Locally, it might be first and most easily recognizable as the haunted-looking house, beside the old graveyard. The very literary may know it as the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, Dr. Grimshawe's Secret -- hence its nickname, the Grimshawe house. What's noteworthy about Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, is its autobiographical content. It is regarded as perhaps the most autobiographical of all of Hawthorne's stories.
But, historically, there is even more to this house, and its then and current owners: the Peabody family. But we're here mainly to consider three sisters who were born here in early 19th century; Mary, Sophia, and Elizabeth Peabody. Ahead of their time, these three were considered to be lesser known contributors to the era of American Romanticism and Transcendentalist movement until recent efforts have called attention to their part in history.
Elizabeth, the oldest sister, was deeply involved in the Transcendentalist movement, having engaged with such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Amos Bronson Alcott, working at Alcott's Temple School in Boston. Elizabeth also opened a bookstore in Boston, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's West Street Bookstore, significant as the meeting place for a series of "Conversations," organized in part with fellow Transcendental teacher, Margaret Fuller. Later, in 1860, Elizabeth Peabody would open the first Kindergarten in the United States in her Beacon Hill residence at 15 Pinckney Street. This site is noted in our Literary Beacon Hill (Pinckney to Beacon Streets) walking tour.
The second sister, Mary, was an educator and author in her own right. After moving away from home at 18 to pursue a number of teaching opportunities -- including substituting for Elizabeth at Alcott's Temple School -- she would return home to marry education reformer Horace Mann. Together, the two took to encouraging and reinforcing philosophical and educational reform, both at schools and in the home.
Sophia, the youngest sister, was often ill as a young child, thought to have been a consequence of experimental medicines used by her father to treat her. Nevertheless, educated mainly by her sister Elizabeth, she grew and lived into adulthood. An illustrator and painter, she married Nathaniel Hawthorne on June 27, 1842. They would raise their family around Concord, Boston, and Salem, wherever Nathaniel could find work to support the family and his writing.
Megan Marshall's book, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, a work of incredible research, illuminates the lives of these three sisters. In addition to being awarded a Massachusetts Book Award, it was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist for the year 2006.
Please proceed down Charter St., and then Front St., before stopping at the intersection of Front and Washington St. Our next stop is across the street -- the Joshua Ward House.