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The following article was written for the Crimson by Jerome D. Greene 96, Secretary to the Corporation.
Francis Greenwood Peabody, D.D., LL.D., Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, Emeritus, died at his home in Cambridge on December 28 in the ninetieth year of his age. Having withdrawn from active academic life twenty-three years ago, Professor Peabody's long and distinguished service to the University is unfamiliar to its younger members, although until within the last few years his scholarly and literary activities had been continued, bearing fruit in a number of books and occasional writings of which his last important work was "The Apostle Paul and the Modern World," published in 1923. Of his earlier writings those best known and most widely appreciated were his compilations of discourses at Morning Prayers and Sunday services in the College Chapel, models of concise literary expression and religious insight on a great variety of themes but for the most part related directly to the life of the scholar in his relations to the modern world.
Class of '69
Professor Peabody graduated from Harvard College in 1869 and received his Bachelor's Degree in Divinity in 1872. Ordained to the ministry of the Unitarian Church in 1874, he served as minister of the First Parish Church in Cambridge from 1874 to 1880. From 1877 to 1882 he was a member of the Board of Overseers. His long academic career began in 1881 with his appointment as Parkman Professor of Theology, a chair he held until 1886 when he succeeded the venerable Andrew Preston Peabody as Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. In that capacity he had charge of the religious services of the University under the general supervision of the Board of Preachers, constituted in 1886. He was Acting Dean of the Divinity School in 1885-86 and in 1893-94, and Dean from 1901 to 1905. In 1905 he inaugurated the system of exchange professorships with Germany by giving courses at the University of Berlin.
His long ministry and professorship were marked by two outstanding contributions to the University. With the abolition of compulsory attendance at Morning Prayers in 1886 and his appointment as Plummer Professor it fell to him to interpret and administer the policy of complete freedom in religious worship. In this task he was vigorously supported by President Eliot, Phillips Brooks, and by other members of the Board of Preachers. He was fond of saying that there was no such thing as a "compulsory prayer," and he derived great satisfaction from the fact that attendance at Morning Prayers, though availed of by comparatively small numbers, nevertheless constituted the largest voluntary daily attendance at a Protestant religious service to be found anywhere in the world. As another function of the Plummer Professorship Professor Peabody was largely concerned, after the death of Phillips Brooks, with the planning and erection of Phillips Brooks House and with the organization of the Phillips Brooks House Association as a center of various religious organizations of students and of their activities in the line of social service. His special interest in the latter reflected an almost apostolic fervor in making the modern world, and especially university men, aware of the social and ethical implications of the changes which the industrial revolution had brought in human society.
This outstanding interest in Professor Peabody's life dominated his career as a teacher and his formulation of social ethics as a field of university study was unquestionably a pioneer service. It was his belief as a Christian minister that Christianity, rightly understood and applied, would furnish the best guide for the solution of the many critical problems of family life and social welfare which the changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had brought to the front. While the present trends of constructive work in the direction of social amelioration may be less visibly and consciously inspired by religious and ethical considerations and more by the effect to reconcile competitive forces on a materialistic and economic basis, the fact remains that Professor Peabody's zeal and initiative, in days when the existing order of society was less generally open to question that it is today, had much to do with stimulating interest in social problems and with awakening a sense of social responsibility among educated men.
To the intimate circle of his relatives and friends Professor Peabody was endeared by his friendliness, insight, sympathy, and humor. These qualities were often expressed in little essays privately printed for those who knew him, and sometimes as verses appearing as dedicatory lines in his published works. His was a life well rounded out, full of happiness sand also of fortitude in sorrow. He will be happily and gratefully remembered.
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