Founded in 1857 by philanthropistGeorge Peabody (1795-1869), it is the second-oldest continuously operating conservatory in the United States, next to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. Completion of the Grecian-Italian west wing building housing the Institute, designed by Edmund George Lind, was delayed until its initial dedication in 1866 due to the Civil War. Under the direction of well-known musicians, composers, conductors, and Peabody alumni, the Institute grew from a local academy into an internationally-renowned cultural center through the late 19th and the 20th centuries.
Since 1985, the institute has operated as a division of The Johns Hopkins University, which was founded in 1876, by the will of local merchant Johns Hopkins (1795-1873). Prior to being granted divisional status, Peabody and Hopkins worked together under an affiliation agreement (1978 to 1985). The affiliated George Peabody Library in the east wing of the building which was completed later in 1878, functioned for a time as a division of the city's free public library system, the Enoch Pratt Free Library from 1966 to 1982, which had been conceived, organized and endowed by Peabody's friend and fellow Bay Stater, Enoch Pratt, (1808-1896). Both Peabody and Pratt were inspirations and models for steel industrialist and millionaire Andrew Carnegie, (1835-1919) as he began his philanthropy especially with public library buildings in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Peabody is one of 156 schools in the United States that offer a Doctorate of Musical Arts Degree. It houses two libraries: the historical George Peabody Library established when the Institute opened in 1866, known for his collection of 19th Century books and the Arthur Friedheim Library, a separate music library that includes more than 100,000 books, scores, and sound recordings.
The Peabody Children's chorus is for children ages 6–18. It is divided into three groups: Training Choir, Choristers, and Cantate, grouped by age in ascending order. They practice weekly in Towson or Columbia, Maryland, and sing in concerts biannually under the instruction of Doreen Falby, Bradley Permenter, and Julia Sherriff. Cantate, ages 12–18, frequently perform with other groups, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, The Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and have toured both regionally and internationally.