On February 8, 1867, the first meeting of the nation’s first foundation was called to order. One hundred forty five years later, its legacy remains embedded in American philanthropy.
The Peabody Education Fund, established with a $2 million gift from philanthropist George Peabody, was created for the purpose of encouraging education in the post-Civil War American south. During the fund’s existence, its trustees distributed more than $3.5 million in southern states. Liquidated in the 1890s, the majority of the fund was used to establish what is now Vanderbilt University’s George Peabody College for Teachers.
The indirect legacy of the Peabody Educational Fund is equally notable. The original Board of Trustees, selected by George Peabody himself, was comprised of Governors from the north and the south, marking one of the first collaborative efforts since the onset of the Civil War. The first educational philanthropy, the fund also served as a model for future efforts to improve education in America.
George Peabody is said to have influenced his friends, Johns Hopkins and Enoch Pratt, to establish the famed institutions still in existence that bear their respective names. Other American philanthropists through time, including Rockefeller, Carnegie and Gates, have also cited Peabody and his model for charitable giving as inspiration for their own giving. George Peabody is considered to be the father of modern philanthropy. His aims were to improve society, promote education, and provide the poor with the means to help themselves.
The Peabody Education Fund organized to establish a permanent system of public education on the South and to enlarge the number of qualified teachers in the region. The Peabody Fund allocated millions of dollars in support of African American schools, as well as to support the growth of public schools for Blacks and Whites across the South.