Peabody, Lucy (1861–1949)

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Peabody, Lucy (1861–1949)

American missionary. Name variations: Lucy McGill Waterbury. Born Lucy Whitehead McGill in Belmont, Kansas, on March 2, 1861; died in Danvers, Massachusetts, on February 26, 1949; second child and first daughter of John McGill (a merchant) and Sarah Jane (Hart) McGill; graduated from the Rochester Academy, 1878; attended the University of Rochester: married Norman Mather Waterbury (a Baptist minister), on August 18, 1881 (died 1886); married Henry W. Peabody (a businessman), on June 16, 1906 (died 1908); children: (first marriage) three, of whom two survived to adulthood.

Born Lucy McGill in 1861 in Belmont, Kansas, Baptist lay leader Lucy Peabody spent most of her childhood in Pittsford, New York, and in nearby Rochester, where the McGill family relocated in 1873. Following her graduation from Rochester Academy, she taught for three years at the local State School for the Deaf. In 1881, at age 20, she married Norman Waterbury, a Baptist minister, and two months later sailed with him to India under missionary appointment. There, they worked among the Telugus people of Madras until Waterbury's death in 1886. Left with three small children, Peabody returned to Rochester. (One of her children died on the journey home.)

In 1890, after a brief period of teaching, Peabody took a position as corresponding secretary of the Woman's Baptist Foreign Missionary Society and moved to its Boston headquarters. Simultaneously, she established the Farther Lights Society, a girls' auxiliary of the mission society. With her friend Helen Barrett Montgomery , she also promoted an annual day for united prayer for missions, an observance which today is known as the World Day of Prayer. In 1902, she was appointed chair of the Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions (an outgrowth of the New York Ecumenical Missionary Conference of 1900), a post she would hold until 1929. In this capacity, she helped produce a series of textbooks which were used by women's study groups, and by a network of 30 summer schools for mission study.

In June 1906, Lucy resigned from her Missionary Society post to marry Henry Wayland Peabody, the wealthy founder of a Boston importing and exporting firm (Henry W. Peabody & Company). Henry died in 1908, leaving Lucy financially secure and free to pursue her religious and philanthropic work. In the year of her husband's death, she founded Everyland, a missionary journal for children which she funded herself and edited until 1920.

In 1912, Peabody became a founding member of the Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children (formed under the aegis of the Interdenominational Conference of Woman's Boards of Foreign Missions in the United States and Canada), whose objective involved collecting, translating, and publishing magazines for distribution around the world. A year later, she became vice-president for the foreign department of the newly unified Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, an organization through which she transformed the Interdenominational Conference into the more effective Federation of Women's Board of Foreign Missions (1916). In conjunction with the Board of Foreign Missions, she made two world tours (1913 and 1919), inspecting various missions and mission schools. From 1920 to 1923, she led an extensive fund-raising drive to raise $2 million (upon which a $1 million pledge by John D. Rockefeller was contingent) to finance the establishment of seven women's colleges in the Far East. Successful in her efforts, she later served on the board of three of the colleges: the Woman's Christian College in Madras, India; the Women's Christian Medical College in Vellore, India; and Shanghai Medical College.

In 1921, in a dispute over ecumenism, which she favored, Peabody resigned as vice-president of the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. By 1927, disagreements concerning missionary qualification and modernist theology, which she opposed, caused Peabody to resign from the remainder of her denominational offices. Aided by a group of sympathetic Baptist missionaries in the Philippines led by her son-in-law, Peabody formed the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, serving as president of the new organization until 1934. From 1928, she also edited the association's periodical, Message.

During the 1920s, Peabody devoted considerable time in defense of prohibition, helping to form the Woman's National Committee for Law Enforcement, of which she was president for ten years. Lucy Peabody died of heart disease in 1949.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Peabody, Lucy (1861–1949)

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