The George Peabody Library, formerly the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore, dates from the founding of the Peabody Institute in 1857. In that year, George Peabody, a Massachusetts-born philanthropist, dedicated the Peabody Institute to the citizens of Baltimore in appreciation of their "kindness and hospitality."
The Peabody Institute, according to George Peabody's charter, originally comprised a free public library, a lecture series, a conservatory of music and an art collection. The Institute is now a division of The Johns Hopkins University.
The Peabody Library building, which opened in 1878, was designed by Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind, in collaboration with the first provost, Dr. Nathaniel H. Morison. Renowned for its striking architectural interior, the Peabody Stack Room contains five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies, which rise dramatically to the skylight 61 feet above the floor. The ironwork was fabricated by the Bartlett-Robbins Company. The architecture of the Peabody Library is discussed in James D. Dilts and Catharine F. Black's Baltimore's Cast-Iron Buildings & Architectural Ironwork (1991).
Reflecting the scholarly interests of the nineteenth century, the library consists of a general reference collection on virtually every subject but music. The library contains more than 300,000 titles most of which date from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Notable strengths in the collection are archaeology, British art and architecture, British and American history, biography, English and American literature, Romance languages and literature, Greek and Latin classics, history of science, geography, and exploration and travel including a large map collection.
The Peabody Library remained part of the Peabody Institute until 1966 when the library collection was transferred to the City of Baltimore and administered as a department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The collection was transferred again in 1982, this time to The Johns Hopkins University. The George Peabody Library is now a part of the Special Collections Department of the university's Sheridan Libraries. Maintaining the provisions of Mr. Peabody's original gift, the George Peabody Library is a non-circulating collection open to the general public. The library is located at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore, MD 21202.
George Peabody (1795-1869)
George Peabody was born in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1795, into a family of modest means. Without family connections and little formal education, he achieved international success as an investment banker in London. While serving as a volunteer in the War of 1812, Peabody met Elisha Riggs of Baltimore. In 1814 Riggs and Peabody founded the wholesale dry goods firm of Peabody, Riggs, & Company. Seeking wider business opportunities, George Peabody travelled to England in 1827 to purchase wares and to negotiate the sale of American cotton. In 1837 he took up residence in London.
During his London years George Peabody and his banking house rose in prominence. Peabody & Company financed the westward expansion of the American railroads and the laying of the first transatlantic cables. When Peabody retired, his partners, Junius Spencer Morgan and his son, J.P. Morgan, took over the company, which became the House of Morgan.
In 1851, George Peabody underwrote the American installation in the Great Exhibition and the following year he financed the first Anglo-American cooperative scientific venture. In the years that followed he created America's first museums of natural history, archaeology and ethnology at Yale and Harvard Universities and the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. After the Civil War he funded the Peabody Education Fund which established public education in the South. In London he founded the Peabody Trust to provide homes for the poor of London. The Peabody Education Fund and the Peabody Trust were the first philanthropic foundations in America and England.
Peabody died in London in the evening of November 4, 1869. The carriage of Queen Victoria followed the hearse to Wesminster Abbey where he was interred with full honors (the first American to be so honored). Her Majesty's newest vessel, the Monarch, carried Peabody to his final resting place in Salem, Massachusetts.
For the Peabody Library Special Collections website, click here.
George Peabody Library