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George Peabody Library records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-03-017

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Peabody Library records include: correspondence, professional diaries, financial documents, accession records, catalogues of the library’s collection, order books related to vendors, record books of works organized by subject classifications, exhibition labels and some exhibition planning files, administrative reports, notes, loan records, and miscellaneous material. The papers which predominate are letters, accession records, and subject classification records. The collection comprehensively ranges in date from approximately 1860 to the 1980s. The bulk of the records date from 1860 to the 1970s.


  • Creation: 1860-1980s
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1860-1970


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is located at the George Peabody Library and may require scheduling a special appointment to access it. Contact Special

Collections for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

In describing the components of the proposed Institute, George Peabody began with the organization of an "extensive be furnished in every department of knowledge, with the most approved literature; which is to be...for the free use of all persons. It should consist of the best works on every satisfy the researches of students who may be engaged in the pursuit of knowledge not ordinarily attainable in the private libraries of the country."

In 1859, while the building was under construction, a prestigious Library Committee chaired by George Pendleton Kennedy was formed to devise a plan for the collection. The first librarian, Dr. John G. Morris, was appointed in 1860, more than a year before the building was ready for occupancy.

Until the founding of the Peabody Library, Baltimore readers had only a few specialized subscription libraries available to them. The Library Company of Baltimore complained that "so utterly deficient was its public libraries, with one exception, that of the bar, that no learned work on any subject, except law, could be written in Baltimore without far greater facilities than all its public libraries put together could afford." This was a shocking state of affairs for a rapidly expanding and prosperous commercial city with a population of more than 200,000.

The outbreak of the Civil War, with the special problems it posed for the border state of Maryland, brought with it the realization that many years might pass before the Library could officially open its doors to the public. This tragedy, however, actually was to provide the Library with the unique character which it maintains to this day. Taking advantage of the delay, Morris and the Library Committee devised a long-range plan to systematically acquire the world's best books for the collection. Their model was no less than the combined catalogues of the finest libraries of Europe and America. The Peabody was a carefully planned collection, the scope of which was contingent neither on funds nor immediate availability in the book market. A carefully compiled `Desiderata,' Morris' classified list of 50,000 volumes, facilitated the formation of the nucleus of the collection. This printed list (bound as a book) was sent to booksellers, bibliophiles, and libraries in both America and Europe. Within ten years there were over 50,000 volumes on the shelves, filling the Library's original quarters to capacity. A second volume was compiled and published to extend the Library's holdings to illustrate the progress of science and learning.

While the war raged, the collection grew, and the most valuable ancient and modern histories, the prominent works in all branches of science, in philosophies, monumental works of the fine arts, and the most authoritative encyclopedias and dictionaries of the major languages of the world were carefully stored. After the Civil War, this collection policy was continued without interruption until 1916. Nathaniel Holmes Morison, appointed Provost in 1867, replaced Morris as librarian. In 1870 he engaged Philip Reese Uhler as his First Assistant. Uhler, a scientist, had worked with Louis Agassiz at Harvard. Morison and Uhler sought advice from scholars and scientists in the U.S. and abroad, extracting from them lists of recommended books in their respective fields. With Morison's love of literature and Dr. Uhler's training as a natural scientist, these two fields were superbly furnished with basic references and emerging literature. The library's success and relentless expansion under Morison's direction created a critical need for space, and, in 1875, the plans were laid for the spectacular library building that exists today. Morison worked in close collaboration with architect Edmund G. Lind in the design of the "Cathedral of Books."

Using the catalogues of the Astor Library and the British Museum as its models, work on the first catalogue began in 1869 and consumed fourteen years. In 1880 Provost Morison reported that "the completion of the catalogue, like the flying springs of the desert, is always retreating." Two years later, Morison was able at last to announce that work on the Catalogue of the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore listing 100,000 volumes by author and title, classifying and analyzing their contents, was complete. The references to myriad subjects was largely the work of Morison and Philip R. Uhler. With the appearance of the second catalogue with its 8 volumes with 42,000 references in 1905, the resources of the collection became instantly available to researchers.

Historians believe George Peabody may have had a role in persuading Johns Hopkins, another Baltimore merchant, to provide for the establishment of a university. The Johns Hopkins University, founded by bequest in 1876, was unique to America at the time, and patterned itself after the German models where knowledge was acquired and disseminated by research, seminars and publications. Lacking a library of its own, it located near the Peabody Institute in order to utilize the Institute's Library, and remained almost entirely dependent upon the Peabody's collection until 1916. Hopkins' Historical Seminary, a graduate study group headed by the father of modern historiography, Herbert Baxter Adams, met in the Peabody's rooms. During this period, a significant number of historical works were added to the collection, including a large collection of materials relating to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic era, and the Restoration, further expanding the power of the Peabody Library.

Important additions came to the collection as gifts and bequests: The library of The Honorable Reverdy Johnson, eminent attorney and diplomat; colonial pamphlet literature from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence and active participant in the affairs of colonial America; the library of Charles James Madison Eaton; and 6,000 volumes from John Pendleton Kennedy, who had played such an important role in the founding of the Peabody Institute.

After Uhler's retirement in 1913, the First Assistant Librarian, John Parker, became Librarian, and soon reorganized the collection using the Dewey Decimal system. Handwritten cards were replaced by Library of Congress printed cards. Purchases from European book dealers continued through World War I, in spite of the German blockade. Consignments from Germany, detained by the British, were released after appeals to the American Consul General in London.

The Peabody Library, recognized as an innovative library for its period, became a paradigm for developing libraries. The New York State Library School, the Library School of Columbia University, and the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia sent their students to inspect the collection and observe its operations. The Newberry Library in Chicago used the Peabody as a model. The Library has attracted many important scholars. H.L. Mencken worked on his The American Language at a desk reserved for him in the Library. Hopkins' first President, Daniel Coit Gilman, poet Sidney Lanier, and author John Dos Passos all worked regularly in the Library.

On July 1st, 1966, under financial constraints, the Trustees turned the control of the Library over to the Enoch Pratt Free Library (which had been founded by the Peabody's treasurer in 1882 as a public library for more popular works). In 1982, the Peabody Library was transferred to Hopkins and the Peabody Library became a department within the Special Collections of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

Timeline of Peabody Librarians and administrative ownership: John G. Morris, 1860-1867 Nathaniel Holmes Morison, 1867-1890 Philip Reese Uhler, 1890-1913 John Parker, 1913-1927 Louis Henry Dielman, 1926-1942 Lloyd A. Brown, 1942-1956 Frank N. Jones, 1956-1966 Enoch Pratt Free Library, 1966-1982 Johns Hopkins University, 1982-present

Sources: Alphabetical Catalogue of Books Proposed to be Purchased for the Library of the Peabody Institute, Baltimore (Baltimore: Printed by John D. Toy, 1861)

No. 2. Catalogue of Books to be Purchased by The Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore (Baltimore: Printed by John D. Toy, 1863).

Ann Gwyn, "Changing Hands: Johns Hopkins Acquires Peabody Library," Wilson Library Bulletin, January 1983, pp. 401-404


60.78 Cubic Feet (134 containers: 23 legal size boxes, 2 half legal size boxes, 39 letter size boxes, 16 half letter size boxes, 6 record center boxes, 1 small flat box (11 x 3 x 9), 15 medium flat boxes (15.5 x 3 x 12), 7 oversize flat boxes (18.5 x 3 x 14.5), 22 oversize flat boxes (21 x 3 x 17), 3 custom boxes (13 x 3.5 x 10; 26 x 6 x 10; 21 x 5 x 17))

Language of Materials



In 1857, philanthropist George Peabody gave the amount of $300,000 for the funding of a library in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. The construction of what was then known as the Library of the Peabody Institute (also the Peabody Institute Library) in Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood began in 1858. Due to the difficulties of opening such a library during the Civil War (1861-1865), the building was not officially dedicated to the public until 1866 and 1878, the west wing and east wing, respectively, both designed by Edmund G. Lind. During the war, John G. Morris, the first Peabody Librarian appointed in 1860, and the Library Committee acquired over 50,000 volumes from Europe and America, influenced by the best libraries in the world. The George Peabody Library was open to the public with a non-circulating collection and independently run by its Head Librarians and Committees until 1966, when the Enoch Pratt Free Library under the city of Baltimore took over administration and ran it as a branch location. In 1982 the Peabody Library changed hands again, this time under the ownership and administration of Johns Hopkins University. The Peabody Library records include: correspondence, professional diaries, financial documents, accession records, catalogues of the library’s collection, order books related to vendors, record books of works organized by subject classifications, exhibition labels and some exhibition planning files, administrative reports, notes, loan records, and miscellaneous material. The collection ranges in date from approximately 1860 to the 1980s.


The records are organized into 12 series:

Series A - Correspondence

Series B - Diaries

Series C - Financial documents

Series D - Accessions

Series E - Catalogues

Series F - Order books

Series G - Subject classifications

Series H - Exhibitions

Series I - Reports

Series J - Notes

Series K - Loans

Series L - Ephemera, publications, and manuscripts

Custodial History

The earliest administrative records were generated in approximately 1860 and were likely first housed in the Librarian’s Office of the Peabody Library, then branching out to other parts of the building as the records grew. In the late 1970s, Elizabeth Schaaf consolidated the bulk of the materials in an alcove on the main floor of the Library, the first major organization of the institution’s archive, in addition to organizing materials generated from the separate Peabody Institute, the music conservatory adjacent to the Peabody Library. In 1984 the Peabody Library’s administrative records were transferred, along with the Institute’s records, to the Institute’s Friedheim Library next door. In 2016 the Peabody Library administrative records returned to the stewardship of Peabody Library staff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Peabody Institute Archives in the Friedheim Music Library from 2016 to 2017.

Related Materials

RG.03.010: Johns Hopkins University Library Administrative Offices records

Includes records relating to the transition period between the Pratt Library’s administration of the Peabody Library and Johns Hopkins University’s administration, from the 1970s to 1980s.

Processing Information

The records were previously processed by the archives staff of the Peabody Institute Friedheim Music Library in the 1990s, particularly by Elizabeth Schaaf, and in 2008 by Tracey Melhuish. The order and description of the records were established at this time. The records were then reprocessed by Annie Tang from January 2016 to September 2017 in order to consolidate separated materials, include an accurate box count and extent, rehouse unboxed materials, and produce a more transparent finding aid. The order was retained and the descriptions updated.

Guide to the George Peabody Library records
Annie Tang
October 2017
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA