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Three Sisters Who Showed The Way
Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody managed to extend the boundaries that cramped the lives of nineteenth-century women. Elizabeth introduced the kindergarten movement to America, Mary developed a new philosophy of mothering that we now take for granted, and Sophia was liberated from invalidism by her passionate love for her husband.
September/October 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 6
Elizabeth Peabody, who died in 1894, and her sisters Mary and Sophia, who died in 1887 and 1871, respectively, certainly never imagined the world we live in now. But through their lives we see that the ambitions and conflicts of women today are not so very different from those of the “Representative Women” of the past. For Elizabeth there was the conflict between achievement and womanliness; for Sophia, the choice between becoming an artist or playing the muse; and for Mary, the challenge to win respect for women’s rights and duties. Although it took many years for each sister to resolve those issues to her own satisfaction, they (and women like them in those pre-women’s suffrage days) found many not-so-subtle ways to exert their influence, an influence that most men recognized. As Mary Peabody wrote in one of her earliest letters to Horace Mann, “I think women ought to be the politicians of the world, for, begging pardon of such a famous legislator as yourself, I think they would infuse some morality into the governments of men which seem[s] to be the last thing thought of now.” And when she added, “You know I consider you a woman in those & all other good matters,” she was only partly joking. Horace Mann, or for that matter any one of those “Representative Men” of her day, would have received Mary’s words as a compliment.