Some of my regular readers are quite interested in Transcendentalism. There’s been some interesting research into the Transcendentalists recently, and of particular interest has been the attention that scholars have finally been paying to Transcendentalist women. The publication of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism in 2005 has renewed my interest in these three gifted women — Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, an educator who was in the absolute center of the Transcendentalist movement; Sophia Peabody (Hawthorne), who was one of the first American women to make her living as a visual artist; and Mary Peabody (Mann), who was an educator and a writer.
In the past, I have found it difficult to locate writings by these women, but now you can find quite a bit of their work on the Web here’s what I’ve found so far:
Five letters from Sophia to Elizabeth.
Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide, a book co-written by Elizabeth and Mary.
Christianity in the Kitchen, an interesting cookbook by Mary.
Record of a School, a book about education by Elizabeth.
If you’re new to the Peabody sisters, you’ll find a good summary of their lives here.
A sort of pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts, today. I met my dad (who still lives in Concord) in the late morning to take a walk. It was hot, so we decided to go to Sleepy Hollow, the cemetery where a number of famous Transcendentalists are buried. We just wanted a cool place to walk on a hot day, but I did make a point of visiting Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s grave. She was a contemporary of Emerson’s, a Transcendentalist who ran the West Street bookstore where she sold Transcendentalist books, published “The Dial” for a few issues, and hosted some of Margaret Fuller’s “conversations” for women (sort of early consciousness-raising sessions). Elizabeth Peabody never married, always claimed she was too busy, and had an incredible career as a teacher, reformer, and intellectual. She is perhaps best known today for introducing kindergarten to the United States — in her conception, a way to give children of all scoi-economic groups a head start before they started school. An amazing woman, and my favorite of all the Transcendentalists.
Her grave stone is down the hill from “Author’s Ridge,” where Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Lousia May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne (her brother-in-law) are buried. She’s buried in a beautiful little hollow dappled with sun and shade. And her legacy lives on in some interesting ways. Late in her career, Elizabeth Peabody mentored a young educator named Lucy Wheelock, who later went on to found Wheelock College, where my mother got her bachelor’s degree. Lucy Wheelock was still a presence when my mother was studying there, and my mother went on to teach for a dozen years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my mother chose to pursue her career and not get married as Lucy Wheelock and Elizabeth Peabody did. Mom was an excellent teacher, and who knows where her career would have gone? We’ll never know, but it’s fun to speculate.
After I had lunch with dad and my two sisters, I went for another long walk on the Battle Road Trail in Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord. It’s blackberry season, and I ate some really good blackberries. It must be a good year for blackberries, because they were large and plump and tasty, and worth every scratch I got picking them.
The April 13, 2005, issue of the Geneva Sun reports that Kane County voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue to raise money to purchase land for open space.
However, the Sun also reports that voters in the Geneva and St. Charles school districts turned down tax increases to fund public schools. Most other tax increases for public education that were on the ballot in the area also failed (notably, in the Glenbard school district, according to the Chicago Tribune).
While I’m all for preserving open space, I feel schools are an equally high priority. Clearly, voters did not agree with me — the tax increases for schools were voted down by substantial margins. While final vote tabulations are not quite complete, it looks like Geneva voted down additional school funding by a whopping 13% margin.
It’s true that tax increases are not always the answer to better schools. But remember that Unitarians and Universalists have historically supported public education in many ways — pursuing careers in education, serving in policy-making positions, volunteering in the public schools, doing research in education, etc. We believe in democratic principles, both in our religious life but also in public life, and we have long held that good education is essential to a working democracy.
Unitarian Horace Mann advocated for public education in the 19th C., and his Unitarian sister-in-law, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, brought kindergarten to the United States to improve the chances of inner city children. A century and a half later, it’s time we Unitarian Universalists got more involved in education policy.