George Peabody Library records
- Majority of material found within 1860-1970
- George Peabody Library (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Collections for more information.
Conditions Governing Use
60.78 Cubic Feet (134 containers: 23 legal size boxes, 2 half legal size boxes, 39 letter size boxes, 16 half letter size boxes, 6 record center boxes, 1 small flat box (11 x 3 x 9), 15 medium flat boxes (15.5 x 3 x 12), 7 oversize flat boxes (18.5 x 3 x 14.5), 22 oversize flat boxes (21 x 3 x 17), 3 custom boxes (13 x 3.5 x 10; 26 x 6 x 10; 21 x 5 x 17))
Biographical / Historical
In 1859, while the building was under construction, a prestigious Library Committee chaired by George Pendleton Kennedy was formed to devise a plan for the collection. The first librarian, Dr. John G. Morris, was appointed in 1860, more than a year before the building was ready for occupancy.
Until the founding of the Peabody Library, Baltimore readers had only a few specialized subscription libraries available to them. The Library Company of Baltimore complained that "so utterly deficient was its public libraries, with one exception, that of the bar, that no learned work on any subject, except law, could be written in Baltimore without far greater facilities than all its public libraries put together could afford." This was a shocking state of affairs for a rapidly expanding and prosperous commercial city with a population of more than 200,000.
The outbreak of the Civil War, with the special problems it posed for the border state of Maryland, brought with it the realization that many years might pass before the Library could officially open its doors to the public. This tragedy, however, actually was to provide the Library with the unique character which it maintains to this day. Taking advantage of the delay, Morris and the Library Committee devised a long-range plan to systematically acquire the world's best books for the collection. Their model was no less than the combined catalogues of the finest libraries of Europe and America. The Peabody was a carefully planned collection, the scope of which was contingent neither on funds nor immediate availability in the book market. A carefully compiled `Desiderata,' Morris' classified list of 50,000 volumes, facilitated the formation of the nucleus of the collection. This printed list (bound as a book) was sent to booksellers, bibliophiles, and libraries in both America and Europe. Within ten years there were over 50,000 volumes on the shelves, filling the Library's original quarters to capacity. A second volume was compiled and published to extend the Library's holdings to illustrate the progress of science and learning.
While the war raged, the collection grew, and the most valuable ancient and modern histories, the prominent works in all branches of science, in philosophies, monumental works of the fine arts, and the most authoritative encyclopedias and dictionaries of the major languages of the world were carefully stored. After the Civil War, this collection policy was continued without interruption until 1916. Nathaniel Holmes Morison, appointed Provost in 1867, replaced Morris as librarian. In 1870 he engaged Philip Reese Uhler as his First Assistant. Uhler, a scientist, had worked with Louis Agassiz at Harvard. Morison and Uhler sought advice from scholars and scientists in the U.S. and abroad, extracting from them lists of recommended books in their respective fields. With Morison's love of literature and Dr. Uhler's training as a natural scientist, these two fields were superbly furnished with basic references and emerging literature. The library's success and relentless expansion under Morison's direction created a critical need for space, and, in 1875, the plans were laid for the spectacular library building that exists today. Morison worked in close collaboration with architect Edmund G. Lind in the design of the "Cathedral of Books."
Using the catalogues of the Astor Library and the British Museum as its models, work on the first catalogue began in 1869 and consumed fourteen years. In 1880 Provost Morison reported that "the completion of the catalogue, like the flying springs of the desert, is always retreating." Two years later, Morison was able at last to announce that work on the Catalogue of the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore listing 100,000 volumes by author and title, classifying and analyzing their contents, was complete. The references to myriad subjects was largely the work of Morison and Philip R. Uhler. With the appearance of the second catalogue with its 8 volumes with 42,000 references in 1905, the resources of the collection became instantly available to researchers.
Historians believe George Peabody may have had a role in persuading Johns Hopkins, another Baltimore merchant, to provide for the establishment of a university. The Johns Hopkins University, founded by bequest in 1876, was unique to America at the time, and patterned itself after the German models where knowledge was acquired and disseminated by research, seminars and publications. Lacking a library of its own, it located near the Peabody Institute in order to utilize the Institute's Library, and remained almost entirely dependent upon the Peabody's collection until 1916. Hopkins' Historical Seminary, a graduate study group headed by the father of modern historiography, Herbert Baxter Adams, met in the Peabody's rooms. During this period, a significant number of historical works were added to the collection, including a large collection of materials relating to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the Restoration, further expanding the power of the Peabody Library.
Important additions came to the collection as gifts and bequests: The library of The Honorable Reverdy Johnson, eminent attorney and diplomat; colonial pamphlet literature from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence and active participant in the affairs of colonial America; the library of Charles James Madison Eaton; and 6,000 volumes from John Pendleton Kennedy, who had played such an important role in the founding of the Peabody Institute.
After Uhler's retirement in 1913, the First Assistant Librarian, John Parker, became Librarian, and soon reorganized the collection using the Dewey Decimal system. Handwritten cards were replaced by Library of Congress printed cards. Purchases from European book dealers continued through World War I, in spite of the German blockade. Consignments from Germany, detained by the British, were released after appeals to the American Consul General in London.
The Peabody Library, recognized as an innovative library for its period, became a paradigm for developing libraries. The New York State Library School, the Library School of Columbia University, and the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia sent their students to inspect the collection and observe its operations. The Newberry Library in Chicago used the Peabody as a model. The Library has attracted many important scholars. H.L. Mencken worked on his The American Language at a desk reserved for him in the Library. Hopkins' first President, Daniel Coit Gilman, poet Sidney Lanier, and author John Dos Passos all worked regularly in the Library.
On July 1st, 1966, under financial constraints, the Trustees turned the control of the Library over to the Enoch Pratt Free Library (which had been founded by the Peabody's treasurer in 1882 as a public library for more popular works). In 1982, the Peabody Library was transferred to Hopkins and the Peabody Library became a department within the Special Collections of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.
Timeline of Peabody Librarians and administrative ownership: John G. Morris, 1860-1867 Nathaniel Holmes Morison, 1867-1890 Philip Reese Uhler, 1890-1913 John Parker, 1913-1927 Louis Henry Dielman, 1926-1942 Lloyd A. Brown, 1942-1956 Frank N. Jones, 1956-1966 Enoch Pratt Free Library, 1966-1982 Johns Hopkins University, 1982-present
Sources: Alphabetical Catalogue of Books Proposed to be Purchased for the Library of the Peabody Institute, Baltimore (Baltimore: Printed by John D. Toy, 1861)
No. 2. Catalogue of Books to be Purchased by The Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore (Baltimore: Printed by John D. Toy, 1863).
Ann Gwyn, "Changing Hands: Johns Hopkins Acquires Peabody Library," Wilson Library Bulletin, January 1983, pp. 401-404
Scope and Contents
Series A - Correspondence
Series B - Diaries
Series C - Financial documents
Series D - Accessions
Series E - Catalogues
Series F - Order books
Series G - Subject classifications
Series H - Exhibitions
Series I - Reports
Series J - Notes
Series K - Loans
Series L - Ephemera, publications, and manuscripts
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- George Peabody Library (Organization)
- Enoch Pratt Free Library (Organization)
- Morris, John G. (John Gottlieb), 1803-1895 (Person)
- Morison, Nathaniel Holmes, 1815-1890 (Person)
- Uhler, Philip R. (Philip Reese), 1835-1913 (Person)
- Parker, John, 1852-1927 (Person)
- Dielman, Louis Henry, 1864-1959 (Person)
- Brown, Lloyd A. (Lloyd Arnold), 1907-1966 (Person)
- Jones, Frank N., 1906- (Person)
- Johns Hopkins University (Organization)
Part of the Special Collections Repository
The Sheridan Libraries
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA