On October 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed legislation to construct a national network of research centers on intellectual and developmental disabilities. The John F. Kennedy Center was founded at George Peabody College for Teachers in 1965 as one of these twelve original centers funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
The construction on the Peabody campus of the Human Development Laboratory (now the Hobbs Building) and the Mental Retardation Laboratory (now the "One Magnolia Circle" building), dedicated in 1968, was made possible through funds provided by NICHD, a grant from the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, and matching funds from Peabody College. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center was a model in its emphasis in research on education, both to improve practice and to determine the effectiveness of educational interventions.
The merger of Peabody College with Vanderbilt University in 1979 was the culmination of years of collaboration that linked behavior with biology but on a limited scale. In 2001, the Kennedy Center became a university-wide center for research on development and developmental disabilities with faculty from Vanderbilt’s Schools of Medicine and Nursing, Peabody College, and College of Arts and Science. In 2005, the Center was designated a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, part of the national network of such centers in every state funded by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Health and Human Services. In 2008, the Center assumed administration of the Vanderbilt Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND), a national network of interdisciplinary training funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
Today, Vanderbilt Medical Center geneticists, neurobiologists, pediatricians and psychiatrists work hand in hand with psychologists and educators to prevent or ameliorate developmental problems. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is poised on the threshold of a new era in preventing and solving problems of human development.
President John F. Kennedy visited Peabody College in May 1963 to meet visiting professors on intellectual and developmental disabilities research supported by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, preceding the Foundation's matching grant in 1965 to establish the John F. Kennedy Center.