George Peabody: Biography of the Father of Modern Philanthropy

Today most of us know of some kind of non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection of certain groups such as children or to humanitarian aid.

And not only institutions, but also many citizens make donations and events dedicated to supporting charitable causes. In many cases, it is trafficking in acts of philanthropy, support and selfless help to one’s neighbor.

But although such acts in favor of the most disadvantaged are something we see today and for a few centuries with some frequency (but not always selflessly), the truth is that they were not usual until now. on the arrival of George Peabody, the so-called father of modern philanthropy. This is the man we’ll be talking about throughout this article, make a brief biography of George Peabody.

    A Brief Biography of George Peabody

    George Peabody was born February 18, 1795 in the town of South Danvers (later his name was changed to Peabody in his honor), Massachusetts. He was born into a humble working-class family, the third of eight siblings.

    With very limited resources, his academic training was also scarce: he was only able to pursue formal studies for four years, until the age of eleven. However, he was greatly stimulated by this experience, often going to the local library to read.

    First works and expansion

    At this age, he started working in a textile store as an apprentice. He had a great capacity for work and was good at numbers. Overtime he moved to Washington, specifically Georgetown, where he was able to open a store in the same area. In 1811, however, his father died leaving several debts, forcing the young man to work long hours to support his family.

    When he arrived in 1812, Peabody enlisted in the military to fight in the Anglo-American War. There he met Elisha Riggs, a trader with whom he would eventually partner in order to import their products. This business, known as Peabody, Riggs & Company, would begin to flourish so that Peabody could open several branches in different parts of the country.

    Establishment in London

    During the year 1816 he moved to Baltimore, a city in which he prospered and was increasingly recognized for his good business. When 1827 Peabody arrived he traveled to London to trade on behalf of his company, Also opening of a branch in the city. At this time, he would also begin to become more actively involved in international trade and bond issuance in his country, also starting to work in the banking sector.

    Peabody eventually settled in London, moved in 1837, and lived the rest of his life in the UK. in 1854 partnered with Junius Spencer Morgan and founded another company, George Peabody & Company, this time focused on banking. Gradually his bank began to gain in popularity, to the point of becoming one of the most important of the nineteenth century.

      Some of his great charities

      Although throughout his life he carried out many activities that helped several businesses and nations, it was not until the 1850s. when he began to devote himself with increasing enthusiasm to helping the most needy.

      He founded the Peabody Institute Library in his hometown in 1852, along with other institutions, such as the Peabody Institute in Baltimore (which included an art gallery and an academy of music), and other similar institutions. in Washington or Massachusetts. He also founded the Peabody Education Fund, To support the development and education of the most disadvantaged children.

      George Peabody has invested primarily in education, founding or helping to endow a total of 22 institutions. Also, in large part because of his relationship with his nephew Othniel Charles Marsh (whom he helped educate and who would go on to become one of the most important paleontologists of the century), founded an archaeological museum and the Yale Museum of Natural History. He also financed various expeditions, such as those of explorers like Elisha Kane.

      The last years and death

      During the 1860s Peabody receive many decorations: In 1862 he was appointed freeman of the city of London, in 1867 he received the congressional gold medal in the United States and in 1868 South Danvers would change his name to Peabody in honor of his illustrious son .

      It was also in this decade that he retired, more precisely in 1864, with a large fortune on his back, of which he gave about half. He also lived through the civil war, and we know that he maintained an abolitionist position and that he worked to create educational institutions for whites and blacks.

      At the same time, his acts of philanthropy multiply, highlighting the creation in 1862 of a fund (Peabody Donation Fund or Peabody Trust) dedicated to the fight against poverty and the improvement of the condition of children in London, and which also helps to build houses with running water. for the poor. Queen Victoria of England offered him the title of knight and that of baron, but nevertheless refused these honors not to believe that he deserved them. They built a statue in his honor on the Royal Exchange.

      However, in 1869 Peabody, who was already suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and gout, he fell ill with pneumonia, which ultimately led to his death on November 4, 1869 in London. He had the rare honor of being buried at Westminster Abbey, something desired by the British Royal Family, but after some time there and in order to honor his last wishes his body would be transferred to the city where he was born, then Peabody (formerly South Danvers).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Hanaford, P. (1870). The Life of George Peabody .. BB Russell.

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