Richard R. Peabody

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Richard Rogers Peabody
Born (1892-01-23)January 23, 1892
Boston, Massachusetts
Died April 26, 1936(1936-04-26) (aged 44)
New York City, New York
Nationality United States
Other names Dick Peabody
Known for Author, The Common Sense of Drinking
Spouse(s) Mary Phelps Jacob (1915-1922)
Jane McKean

Richard Rogers Peabody (13 January 1892 – 26 April 1936) grew up as a member of the upper class in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Groton, where his grandfather was headmaster, and later enrolled at Harvard as had many of his family before him. He married Polly Jacob, the daughter of another blue-blooded Boston family with whom he had two children.[1] He served as a captain during World War I in the American Expeditionary Force.

Upon returning from World War I he became an alcoholic. His lost his inheritance because of his drinking and his wife to an affair. After their divorce, he sought help through the Emmanuel Movement and later wrote a book, The Common Sense of Drinking, in which he described a secularized treatment methodology. He was the first authority to proclaim that there was no cure for alcoholism.[2] His book became a best seller and was a major influence on Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson. He died of alcoholism at age 44.

Early life[edit]

Born on 23 Jan 1892 to Jacob Crowninshield Rogers Peabody[3] and Florence Dumaresq Wheatland,[3] his family was among the upper-class of Boston society. By the early 20th century a case could be made that the Peabodies had supplanted the Cabots and the Lodges as the most distinguished name in the region.[1]

As a youth, Peabody attended Groton, a small and elite prep school that his uncle, the Reverend Endicott Peabody, founded. He then attended Harvard, although he did not graduate, perhaps due to his growing fondness for alcohol.[4] His great-great-grandfather was Salem shipowner and privateer Joseph Peabody who made a fortune importing pepper from Sumatra as well as opium from Eastern-Asia and was one of the wealthiest men in the United States at the time of his death in 1844.[5] Another of his ancestors was Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Endecott, who ordered the hanging of non-conformist Quakers, but who none-the-less was a friend of Roger Williams.


In 1915, with his uncle Reverend Endicott Peabody officiating, he married his long-time girlfriend, 24-year-old Mary "Polly" Jacob. Polly was a debutante who at age 19 had received a patent for the first modern brassiere.[1] They lived in a stone cottage on Quaker Ridge and Dick commuted to a job at Johns-Manville in Manhattan.[6]:8 After a year of marriage, Polly became pregnant, and because the icy steps of the stone cottage were unsafe, they moved to an apartment on Fifty-third Street in New York.

Polly found Dick's temperament to be far from her own. When they had a son, William Jacob, on February 4, 1916. Dick was at first excited to become a father, but soon tired of the demanding infant that took up so much of his wife's time and energy.[6]:8 Polly found "Dick was not the most indulgent of parents and like his father before him, he forbade the gurgles and cries of infancy; when they occurred he walked out, and often walked back unsteadily."[7]

Polly concluded that Dick was a well-educated but undirected man and a reluctant father. Less than a year later Dick Peabody enlisted at the Mexican border where he enlisted in Battery A, Boston's "crack militia," which was charged with stopping Pancho Villa's cross-border raids. Polly and Billy moved in with Dick's parents at their North Shore estate where they summered.[6]:9 Less than a year after he returned home, he enlisted to fight in World War I. Their second child, a daughter, Poleen Wheatland ("Polly"), was born on August 12, 1917 but Dick was already in Officers Training Camp at Plattsburgh, New York, where he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Artillery.

Dick became a Captain in the United States Army's 15th Field Artillery, 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force.[8] Polly was largely cared for by his parents, but found, "My father-in-law was a stickler for polish, both of manners and minerals." Her mother-in-law wore "nun-like dresses and in bed or out wore starched cuffs as sever as piping."[7] Her husband meanwhile was enjoying life at the front as a bachelor.[6]:10

When the war ended, Richard remained in Paris for a while, enjoying the adulation of the French. When he returned to the United States, he started a shipping business of his own using Polly's inheritance for capital.[6]:18 In April they moved back to the stone cottage at Quaker Ridge. Dick's shipping business went under. Polly and Billy moved in with Dick's parents at their North Shore estate where they summered.[6]:9

Service in World War I[edit]

Less than a year after Peabody returned from the Mexican Revolution, he re-enlisted during the summer of 1917 and began training at the Officers Training Camp at Plattsburgh, New York, where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 15th Field Artillery, 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force.[8] Bill Wilson who would later found Alcoholics Anonymous trained at the same camp that summer and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Battery C of the 66th Coastal Artillery.[9] Their lives would intersect again in the 1930s when both would become involved in treating alcoholism. On August 12, 1917, Richard and Polly had a daughter, Poleen Wheatland (also nicknamed "Polly"). A week and a half after Polly was born, her mother took her to see her father off to war in France.[6]:9[8] Mother and daughter moved in with Polly Peabody's mother in Windward, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1917 she moved in with her in-laws at their home in Danvers, Massachusetts.

In the middle of 1921, Dick Peabody suddenly returned home from France to his new station in Columbia, South Carolina. He summoned his wife to meet him, and she borrowed money from her children's nurse and her uncle for the train fare to Columbia. They made love and slept the night in a slit trench because all the hotels were full.[6]:10 Polly found an apartment and moved her children and the nurse down to Columbia. When the war ended in November, Dick was left to live off a family allowance. After life as a captain in the artillery, where he had been awarded the Croix de guerre and had lived life like a bachelor, domestic life with Polly and the two children was a letdown, and he took up drinking heavily again.[6]:36 In the spring of 1922, in an attempt to dry out. Dick was committed to a sanitarium again.

Polly found after the war that Dick had only three real interests, all acquired at Harvard: to play, to drink, and to turn out, at any hour, to chase fire engines. Peabody even persuaded the fire chief to wire a fire alarm bell to his house.[1] Polly's life was difficult during the war years, and when her husband returned home and resumed drinking, her commitment to her marriage was further weakened. Polly felt that her husband was a well-educated but undirected man and a reluctant father.[6]

Wife's affair[edit]

While Dick had been at war, his wife Polly had been carrying on a not-very-secret affair. Mrs. Henrietta Crosby saw in Mrs. Polly Peabody a trustworthy mother who could chaperone her son Harry Crosby and some of his friends to a party on July 4, 1920. It included dinner and a trip to the amusement park at Nantasket Beach. Crosby, breaking decorum, never spoke to the girl on his left that he was supposed to spend time with, but focused his attention on the buxom Mrs. Peabody.[10] By some accounts, Crosby fell in love with her in about two hours, confessing his love for her in the Tunnel of Love at the amusement park. Two weeks later they went to church together in Manchester-by-the-Sea, and spent the night together.[1] Polly was seen as an adulteress who had perverted the trust placed in her as a chaperone, an older woman who had taken advantage of a younger man. To the Crosbys, she was dishonored and corrupt.[1]:87 Her scandalous affair was the gossip of blue-blood Boston. She was 28, six years older than Harry, with two small children, and married.


Crosby pursued Mrs. Peabody and in May 1921, when she would not respond to his ardor, he threatened suicide if she did not marry him.[1][11]:2 Dick Peabody was in and out of sanatoriums fighting alcoholism and acute depression several times.[12] Polly had become so afraid of him that she refused to stay alone with him, even appealing to her uncle, J. P. Morgan, Jr., for moral and financial support.[12] Crosby pestered Polly Peabody to tell her husband of their affair and to divorce him. In May she revealed her adultery to Peabody, and without any resistance he offered her a divorce. In June, she formally separated from her husband. Her mother insisted that she stop seeing Crosby for six months, a condition she agreed to, and she left Boston for New York. In December Peabody initiated the divorce and in February 1922, the divorce was finalized.

Recovery from alcoholism[edit]

The Peabody family had been one of the wealthiest in America during the 1800s. Peabody lost his share of the family fortune in shipping during the war when everyone else was becoming rich. Having lost his family and his fortune, he sought help with his alcoholism and began attending a clinic and weekly health classes in the winter of 1921-1922 at the Emmanuel Church. When he got sober he began offering therapy to other alcoholics on an individual basis.[12] During the 1920s he opened an office on Newbury Street in Boston. He was very successful in helping others and although he was not a medical doctor became known to some as Dr. Peabody. Patients came to him from long distances.[12]

For his practice, Peabody adapted methods used by the Emmanuel Movement from Dr. Elwood Worcester and Courtenay Baylor, excluding fellowship and any spiritual or religious elements.[12] He prescribed a method for getting and staying sober that included rigid scheduling, self-control and work to bring feelings and emotions under control through reason.[13]

Published articles and book[edit]

He published a number of articles in both lay and medical literature, including the New England Journal of Medicine (1930), Mental Hygiene (1930), The American Mercury (1931) and American Magazine (1931).[9] The January 15, 1937 issue of the Saturday Evening Post contained an article titled, The Unhappy Drinker. Written by Frances T. Chambers, Jr., as told to Gretta Palmer, Chambers had been cured of his alcoholism by Peabody. Peabody's book was based on an earlier study Psychotherapeutic Procedure in the Treatment of Chronic Alcoholism, which had been read before the Harvard Psychological Society and the Boston Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.[12]

In 1931 he published The Common Sense of Drinking. He was the first authority to assert there was no cure for alcoholism,[2] writing in his book,

His book became a best seller and was a major influence on Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson.[8][9]

He was credited with contributing considerable insight into secondary withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism. In his book he offered insight from the patient's point of view, "as well as forearming him against the extraordinary rationalizing technique that he will uncover from time to time during his struggle to make readjustment without alcohol."[12] Many of the founding members of what would become Alcoholics Anonymous read his book with great interest.[12][14]

Practices in New York[edit]

After his book was published in 1931, Peabody moved from Boston to New York City. He began practicing in his new home at 24 Gramercy Park, where he charged US$20 per hour for seven sessions per week, a fee that few but the wealthy could afford.[12]

His practice was in the same neighborhood as Calvary Episcopal Church on East 23rd Street where the Rev. Samuel Moor Shoemaker was Rector and active in the Oxford Group, and near the Olive Tree Inn that Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W.'s friend Ebby Thacher went to. The Calvary Church's Rescue Mission was where Bill W. took his pledge of sobriety.[12]

Techniques and ideas are adopted[edit]

Several physicians began using his technique, including Norman Jolliffe at Bellevue Hospital in New York, Edward Strecker at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, and Merrill Moore at Boston City Hospital.

Alcoholics Anonymous borrows ideas[edit]

The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies opened the first free clinic devoted solely to treating alcoholism in 1944. Their clinics were directed by Raymond G. McCarthy, a Peabody-trained therapist. Peabody's followers continued his work until the 1950s. The founder of A.A., Bill Wilson along with his wife Lois read Peabody's book The Common Sense of Drinking and were very interested in it. A.A. founders. Bill W. and Dr. Bob credited Peabody with contributing to the founding concepts and principles of AA.[15][16] Because A.A. was free and non-professional, it gradually eclipsed Peabody's methods and spread beyond its own mostly well-to-do roots to a wide audience.[12]

Bill W. borrowed phrases from Peabody's book like as "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic"[9]:82 and "half measures are of no avail."[9]:99 In addition the entire story of "a man of thirty-six years" contained in the chapter More About Alcoholism[9]:37 appears to have been borrowed from Peabody's book.

Death due to alcoholism[edit]

Peabody died on April 26, 1936 in New York City. There were conflicting opinions about Peabody's sobriety at the time of his death. Scribner's Magazine published an article, The Danger Line of Drink, in 1936 after he died.[17] They noted that he died of a heart attack. His wife Jane McKean did not say. Samuel Crocker, who had once shared an office with Peabody, told Faye R. that Peabody was intoxicated at the time of his death.[12] Some early members of A.A. believed that he died drunk. Most members of A.A. acknowledge that Peabody relapsed and died of alcoholism.[2] He was survived by his ex-wife, Caresse Crosby, his son Bill and daughter Polleen, and his second wife Jane McKean.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Wolff, Geoffrey (2003). Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby. New York Review of Books. ISBN 1-59017-066-0. 
  2. ^ a b c K., Richard. "The Devil and Bill Wilson". Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  3. ^ a b "Jacob Crowninshield Rogers Peabody". Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  4. ^ "Twentieth Century Influences on AA". November 12, 2012. Retrieved June 9, 2015. 
  5. ^ Maclay, Edgar Stanton (1899). A History of American Privateers. p. 408. ISBN 1-58057-331-2. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hamalian, Linda (2005). The Cramoisy Queen: A Life of Caresse Crosby. Southern Illinois University. ISBN 0-8093-1865-2. 
  7. ^ a b Dubiel, Richard M. (2004). The Road to Fellowship: the Role of the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club in the Development of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: IUniverse. p. 46. ISBN 978-0595307401. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d Richard R. Peabody at Find a Grave
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Peabody, Richard (April 1930). The Common Sense of Drinking (PDF). Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 
  10. ^ Lost generation journal, Volumes 6-10. Literary Enterprises Inc. 1979. 
  11. ^ Conover, Anne (1989). Caresse Crosby: From Black Sun to Roccasinibalda. Santa Barbara, California: Capra Press. ISBN 0-595-15928-1. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Richard Peabody The Common Sense of Drinking 1931". Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  13. ^ Dubiel, Richard M. "The Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club". Hindsfoot Foundation. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  14. ^ K., Mitchell. "Alcoholism". 
  15. ^ V., Diane. "History of the Program". A Friend of Bill W. Apopka, Florida. Archived from the original on November 26, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  16. ^ K., Mitchell (August 2, 2006). "Writing of the Big Book". Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  17. ^ "The Emmanuel Movement". Retrieved 2010-04-01. 

Further reading[edit]