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Peabody Institute Office of the Provost records

Identifier: PIRG-03

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

Originally, the Peabody was to have been administered by the Maryland Historical Society, but this scheme was never realized, and the position of Provost was established in 1867. The Provost was responsible for records, accounts, and correspondence. He assisted the committees of the Board of Trustees in preparation of statements of their proceedings and represented the trustees on public occasions. Matters relating to academic or artistic policy, or appointments, were to be brought before the proper trustee committee. Originally, each department was to have its own administrator, who would submit requests for expenditures to the Provost for approval. Only the Academy of Music appointed a director, leaving the Provost with responsibility for directing the Lecture Series, Art Gallery, and the Library.

Records relating to the lectures contain correspondence with scientific and literary figures including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Tyndall, and James Russell Lowell. Library correspondence contains letters from Abram Stevens Hewitt of the Cooper Union, E. W. Blatchford of the Newberry Library, and Melvil Dewey. A series of letters from librarian Philip Uhler to the provost chronicle the Institute's day-to-day activities as well as Uhler's research activities. Other items include early scrapbooks maintained by the provost and letterpress books related to the Art Gallery and to the Rinehart Fund.


  • Creation: 1861 - 1916


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Arthur Friedheim Library Archives of the Peabody Institute. Contact 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. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

The trustees' Committee on Organization specified in its original plan of 1859 that the Peabody Institute would be administered by the Maryland Historical Society, which would be charged with "administering the regular active functions of the Institute in its career of daily and periodical service..." The failure of the trustees of the two institutions to devise a plan which would permit a workable relationship led to the society's withdrawal from the proposed association originally outlined in the founding letter. The second plan of March 1867 called for the appointment of a chief administrative officer or provost. The provost was to be responsible for the general direction of the institute; to take charge of its records, accounts, and correspondence; to assist the committees of the trustees; and to represent the trustees on public occassions. Matters relating to academic or artistic policy, or appointments, would be brought to the proper trustee committee, while necessary expenditures for the department would be submitted to the Provost for approval.

Provosts include Nathaniel Holmes Morison (1867-1890) and Philip Reese Uhler (1891-1911).

Lecture series

The Peabody lecture series became a thriving aspect of Baltimore's intellectual life. Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution gave the inaugural lecture in November 1866, and in the years that followed, experts in science, literature, and art delivered more than 30 lectures a year in the institute's main lecture hall. Literary and scientific subjects were intermingled with topics of regional interest.

The lectures were organized by a committee of trustees and administered by the provost of the Institute. Noting the attendance problems plaguing the Lowell Institute's free lectures in Boston, Provost Morison required patrons to pay a small fee for the course of lectures to ensure good attendance. Lectures were scheduled for daytime hours " accommodate women, who, it was believed, would be more likely than men to attend." Poor attendance at evening lectures prompted the proposal to schedule the forthcoming season's lectures at 4:00 p.m., with the provost citing the success of the lectures at Cambridge, South Kensington Museum, and those at the Royal Institution, London, held at that hour.

In an attempt to maintain decorum, children under 12 were barred from attendance and youths between 12 and 15 were required to be in the company of an adult. A city police officer was employed to monitor the hall "so that unruly spirits were shut out or restrained," providing audiences with an "unusual degree of quiet and order."

In addition to the general lecture series held in the large hall, courses of class lectures were instituted in 1870 to provide extended instruction in specialized branches of knowledge. From 10 to 40 lectures were given each season from November to April, with audiences typically ranging in size from 10 to 80. Topics included physics, physiology, French and English literature, and natural history. Several professors from the newly established Johns Hopkins University conducted course lectures. The poet Sidney Lanier, a flutist in the Peabody Orchestra and a member of the Hopkins faculty, delivered a series of lectures on Shakespeare.

Herbert Baxter Adams was the first of a number of Hopkins professors to use the Institute's small lecture room to provide students with easy access to the large historical collection in the Peabody Library. He was quickly followed by Latinist Minton Warren. Another Hopkins professor, Charles Sheldon Hastings, delivered a series of 20 weekly lectures on astronomy to 175 of the city's female students in 1883 and 1884. Two years later, Professor Ira Remson conducted lectures in physics for females. Supported by the girls' schools, these lectures were discontinued in 1888 despite increasing enrollment. JHU frequently used the large lecture hall for lectures arranged for the university's own students and patrons.

Between 1899 and 1906 the Institute suspended the lectures because of a decline in public demand. The series was restored in 1907 when U.S. Navy Commander Robert Edwin Peary was invited to give an account of his explorations in the vicinity of the North Pole. After several attempts to revive the series, the lectures were again discontinued in 1915.


11.36 Cubic Feet (30 boxes)

Language of Materials



Records documenting the activities of the executive office of the Institute. Includes correspondence from prospective lecturers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Fiske, and James Russell Lowell (1867-1913); correspondence concerning the library, including letters received from Abram Stevens Hewitt of Cooper Union, E. W. Blatchford of the Newberry Library, and Melvil Dewey; numerous letters from the Institute librarian, Philip R. Uhler, to the provost reporting library activities during the provost's summer vacation; correspondence concerning the Gallery of Art, the Rinehart Fund, and the Centennial Celebration of George Peabody's birth; letterpress copybooks recording library, Rinehart Fund, and general correspondence; invoices for library books (1881-1900) as well as accounts for other institutional activities; draft annual reports on the state of the Institute from the Provost to the Board of Trustees; three scrapbooks containing information concerning the lecture series and other institute activities; and miscellaneous records such as a journal listing complimentary lecture ticket allocations (1867-1873), lecture announcements (1896-1907), and personal copies of reports from other Peabody Institute offices.


Records organized into five series, one of which has been further divided into three subseries: A. Correspondence, 1867-1913. Subseries A.1. Lecture series, 1866-1910. Subseries A.2. Library, 1861-1913. Subseries A.3. Premiums, Gallery of Art, Conservatory of Music, and Board of Trustees, 1861-1911. B. Financial Documents, 1867-1912. C. Reports, 1868-1895. D. Scrapbooks, 1866-1916. E. Miscellaneous, 1867-1916.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Letter books and scrapbooks are fragile. Ink on some letterpress book pages has faded to near illegibility.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

There is no known acquisition information for this collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Elizabeth Schaaf and archives staff, 1983-1987. During reprocessing by Matt Testa and Kate Mankowski in 2018, series A was divided into three subseries and boxes were reordered accordingly. The boxes were renumbered during reprocessing. The order of folders within each box established during the original processing was unchanged.

Guide to the Peabody Institute Office of the Provost records
Matt Testa
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA