Peabody, Endicott

Endicott “Cotty” Peabody (1857-1944) was a life-long friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s. The two met while they were in college, and Peabody—with Roosevelt’s backing—would go on to found Groton School in 1884 and serve, for 56 years, as its first headmaster.

Peabody was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Marianne Cabot Lee and financier Samuel Endicott Peabody. His family was Unitarian. When his family moved to England, Endicott Peabody graduated from Cheltenham College (a boarding school) in 1876. He earned a law degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1880. He thought he would begin a career in finance, like his father and most of the other men in the Peabody family. He worked for a short time for Lee, Higginson, and Company, a prominent financial firm in Boston begun by his grandfather, George Lee. Peabody ultimately walked away from banking because of a religious conversion experience he had at Cambridge. He decided to become an Episcopal priest, and so in 1881 he enrolled in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where all Harvard College students were required to attend worship services (if they did not go to their own church). Peabody studied there for one semester before accepting a call from a group of Episcopalians in Tombstone, Arizona. He successfully created and grew Arizona’s oldest Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s, then returned to the East Coast to graduate from the Episcopal Theology School in 1884. That was the same year that Peabody and two of his fellow Episcopal deacons, Sherrard Billings and William Amory Gardner, founded Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. In October of 1884, Peabody was an usher at the wedding between his cousin Alice Hathaway Lee and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1885, Peabody himself was married (to Frances Peabody) and ordained an Episcopal priest.

In addition to being headmaster, Peabody taught Theology at Groton. His belief in “muscular Christianity,” as practiced by the boarding schools he had observed in England, infused the culture at Groton. Muscular Christianity entailed the teaching of physical fitness, sports, and other strenuous activities alongside the more standard curriculum of Classical languages and literature, History, Philosophy, Religion, and the sciences. Theodore Roosevelt shared this appreciation for muscular Christianity. All four of Roosevelt’s sons attended Groton (although Archie failed to graduate) as did Franklin D. Roosevelt and his four sons. Peabody officiated at the wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and assisted at the wedding of Ethel Roosevelt and Richard Derby.

At Peabody’s invitation, President Roosevelt spoke at Groton in 1904 for the school’s 20th Prize Day, in celebration of Groton’s twentieth year. Both Edith and Theodore Roosevelt knew the headmaster well and met with him when they visited their sons at the school. The correspondence between Roosevelt and Peabody attests to their overlapping interests: the Roosevelt boys, the education of young men, politics, literature, and the need to make football a less violent and corrupt sport.

Although Groton would be Peabody’s life’s work, he also founded a second church (St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ayer, Massachusetts, in 1889) and a second school (Brooks School, in North Andover, Massachusetts, in 1926). He retired in 1940 and died in 1944, the object of awe and esteem to generations of boys and elite young men.