Prominently identified for more than half a century with the educational institutions of Rhode Island and esteemed in two hemispheres for his erudition and educational achievements, William T. Peck has held the important post of principal of the Classical High School of Providence since 1897. During his career in this office he is credited with sending more prepared students to Brown University than any other instructor, as well as hundreds to other colleges and universities throughout the country. No man stands higher in the educational field of the United States than he; few have attained his rank. His life has been seriously devoted to advancing the cause of higher education and his success is acknowledged throughout the land, while the esteem in which he is held by his fellow-citizens of this State is boundless and earned by his loyal devotion to his chosen field of endeavor.
He was born in Providence, July 25, 1848, a son of George B. and Ann S. Peck and attended the Graham Street Primary and Intermediate schools and the Benefit Street Grammar School. In the classical department of the Providence High School, under the instruction of Samuel Thurber and Edward H. Cutler, he prepared for college. As a boy he was deeply impressed with the stirring preparations for the military activities of the Civil War and was a marker for the First Ward Eight Guard, a home guard company. At his entrance examinations for college he won prizes in Latin and Greek and later in mathematics. Enthusiastic in his activities associated with the Gamma Nu Fraternity, he materially aided in bringing it to membership as a chapter of the Delta Upsilon society in 1868. In his junior year he became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and in 1870 was graduated with the highest honors of his class. For the following two years he served as principal of the Warren High School, then went to Europe, in order to study. He spent two terms at the University of Leipsic under professors George Curtius, Brockhaus, and other famous educators, and then attended lectures at the University of Berlin under Professors Mommsen, Haupt, and Ernest Curtius. Following this, nine months were spent in travel study, particular attention being given to Athens, Naples, and Rome, in order to prepare himself for teaching Latin and Greek. In the fall of 1874, he returned to Providence and became assistant to Mr. Cutler in the Providence High School, being elevated to the place of T. B. Stockwell, as teacher of the junior department when the last-named became Commissioner of Education, January 1, 1875. In March, 1881, he was made principal of the classical department and remained in that office until 1897, when the department was transferred to the new building and his title was changed to that of principal of the Classical High School. The school is now one of the largest college preparatory schools in the country and students have been prepared in it for ten or more different colleges. Mr. Peck has served as president of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction, the Barnard Club of Rhode Island Schoolmasters, and of the Brown University Teachers’ Association. He has been a member of the American Institute of Instruction, the Massachusetts Classical and High School Teachers’ Association, and the New England Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools. He served on the conference of modern languages under the “Committee of Ten,” and has been president and treasurer of the Rhode Island Alpha of Phi Beta Kappa. He edited Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Books I and II, in an edition of school classics, and Washington’s “Farewell Address,” and Webster’s “Bunker Hill Orations,” in an edition of English Pocket Classics. A Baptist in his religious affiliation, he has always been interested in Sunday school work and has served as superintendent of the Fourth Baptist, Warren Baptist, and Stewart Street Baptist Sunday schools, at other times having been a Bible class teacher. He has been secretary and president of the Rhode Island Baptist Sunday School Convention and of the Rhode Island Baptist Social Union. He is a life member of the Rhode Island Baptist State Convention and a life director of the Rhode Island Baptist Education Society.
William T. Peck married, in 1875, Georgie E. Smith, of Warren, Rhode Island, a descendant through her mother of the Burgess family of this State. Their children are:
- William B., a graduate of Brown University, class of 1897; now engaged in the jewelry business in Providence.
- Georgie S., a graduate of Brown University of the class of 1906.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.