Today is the birthday (1821) of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Eddy wrote the movement’s textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (first published 1875) and founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. She also founded the Christian Science Publishing Society (1898), which continues to publish a number of periodicals, including The Christian Science Monitor (founded in 1908).
Eddy was born Mary Morse Baker in a farmhouse in Bow, New Hampshire to farmer Mark Baker (d. 1865) and his wife Abigail Barnard Baker, née Ambrose (d. 1849). She was the youngest of the Bakers’ six children.
Eddy and her father reportedly had a volatile relationship. Ernest Sutherland Bates and John V. Dittemore wrote in 1932 that Baker sought to break Eddy’s will with harsh punishment, although her mother often intervened; in contrast to Mark Baker, Eddy’s mother was described as devout, quiet, light-hearted, and kind. Eddy experienced periods of sudden illness, perhaps unconsciously in an effort to control her father’s attitude toward her. Those who knew the family described her as suddenly falling to the floor, writhing and screaming, or silent and apparently unconsciousness, sometimes for hours. Robert Peel, one of Eddy’s biographers, worked for the Christian Science church and wrote in 1966:
This was when life took on the look of a nightmare, overburdened nerves gave way, and she would end in a state of unconsciousness that would sometimes last for hours and send the family into a panic. On such an occasion Lyman Durgin, the Baker’s teen-age chore boy, who adored Mary, would be packed off on a horse for the village doctor …”
Eddy described her problems with food in the first edition of Science and Health (1875). She wrote that she had suffered from chronic indigestion as a child and, hoping to cure it, had embarked on a diet of nothing but water, bread, and vegetables, at one point consumed just once a day.
She also wrote in her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection (1891) that, when she was eight, she heard a voice call her name, which she interpreted as a religious experience:
For some twelve months, when I was about eight years old, I repeatedly heard a voice, calling me distinctly by name, three times, in an ascending scale.
One day, when my cousin, Mehitable Huntoon, was visiting us, and I sat in a little chair by her side, in the same room with grandmother, — the call again came, so loud that Mehitable heard it, though I had ceased to notice it. …
That night, before going to rest, my mother read to me the Scriptural narrative of little Samuel, and bade me, when the voice called again, to reply as he did, ‘Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.’ The voice came; but I was afraid, and did not answer. Afterward I wept, and prayed that God would forgive me, resolving to do, next time, as my mother had bidden me. When the call came again I did answer, in the words of Samuel, but never again to the material senses was that mysterious call repeated.
Eddy was badly affected by four deaths in the 1840s. She regarded her brother Albert as a teacher and mentor, but he died in 1841. In 1844, her first husband George Washington Glover (a friend of her brother Samuel’s) died after six months of marriage. They had married in December 1843 and set up home in Charleston, South Carolina, where Glover had business, but he died of yellow fever in June 1844 during a business trip to Wilmington, North Carolina. Eddy was with him in Wilmington, six months pregnant. She had to make her way back to New Hampshire, 1,400 miles by train and steamboat, where her only child George Washington II was born on 12 September in her father’s home.
Her husband’s death, the journey back, and the birth left her physically and mentally exhausted, and she ended up bedridden for months. She briefly tried to earn a living by writing articles for the New Hampshire Patriot. She also worked as a substitute teacher in the New Hampshire Conference Seminary, and ran her own kindergarten for a few months in 1846.
Then her mother died in November 1849. Eddy wrote to one of her brothers: “What is left of earth to me!” Her mother’s death was followed three weeks later by the death of her fiancé, lawyer John Bartlett. In 1850 her son was sent away to be looked after by the family’s nurse; he was four years old by then. Sources differ as to whether Eddy could have prevented this. It was difficult for a woman in her circumstances to earn money and, according to the legal doctrine of coverture, women in the United States during this period could not be their own children’s guardians. When their husbands died, they were left in a legally vulnerable position.
Eddy married again in 1853. Her second husband, Daniel Patterson, was a dentist and apparently said that he would become George’s legal guardian; but he appears not to have gone ahead with this, and Eddy lost contact with her son until he was in his thirties:
My dominant thought in marrying again was to get back my child, but after our marriage his stepfather was not willing he should have a home with me. A plot was consummated for keeping us apart. The family to whose care he was committed very soon removed to what was then regarded as the Far West.
After his removal a letter was read to my little son, informing him that his mother was dead and buried. Without my knowledge a guardian was appointed him, and I was then informed that my son was lost. Every means within my power was employed to find him, but without success. We never met again until he had reached the age of thirty-four, had a wife and two children, and by a strange providence had learned that his mother still lived, and came to see me in Massachusetts.
In October 1862, Eddy became a patient of Phineas Quimby, a magnetic healer from Maine. From 1862 to 1865, Quimby and Eddy engaged in lengthy discussions about healing methods practiced by Quimby and others. The extent to which he influenced her is much debated. Originally, Eddy gave Quimby much credit for his hypnotic treatments of her nervous and physical conditions and initially thought his brand of mesmerism entirely benign.
Quimby was steeped both in the Protestant Christianity of his time and the science of the Industrial Revolution. He wrote in 1864,
The wise man, in like measure … knows that the light of the body or natural man is but the reflection of the scientific man. Our misery lies in this darkness. This is the prison that holds the natural man, till the light of Wisdom bursts his bonds, and lets the captive free. Here is where Christ went to preach to the prisoners bound by error before the reformation of science.
It is evident that Eddy and Quimby worked together, appreciated one another, and learned from one another, although they often disagreed. Quimby later said that he learned more from Eddy than she did from him. Eddy clearly respected him and, at one point, referred to him as an “advanced thinker” with a “high and noble character.” However, she later disavowed the hypnotic aspect of Quimby’s methods. She refutes hypnotism in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, calling it “mere deception practiced by those who aim to control the patient.”
Eddy wrote that she experienced a healing on February 4, 1866, after a fall in Lynn, Massachusetts on February 1 caused a spinal injury:
On the third day thereafter, I called for my Bible, and opened it at Matthew, 9:2 [And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.]. As I read, the healing Truth dawned upon my sense; and the result was that I arose, dressed myself, and ever after was in better health than I had before enjoyed. That short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence.
She wrote in her autobiography Retrospection and Introspection that she devoted the next three years of her life to biblical study and what she considered the discovery of Christian Science: “I then withdrew from society about three years,–to ponder my mission, to search the Scriptures, to find the Science of Mind that should take the things of God and show them to the creature, and reveal the great curative Principle, –Deity.”
Eddy became convinced that illness could be healed through an awakened thought brought about by a clearer perception of God and the explicit rejection of drugs, hygiene, and medicine, based on the observation that Jesus did not use these methods for healing:
It is plain that God does not employ drugs or hygiene, nor provide them for human use; else Jesus would have recommended and employed them in his healing. … The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love.
Eddy separated from her second husband Daniel Patterson, after which she boarded for four years with several families in Lynn, Amesbury, and elsewhere. Frank Podmore wrote:
But she was never able to stay long in one family. She quarreled successively with all her hostesses, and her departure from the house was heralded on two or three occasions by a violent scene. Her friends during these years were generally Spiritualists; she seems to have professed herself a Spiritualist, and to have taken part in séances. She was occasionally entranced, and had received “spirit communications” from her deceased brother Albert. Her first advertisement as a healer appeared in 1868, in the Spiritualist paper, The Banner of Light. During these years she carried about with her a copy of one of Quimby’s manuscripts giving an abstract of his philosophy. This manuscript she permitted some of her pupils to copy.
Between 1866 and 1870, Eddy boarded at the home of Brene Paine Clark who was interested in Spiritualism. Séances were often conducted there, but Eddy and Clark engaged in vigorous, good-natured arguments about them. Eddy’s arguments against Spiritualism convinced at least one other who was there at the time—Hiram Crafts—that “her science was far superior to spirit teachings.”
Eddy divorced Daniel Patterson for adultery in 1873. She published her work in 1875 in what was titled Science and Health (years later retitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) which she called the textbook of Christian Science, after several years of offering her healing method. The first publication run was 1,000 copies, which she self-published. During these years, she taught what she considered the science of “primitive Christianity” to at least 800 people.
In 1877, she married Asa Gilbert Eddy; in 1882, they moved to Boston, and he died that year. Eddy devoted the rest of her life to the establishment of the church, writing its bylaws, The Manual of The Mother Church, and revising Science and Health. By the 1870s she was telling her students, “Some day I will have a church of my own.” In 1879 she and her students established the Church of Christ, Scientist, “to commemorate the word and works of our Master [Jesus], which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” In 1892 at Eddy’s direction, the church reorganized as The First Church of Christ, Scientist, “designed to be built on the Rock, Christ….” Some years later in 1881, she founded the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, where she taught approximately 800 students between the years 1882 and 1889, when she closed it.
Her students spread across the country practicing healing, and instructing others. Eddy authorized these students to list themselves as Christian Science Practitioners in the church’s periodical, The Christian Science Journal. She also founded the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine with articles about how to heal and testimonies of healing.
In 1894 a building for The First Church of Christ, Scientist was completed in Boston (The Mother Church). In the early years Eddy served as pastor.
Eddy died of pneumonia on the evening of December 3, 1910 at her home at 400 Beacon Street, in the Chestnut Hill section of Newton, Massachusetts. She was buried on December 8, 1910 at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hundreds of tributes appeared in newspapers around the world, including The Boston Globe, which wrote, “She did a wonderful—an extraordinary work in the world and there is no doubt that she was a powerful influence for good.”
Christian Science has only very general views on food (no alcohol, coffee, or tea), and the Christian Science Monitor these days publishes a wide range of recipes. Here’s a link to the Monitor’s cooking pages with recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches (with apple and arugula) and lentil soup – my kind of basic cooking when I want something soothing.
http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Food/Stir-It-Up/2016/0412/Smile-it-s-National-Grilled-Cheese-Day These recipes are perfectly in line with Eddy’s youthful vegetarianism and her desire for a healthy diet.