Elizabeth Palmer Peabody Essay

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Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was an American transcendentalist, lecturer in the Concord School of Philosophy, and the leader of the campaign to establish kindergartens in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Committed to reform and highly erudite, Peabody wrote essays on social and educational reform, translated classic and European philosophic texts, served as the editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial, founded and edited The Kindergarten Messenger, and was the president of the American Froebel Union.

Peabody was born in Billerica, Massachusetts, and grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. She attended her mother’s academy for girls and later studied with Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing. In 1825, Peabody founded the Beacon Hill School in Boston with her sister, Mary, who later became the wife of Horace Mann. Peabody’s work at the school attracted the attention of Bronson Alcott, and in 1830, she agreed to join his experimental Temple School in Concord.

Alcott’s classroom discussions of sex and the gospels caused a public controversy, but Peabody defended him in her Record of a School published in 1835. Their collaboration ended in 1837 when Peabody returned to Boston to open a transcendentalist bookstore; organize philosophic discussion groups; and become active in abolitionist, suffragist, and common school causes.

In 1860, in Boston, Elizabeth Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann opened the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States. In 1863, they published Guide to the Kindergarten and Moral Culture of Infancy, which was widely considered the most authoritative work in English on the theory and practice of the kindergarten during the 1860s and 1870s. In the late 1860s, Peabody visited German kindergartens and recruited Froebel’s students to train kindergarten teachers in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Peabody organized a demonstration kindergarten class for the American Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, formed a national network for kindergarten teachers, and remained active in the cause well into her eighties.


  1. Baylor, R. M. (1965). Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: Kindergarten pioneer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  2. Peabody, E. P. (1886). Lectures in the training schools for kindergartners. Boston: D.C. Heath.
  3. Peabody, E. P., & Mann, M. P. (1863). Guide to the kindergarten and moral culture of infancy. Boston: T.O.H.P. Burnham.
  4. Ronda, B. A. (1999). Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: A reformer on her own terms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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