Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1703 Josephine Preston Peabody

Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1703


The following is from “Dot Woman Wrote for National Magazines, Published Many Books”  By Anthony Sammarco, published: Dorchester Community News, 12 October 1990

Josephine Preston Peabody was one of the most talented poets to have lived in Dorchester.  She was born in 1874 in New York, the daughter of Susan J. Morrill and Charles Kilham Peabody.

When she was a child, her father died.  The family then moved to the home of her maternal grandparents, Charles and Susan Jackson Morrill on King Street, Dorchester.

Peabody entered the Harris School on Mill Street (now Victory Road), the school attended earlier by Alice Stone Blackwell (b. 1857), daughter of the famous women’s rights advocate Lucy Stone.  In 1887, while a student at the Harris School, Peabody began to write lyrical poetry, a form she continued with through her admission to Girls Latin School in Boston.

Getting Published

Her poetry was so well-received that it was published in both Atlantic Monthly and Scribners.  She became a voracious writer, penning a novel, a comedy, and 22 poems that appeared in magazines.  Her appetite for writing was insatiable, and recognition was forthcoming.

In 1892, she left Girls Latin School due to ill health, writing numerous short stories and poems, many of which were published.  However, it was in 1894, when she entered Radcliffe College as a special student, that her writing took on new meaning and acquired a luster of prose.  Her writings seemed to flow forth in a steady and even-paced rhythm.

After two years at Radcliffe, she left in 1896.  She continued to write and published poems such as “Old Greek Folk Stories,” “The Wayfarers,” “Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” and “Marlowe” by 1901, in addition to dramas, novels, and short stories.

Making Changes

In 1899 she left the Morrill home in Dorchester to live on Linnean Street in Cambridge.  Undoubtedly this area, known as Avon Hill and laid out as a “Street Car Suburb” for the newly-affluent, gave new impetus for her writings.  In fact, she had written, “when my father died, we left New York and came to Dorchester … in Darkest Suburbs”.  Undoubtedly, Cambridge, with its proximity to both Harvard and Radcliffe, offered a more supportive and understanding environment than Dorchester, a newly-annexed town to the city of Boston.

Her travels to Europe began after her move, and she spent many months traveling through England, Scotland, Holland, Holland, and Belgium.  In 1901 she began a lecture position at Wellesley College, which lasted two years.  It was in 1906, however, that her life changed when she married Lionel Marks, professor of mechanical engineering at Harvard University.

The support of a husband allowed Josephine Peabody the luxury of the written word.  She entered and won, over 300 other participants, the Stratford Competition in England.  Her play The Piper was thought so talented and enjoyable that she received much attention at its premier in England.  It was after her marriage that her writings, primarily published by Houghton-Mifflin, continued on: “The Singing Man” in 1911, “The Wolf of Gubbio” in 1913, “Harvest Moon” in 1916, and “Portrait of Mrs. W” in 1922.

The couple also had two children.

Peabody’s writings, so extensive for one so young, came to an end all too quickly when she died in 1922.  Her reading public, probably unaware of her youth, was enthralled by her work; Peabody was able to crate the impression of realism, using the printed word.  She once wrote: “I am wildly happy while I am doing it, though it doesn’t for a moment dull the longing after color, and shan’t neither!”

No, the writing shan’t dull, nor even lose its color, for as long as “The Book of the Little Past” exists, we can retreat into the world illuminated by Josephine Preston Peabdoy.

Anthony Sammarco is a local writer and lecturer on the history of Dorchester whose articles appear regularly in the Community News. 

In addition to poems and other material published in periodicals, Peabody’s separately published titles include:

Old Greek Folk-Stories Told Anew, 1897

The Wayfarers, 1898

Fortune and Men’s Eyes, 1900

Marlowe, 1901

Singing Leaves, 1903

The Book of the Little Past, 1908

Piper: a Play in Four Acts, 1909

The Singing Man, 1911

The Wolf of Gubbio, 1913

Harvest Moon, 1916

Chameleon: a Comedy in Three Acts, 1917

Wings, a Drama in One Act, 1917

Portrait of Mrs. W, 1922

Diary and Letters, 1925

Collected Plays, 1927

Collected Poems, 1927

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