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Peabody family papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00118

Scope and Contents

The Peabody Family Papers consist of 1 linear foot, primarily of correspondence dating from 1820 to 1853. Most of the letters are addressed to Maria Chase, a friend and neighbor of the three Peabody sisters, although a few are to Rebecca Chase Kinsman. The collection also includes several journals in which the letters have been published. Since the original letters are extremely fragile, researchers are requested to use the photocopies located in Box 2.

Dates of Materials

  • 1820-1853


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was born in Billerica, Massachusetts on May 16, 1804, the eldest of the seven children of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Palmer) Peabody. She was educated at home by her father who taught her Latin at an early age and, later, at a school run by her mother. She developed interests in theology, philosophy, history, and literature, as well as proficiency in ten languages. She began teaching while in her teens, first at her mother's school. From 1823 to 1825, she was a teacher and governess to wealthy families in Gardiner and Hallowell, Maine. She went on to open a school in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her sister, Mary. During her years there, Elizabeth developed friendships with Bronson Alcott, William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jones Very and other New England intellectuals. This loose association of like minds led to the founding of the Transcendentalist Club in 1837, of which Elizabeth Peabody and Margaret Fuller were the only female charter members.

After her school closed in 1832, Elizabeth eked out a living by tutoring and from the limited proceeds from sales of her books (First Steps to the Study of History (1832) and related textbooks). In 1836, out of financial necessity, she went to live with her family in Salem, Massachusetts, where she remained for four years. In 1840, she moved the family to 13 West Street in Boston, where she opened a bookstore in the front parlor. It became a center for Transcendentalist gatherings, and some of Margaret Fuller's famous "Conversations" were held there. Elizabeth also established herself as a publisher, bringing forth children's stories by Hawthorne, important abolitionist literature, and, briefly, The Dial, a journal written for and by persons interested in transcendentalism. She published the sole issue of her own periodical, Aesthetic Papers, in 1849.

Elizabeth closed her bookshop in 1850 and moved with her elderly parents to West Newton, Massachusetts, where she cared for them in their final years while pursuing her interest in the education of young children. In 1859, she moved to Concord, Massachusetts to live with her recently widowed sister, Mary. During the years 1850 to 1884, Elizabeth produced ten books and fifty articles. She also became an enthusiastic advocate of the kindergarten movement, founded in Germany by Friedrich Froebel, and in 1860 she founded, in Boston, the first organized kindergarten school in the United States. She also created and edited the Kindergarten Messenger in 1873, and in 1877 organized the American Froebel Union and served as its first president.

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, known anecdotally to have become rather eccentric in her old age, died in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on January 3, 1894.

Mary Tyler Peabody Mann was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 16, 1806, the second child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Palmer) Peabody. She received little formal schooling but, having grown up "in an atmosphere of education," was qualified to teach when she left home at eighteen to fill a position in Hallowell, Maine that had been held by her sister, Elizabeth. A year later she moved to Brookline, Massachusetts to assist Elizabeth at the school she had founded there. Mary met Horace Mann in 1832 at a boarding house where he, Mary, and Elizabeth all resided. From 1833 to 1835, she lived in Cuba with her semi-invalid sister, Sophia, working as governess to a Cuban family. Upon her return to the United States, she continued to teach in various capacities, mostly in Salem, Massachusetts. The family moved to Boston in 1840, where Mary worked closely with Horace Mann as he developed the educational and philosophical theories for which he is well-known. They married in 1843 and had three children: Horace, George Combe, and Benjamin Pickman. In 1853, Horace Mann was appointed president of newly-founded Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where, as wife of the president, Mary served as unofficial dean of women.

After Horace's death in 1859, Mary moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where she resumed teaching and became involved in Elizabeth Peabody's Boston kindergarten. She assisted her sister in editing the Kindergarten Messenger, translating many articles from the original German. Mann's most important literary achievement was publication of her Life and Works of Horace Mann (three volumes, 1865-68). She also published Christianity in the Kitchen: A Physiological Cookbook (1857), and a novel, Juanita: A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887).

Mary Tyler Peabody Mann died in Boston on February 11, 1887.

Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne was born in Salem Massachusetts on September 21, 1809, the third child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (Palmer) Peabody. Like her sister, Mary, she received little formal education (in part due to poor health), but she read avidly. In 1824, she began to study drawing, and in the 1830s shared a painting studio with Mary Newhall. Sophia became increasingly competent as an artist, selling works from time to time and illustrating several books by Nathaniel Hawthorne. From 1833 to 1835, she resided in Cuba, for health reasons, with her sister, Mary. She married Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1842 and the couple settled in Concord, Massachusetts; they had three children: Una, Julian, and Rose. Sophia read all of her husband's manuscripts, often suggesting substantive changes. Until publication of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 assured the family's financial security, she also Nathaniel's meager income by selling painted shades and screens. The Hawthornes lived in Europe from 1853 to 1860, primarily in England and Italy. During that time, Nathaniel wrote the Marble Faun (1860), the style and content of which Sophia is credited with having influenced significantly. As word of her literary talent spread beyond immediate family, the Atlantic Monthly occasionally solicited contributions, and her cousin George Putnam published her Notes in England and Italy in 1869.

After Nathaniel Hawthorne died in 1864 and the family again fell on hard times, Sophia set about editing his notebooks for publication in three volumes (1869, 1870, and 1871).

She moved with her children to Dresden, Germany in 1868 and to London in 1869, where she died on March 3, 1871.

Rebecca Chase Kinsman was born in 1810 in Salem, Massachusetts to Abijah and Mary (Abbott) Chase. She was the wife of Nathaniel Kinsman and the sister of Maria Chase, to whom the Peabody sisters wrote many of the letters in this collection. Rebecca and Nathaniel Kinsman lived in China in the 1840s, during which time Rebecca wrote extensively to Maria, at home in Salem.


0.875 linear feet (2 containers)


Primarily correspondence, mostly to Maria Chase, a friend and neighbor of the three Peabody sisters, although a few are to Rebecca Chase Kinsman. The collection also includes several journals in which the letters have been published.


This collection is organized into two series:

  1. I. Peabody Family
  2. II. Rebecca Chase Kinsman

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Rebecca Kinsman Munroe, Smith Class of 1895, donated the Peabody Family Papers to the Sophia Smith Collection from 1949 to 1952. Munroe was the great-niece of Maria Chase, to whom the vast majority of the letters were written; when the latter died, the letters came into the Munroe family's possession. Matthew Hale added to the collection in 1976, as did Adeline Holt in 1977.

Related Material

There is related material in the Sturgis-Tappan Family Papers in the Sophia Smith Collection, and in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Papers at the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA. and at Antioch College.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Burd Schlessinger, 2002.

Peabody family papers
Finding Aid
Burd Schlessinger
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss107 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:10-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063