Born in Danvers, Massachusetts, a school dropout at age eleven, George Peabody went on to establish a successful wholesale dry goods business in Baltimore. In 1867 he established the Peabody Education Fund, directing his energy toward promoting education in the South. According to History of Negro Education in the South, Peabody told the fund’s trustees that he wished his money to go to “promotion and encouragement of intellectual, moral, and industrial education among the young of the more destitute portions of the Southern and Southwestern states . . . .”
Lynchburg’s black schoolchildren knew of George Peabody. When Orra Langhorne visited Fannie Harvey’s class in Lynchburg in 1880, the students discussed school funding. “Miss Fannie” asked the children, “What benevolent man bequeathed a large sum of money to aid Southern education?” and the students replied, “Mr. Peabody.” The Peabody Fund was the first educational philanthropy in the United States.