Biography of John Brownell Peck

Naval officer, manufacturer, educator, philosopher, agriculturist are all essential in describing the activities of the late John Brownell Peck, of Rhode Island, who was a resident of Peace Dale at the time of his death. For fifty-seven years no resident of the State was better known or more highly regarded than he. Everything to which he put his hand and his heart profited by the contact. Highly educated himself, he never felt that his education was complete, and to attain still further knowledge he devoted his leisure hours to the sincere study of metaphysics, theology and philosophy. He was a fine mathematician and accountant. He was a brother of Dr. George B. Peck, a retired physician, of Providence, of William T. Peck, principal of the Classical High School of Providence, and of Annie S. Peck, famous explorer and author of books of travel and exploration in South America. The family is very old in Rhode Island and he was a most worthy descendant of a line of pioneer ancestors.

He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, June 30, 1845, and died in Peace Dale, July 10, 1923. He was a son of George Bacheler and Ann Power (Smith) Peck. Educated in the public institutions of Providence, he afterward attended Brown University and was graduated in 1866 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, receiving his Master’s degree in 1869. On October 10, 1866, he was appointed a third assistant engineer in the United States Navy, having been sent to the Naval Academy at Annapolis for instruction. Receiving his commission on June 2, 1868, he was assigned to duty on the U. S. S. “Mohongo,” then at Honolulu, Hawaii. He resigned his commission in June, 1869, and returned to Providence, where he entered the employ of Peck and Salisbury, coal dealers. From 1881 to 1894 he owned and conducted a grain and dye wood enterprise. He later became an accountant for the Solvay-Process Company at Peace Dale, where he continued until 1908, when he retired. From 1873 to 1880 he was principal of the Polytechnic Evening School in Providence and he also had charge of the famous Hannah Robinson Farm, where he lived from 1908 to 1913. He then returned to Peace Dale, where he lived in well-earned retirement for the balance of his life. For many years he was a member of the visiting committee on mathematics at Brown University.

John Brownell Peck married Mary Elizabeth Wheeler and they were the parents of four children, only one of whom is alive, Helen Elizabeth, who was born in Providence. She was educated in the schools of Providence and South Kingstown, and at Wellesley College, from which institution she was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1904, having majored in English. In 1924 Brown University conferred upon her the degree of Master of Arts, while she filled the chair of professor of English at the Rhode Island State College. Miss Peck was then appointed dean of women at that institution. After her graduation from Wellesley she became principal of the Gilmanton, New Hampshire, Academy, serving in that post in 1905-07; and from 1907 to 1915 she was instructor in English at the South Kingstown High School, in Wakefield, part of that time being vice-principal. In 1915 she came to the Rhode Island State College as librarian and instructor in English, and in 1919 was made assistant professor, rising to a full professorship in 1924 and dean in 1926. She is an able musician, being church organist and taking an active part in musical affairs connected with the college. She is also interested in dramatic art and for some years was coach of dramatics at the college. She took a special course at Oxford University and is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Fraternity and Sigma Kappa Sorority. Her other organization memberships include the American Association of University Women, which she serves as president of the local chapter; member of the American Association of Deans of Women; member of the National Association of Teachers of English and of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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