Letter from Elizabeth Palmer Peabody to Horace Mann, 3 March 1838
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- MHS 225th Anniversary
In this letter to her future brother-in-law, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody introduces Horace Mann to her other future brother-in-law, a young author named Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Mann later married Peabody's sisters: Hawthorne to Sophia Peabody in 1842, and Mann to Mary Tyler Peabody the following year.
Elizabeth Peabody: intellectual, matchmaker
On 11 November 1837, Nathaniel Hawthorne made his first visit to the Salem home of his future wife, Sophia Peabody, and her family. Several months later Elizabeth Palmer Peabody wrote to her friend, the educational reformer Horace Mann about the young author. Hawthorne, then thirty-three, had published a series of short stories, Twice-Told Tales, in March of 1837 and Elizabeth was clearly charmed both by Hawthorne and his writing. "He is I think a man of first rate genius," she wrote. According to Peabody, Hawthorne was struggling with what would become his "serious business for his life" and, although he may have wished to become a writer by profession, "authorship does not seem to offer a means of living," for him, Peabody wrote. Peabody goes on to tell Mann that she believes Hawthorne could write successfully (and perhaps lucratively) for young people.
Elizabeth's interest in literature for young people did not begin or end with Hawthorne. She had run several schools in the Boston area, including the progressive Temple School that she co-founded with educational pioneer Bronson Alcott (the father of Louisa May Alcott) in 1834. "Teachers are the best judges of books," she wrote to Mann. Long before the marriage of Horace Mann to Elizabeth's sister, Mary Tyler Peabody, Elizabeth and Mann shared a friendship and a mutual interest in many intellectual topics, including educational reform. Elizabeth Peabody, who never married, was an early member of the Transcendental Club that also included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller. She opened the West Street Book Store in Boston in 1839 and was the publisher of The Dial, the Transcendentalist newspaper, from 1842-1843. She opened the first kindergarten in the United States in 1860 and published the Kindergarten Messenger from 1873-1875.
Both Sophia and Mary Peabody shared Elizabeth's lifelong interest in education. Elizabeth and Mary taught together and collaborated on several publications. In addition to her own efforts as an educator, and her profound influence on her husband's efforts as an educational reformer, Mary also wrote a cookbook and a children's book, as well as a historical novel set in Cuba, based on her sojourn there with Sophia in the 1830s. Following their marriage in 1842, Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne moved from Salem to the Old Manse in Concord. And just as Elizabeth had predicted, Hawthorne became one of America's most famous novelists with the publication of The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of Seven Gables (1851).
Suggestions for further reading:
Marshall, Megan, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Mellow, James R., Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Time. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
Messerli, Jonathan, Horace Mann: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1971.
Ronda, Bruce A., Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: A Reformer on Her Own Terms. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.