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Peabody Institute founding documents

 Record Group
Identifier: PIRG-01

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Scope and Contents

Includes Peabody's founding letter of 12 February 1857, drafted by John Pendleton Kennedy in accordance with Peabody's instructions, with corrections and signature in Peabody's hand. In this letter, Peabody established a 25 member Board of Trustees; subsequent vacancies were to be filled from a list of 200 of the "most worthy and intelligent of this City" (and their heirs) selected by George Peabody. The Board had "full and exclusive power to do whatsoever you may deem most advisable for the foundation, organization and management of the proposed Institute...." The By-Laws, enacted in December 1857, directed that the officers of the Board consist of a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, elected annually by ballot.

Letter to Peabody, signed by 22 members of the founding board, accepting his gift; manuscript list, signed by Peabody, of the 200 "worthy" names; letter to William Mayhew from Peabody concerning a letter of credit for $300,000, and communication from Duncan, Sherman and Company to the trustees confirming the letter of credit.


  • Creation: 1857-1859


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Arthur Friedheim Library Archives of the Peabody Institute. Contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

George Peabody kept in close touch with Baltimore while he was in London. He knew that the city, as an important center of trade, was enjoying unprecedented commercial and economic success, but he was equally aware that its cultural and educational development lagged far behind. Baltimore, prosperous and with a burgeoning population, had no public library, art gallery, school of music, or learned journals. His American colleagues, however dedicated, were at a disadvantage before the more cultured and educated Europeans.

Peabody met with his Baltimore friends Charles James Madison Eaton, then President of the struggling Library Company of Baltimore, William Edward Mayhew, and John Pendleton Kennedy to find a solution. It was Kennedy -- author, statesman, and former Secretary to the Navy -- who had known Peabody since their days as volunteers in 1812, who did the most to shape the Peabody Institute. He worked with Eaton and Mayhew to outline a formal plan to achieve Peabody's aims. George Peabody's goal was a practical one: to stimulate individual initiative by providing citizens with an opportunity to receive an education in the arts and humanities. It was hoped that this would stimulate an institutional revolution within the city, and in fact, it was to do so. Adhering to Peabody's concept of a multi-faceted institution, the committee developed a structure that would expose the citizens of Baltimore to the finest in literature, music, the fine arts, and contribute to the formation of literary and scientific taste in the city.

During Peabody's visit to Baltimore in 1857, Kennedy drafted the founding letter which Peabody signed and published on 12 February. Within months, a financial panic temporarily halted plans for the Institute. Despite the ensuing turmoil, a charter of incorporation was obtained by the trustees in March 1858.

After locating a suitable building site on Mt. Vernon Place, a high point on the edge of town overlooking the city, the Trustees planned a building to house a library of 100,000 books, a lecture hall to accommodate 3000, an art gallery 200 feet long, offices and a music salon that was to be plain but elegant and capable of "harmonious adjustment." Architects from New York, Virginia and Baltimore submitted drawings, but after concluding that none of the nine final choices were entirely satisfactory, the trustees divided the $1200 in prize money among the finalists with the understanding that their drawings would be used in the formulation of a final design. Architects Lind and Murdock of Baltimore were appointed to prepare the plans. The reality of cost estimates forced cutting in half the size of the halls, reducing the library, office and gallery space, and eliminating altogether quarters for the academy of music. While the cornerstone was laid in 1859, the Civil War intervened, disrupting all normal activities and dividing the loyalties of the Trustees themselves. The building was not to be dedicated until 1866.

The dedication of the Institute was to mark the dawn of a new era of cultural opportunity, and George Peabody returned from London for the occasion. The dedication took place in the Lecture Hall of the building on 25 October 1866.


0.24 Cubic Feet (1 half-size legal box)

Language of Materials



The Peabody Institute was founded by George Peabody in Baltimore in 1857 as a cultural institution comprising a library, public lecture series, academy of music, and art gallery. The founding documents in the collection include the original letter establishing the institute drafted by John Pendleton Kennedy and signed by George Peabody, a list of individuals approved by George Peabody for inclusion on the board of trustees, a letter of acceptance signed by 22 original members of the founding board, and related correspondence.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

There is no known acquisition information for this collection.

Related Materials

There are several published editions of the founder's letters that can be located through the library catalog. Contact the Peabody Archives for more information.

Processing Information

Processed by Elizabeth Schaaf, 1985-1987.

Guide to the Peabody Institute founding documents
Matt Testa
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA