George Foster Peabody
|George Foster Peabody|
George Foster Peabody (1907)
|Born||July 27, 1852
|Died||March 4, 1938
Warm Springs, Georgia
|Known for||Funding the Peabody Awards|
George Foster Peabody (July 27, 1852 – March 4, 1938) was an American banker and philanthropist.
He was born to George Henry Peabody and Elvira Peabody (née Canfield) as the first of four children. Both parents were native New Englanders of colonial ancestry. George Henry Peabody, who came from a line of merchants, bankers and professional men, had moved from Connecticut to Columbus, Georgia, where he ran a prosperous general store. After attending private school in Columbus, young Peabody spent a few months at Deer Hill Institute in Danbury, Connecticut. The Civil War, however, impoverished his family, and in 1866 they moved to Brooklyn, New York and young Peabody went to work in a wholesale dry goods firm, advancing rapidly.
In the evenings Peabody read extensively at the library of the Brooklyn Y.M.C.A., which he later called his "alma mater", and also took part in the activities of the Reformed Church in Brooklyn Heights, where he met and became good friends with young investment banker Spencer Trask. On May 2, 1881, Peabody became a partner in the new firm of Spencer Trask & Company. During the 1880s and 1890s this investment house took a leading part in financing electric lighting corporations, sugar beet and other industrial enterprises, and railroad construction in the western United States and Mexico. Peabody himself handled most of the firm's railroad investments, working in close association with William J. Palmer. He also became a director in numerous corporations. Peabody, his brother Charles Jones Peabody and Spencer Trask amassed a great portion of their wealth from the Edison Electric Company. Trask served as president of Edison Electric Illuminating, and when J. P. Morgan—protégé of New England businessman/philanthropist George Peabody—financier of Edison Electric, merged all into the General Electric Company in 1892, George Foster Peabody became a member of the GE board of directors.
Peabody retired from business in 1906 to pursue a life of public service. Long interested in social causes, he supported such progressive ideas as the single tax as advocated by Henry George in his book Progress and Poverty, free trade, women's suffrage and government ownership of railroads. He was also active in the anti-war movement. He was also interested in education, particularly in the South and also particularly for African-Americans. He served as director of the General Education Board, treasurer of the Southern Education Board and on the boards of trustees of the American Church Institute for Negroes, Hampton in Virginia, Tuskegee in Alabama, the University of Georgia, and the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.
From early in his life Peabody was interested in Democratic Party politics. In the early 1880s, he helped his close friend Edward M. Shepard organize the Young Men's Democratic Club of Brooklyn, took a part in the 1892 presidential campaign on behalf of Grover Cleveland, supported the Gold Democrats against William Jennings Bryan in 1896, then switched to more moderate monetary reform as a member of the executive committee of the Indianapolis Monetary Convention in 1897. In 1904 and 1905 he served as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. Although he declined to run for political office, and declined President Wilson's offer of a place on the Federal Trade Commission, Peabody was an unofficial counselor to many government officials. From 1914 to 1921 he served on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. In June 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, visited Peabody for advice and support in deciding to run for President of the United States.
Peabody served from 1884 to 1930 as a trustee of Hampton University, one of Virginia's historically black universities, where he established in the university library the Peabody Collection of rare materials on African-American history, one of the largest collections in the United States.
Warm Springs, Georgia
After years of visiting the estate of his partner Spencer Trask in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Peabody agreed to succeed him in 1910 as chairman of the state commission set up to purchase and conserve the famous spa there, and in 1923 he acquired the property at Warm Springs, Georgia near his boyhood home. In 1924 he invited his friend Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who had recently contracted a paralytic illness) to visit the 90 degree Fahrenheit springs there, which Roosevelt eventually purchased and turned into the Little White House and the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, expanding it from a limited rehab center into a full-service center.
While his formal education was limited and he had no college degree, Peabody received honorary degrees from Harvard and Washington and Lee Universities in 1903, and the University of Georgia in 1906. This latter institution was the recipient of much of Peabody's philanthropy, including funds to build a fireproof building to house the university's library. He also donated land to help reorganize the State College of Agriculture, and founded the university's School of Forestry.
George Foster Peabody Awards
Perhaps Peabody's best-known legacy is the George Foster Peabody Awards, presented annually since 1941 by the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication for excellence in radio, and, since 1948, television broadcasting, followed by World Wide Web content in the late 1990s.
A tall man, in later years he developed a mane of white hair, and wore a heavy mustache and pointed beard, becoming known for his dignified and courtly manner. He maintained a mansion in Brooklyn, where he entertained lavishly. He also purchased a summer home known as Abenia at Lake George, where he spent most of each year. He was frequently a guest at Yaddo, the Saratoga estate of Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina Trask, and from both estates he developed a wide circle of influence, including many persons from the literary world, church, business, and government, who came to enjoy his gracious hospitality.
A lifelong bachelor, in 1920, eleven years after Trask's death in a railroad accident, Peabody married his widow Katrina, and they lived at Yaddo until her death in 1922. Thereafter Yaddo became a great retreat for artists. Peabody continued to live on the estate, and in 1926 he adopted a daughter, Mrs. Marjorie P. Waite, a young woman whom he had come to know in connection with his civic and humanitarian activities and who aided him in them.
Peabody died in 1938 at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia.
- Who Was Who in America, Volume I: 1897–1942 (Chicago, 1942).
- David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, "Gold Democrats and the Decline of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1900," Independent Review 4 (Spring 2000), 555-75.
- Dorothy Orr. (1950). A History of Education in Georgia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- George Foster Peabody (1852–1938) and Peabody Park at UNCG - A biographical excerpt written by Louise Ware in the Dictionary of American Biography (23: 520–521, 1958)