I was looking for information on Marion Peabody because I was trying to complete her authority record while cataloging a book that had one of her designs. An authority record is set up by library catalogers to establish a standardized form of name that is used for all works by an author or other creator (in this case an artist). We do this so someone searching for a particular person does not have to search all the possible names that she might have used, but can find all her works under the standardized form.(1) The authorized form of her name currently is Peabody, Marion L., 1869-. I was looking around for her death date to add to this authorized form of her name. One of my go to places to find out dates for people is FamilySearch.org. I cannot recommend this site enough. It's free, easy to use, and mostly correct. I would still verify some of the information because part of this information is entered by people like you and me off the street, but when you have scanned documents (like in the case I'm about to discuss), it's hard to dispute the accuracy.
When I was looking for her death date, I came across her passport application from 1921. You can imagine my excitement if you know anything about passport applications from the 1920s! This document is detailed AND it has a photograph of the artist herself. Nothing makes binding designers more real to me than when I see a photograph of them, or a handwritten letter or something along those lines.
Looking at her passport application(2) I can verify that she was born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 19, 1869. Her father (who was not living at the time of the passport application) was named Charles K. Peabody and was born in Peabody, Massachusetts. Marion had been living in Italy from April 1912 until October 1920. By the time the passport application was filled out in 1921 she was living at 192 Brattle Street (which is still standing) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She last got a passport from the U.S. Embassy in Rome on July 31, 1920 which was surrendered and cancelled. She was attempting to return to Italy for "family business" and to "study," and she wanted to set sail on a ship named the Critic on May 12, 1921.
I love how descriptive (or non-descriptive) these passport applications were. In addition to a photograph you were supposed to have a written description. Marion Peabody was listed as:
Age: 52 years
Stature: 5 feet 5.5 inches
Distinguishing marks: none listed.
This is the photograph that appeared in the application (thanks to the FamilySearch site for making all this information available):
This is not how I imagined that Marion Peabody looked, but then again I'm not quite sure what I had envisioned. I can almost picture her leaning over a table creating the above binding design.
Once you start researching, you never know what you will dig up. Again, I say, thank goodness for technology and digitization efforts. Without people taking the time to make this information available online, I would have never been able to find this image or know about her living in Italy for so long without a lot of research in print resources.
I still haven't found her death date, but I haven't given up. It will take a little more digging and possibly some time for someone to digitize something that will point me to this date. In the meantime, I'll be content with finding cool clues along the way about Marion L. Peabody and the person she was.