twenty-five boys from the counties of Davidson, Williamson, Montgomery, and Dickson. This function must have been enlarged, if more sharply localized, by 1869, for in an address printed that year J. Berrien Lindsley made this picturesque statement:

The success of the academy during the two years of its existence demonstrates that the city has no more need of a boys' high school separate from this than has a toad with sidepockets.

General Kirby SmithThe work of the academy was carried on in the main building of the university until 1880. In September of that year it moved to the building erected for its use on an adjacent lot. It remained there until 1915, using then for a year temporary quarters near the capitol. In 1916 it moved to its present attractive quarters on Harding Road where, still under the charter of the University of Nashville, it continues its activities.

The suspension of the literary department in 1850 has been mentioned. It could no longer stand under the repeated assaults of poverty and cholera. In 1854, it was reopened, merely to close again within a year, being, in the words of J. Berrien Lindsley, "unable to withstand the competition of the free public schools." This, if true, offers the spectacle of democracy destroying the institutions which had nourished it. In 1856, the literary department became one unit of the Western Military Institute. It reassumed its distinct identity in 1870, with General Kirby Smith as chancellor of the university, and General Bushrod Johnson as professor of engineering. This organization remained intact until 1875, when Peabody College was created. All degrees prior to 1911 were issued under the charter of the University of Nashville.

So runs the record, in part magnificent and challenging, in part tragic. It is a record whose dominant major note is that of strong men, whose dominant minor note is that of lean and hungry years. Its medical record is impressive. Prior to its consolidation with Vanderbilt it had graduated 1,669 physicians. Time after time, the institution came apparently to the end of its strength, and time after time arose and staggered on. Perhaps no similar institution in America has had as many opportunities to die, effectively if not gracefully, but it seems not to have been made of mortal stuff.

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