Mary Baker Eddy - A Biographical Sketch
by Henry and Dana Lee Thomas.

ON A CHILL OCTOBER NIGHT in 1867 there came a knock on the door of Mrs. Mary Webster, the wife of a retired sea captain who lived at Amesbury, Massachusetts. The good old lady opened the door and peered into the dark. A little elfin of a woman—she seemed scarcely more than a hundred pounds of frightened skin and bone—begged for admission. "Won't you let me come in, please?"

"Why, certainly!" Mrs. Webster led the bedraggled little creature to the fire and offered her a cup of tea.

Having emptied her cup, the stranger was about to leave. But Mrs. Webster urged her to remain. "I'm all alone here. My husband is away at Manchester. He's the superintendent of a cotton mill in that city. You can stay here with me as long as you like."

"But you don't even know who I am."

"You are one of God's creatures in distress. And so you are my friend."

The stranger smiled. A pitiable, grateful smile. "I shall be glad to stay. You see, I really have no home."

"You poor thing!" Mrs. Webster put a motherly arm around the little woman's shoulders. They had never grown to maturity, these lean and angular shoulders, but they were already bent with premature old age. And the face, too, was that of a woman well past her middle years.

The stranger nestled against Mrs. Webster. She seemed starved for human sympathy. "You've no idea how happy you've made me."

"Well, that's what we're here for." Mrs. Webster tried to conceal a tender heart under a matter-of-fact tone. "Oh, by the way," she added as an afterthought, "do you mind telling me your name?"

"Mrs. Glover. Mary Baker Glover."

It was only a temporary haven that Mrs. Glover was able to find in Mrs. Webster's home. One evening the old lady's son-in-law, William Ellis, came up for a visit from New York. "I'll have no vagabonds in this house!" he stormed, and put Mrs. Glover precipitately out of the door.

There was a lashing rain outside. For several minutes the outcast stood shivering in the deluge, and then she turned helplessly down the road to seek for her next uncertain shelter.

*  *  *  *  *

On a midsummer day in 1888 the same little wisp of a woman—through a later marriage she had now become Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy—stood before a convention of Christian Scientists in Chicago. The hall was packed to the doors. Many of the audience had come to jeer rather than to cheer. The "little lady of God" began her speech with a quotation from the first verse of the ninety-first Psalm: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

A hush fell upon the audience. All eyes were fixed upon that shining, eager, inspired face. A disembodied spirit, endowed with eternal youth. And the message that came from those eloquent lips—she spoke spontaneously, without notes—was a summons to a world-wide crusade for deathless, painless and wantless youth. "It is within yourselves, this power to abolish poverty and sickness and sorrow and the fear of death . . . All suffering, all evil, is but a nightmare, a wandering away from the truth, an error of the human mind . . . Abolish this error of evil thought, of hate, greed, lust, self-will, personal ambition, pride, arrogance, envy, jealousy and spite. For of such are the seeds of sickness and death . . . Return to the truth of Christ Jesus, the Scientist Supreme . . . Yield to the spirit within you, the spirit of gentleness and radiance, of beauty, courage, confidence, trust, hope, patience, lovingkindness, compassion and peace. Of such are the seeds of health and life everlasting . . ."

The audience sat spellbound. The reporters forgot to take notes. When she finished her speech, the entire throng swept forward to the stage. Men leaped upon the platform and lifted women and children after them. They fought to touch her hand, her dress, the very ground she stood upon. As for Mrs. Eddy herself, "she received their homage meekly and almost silently"—we quote from one of the contemporary newspapers—"as the people thronged about her with blessings and thanks, and strong men turned aside to hide their tears." Tears of gratitude, of ecstasy, of renewed hope. For what they had just heard was "not a lecture from human lips, but a message from a sublime heart."

What sort of person was this amazing little woman who within the space of twenty-one years had risen from the destitute to the divine?


SHE was born at the village of Bow, New Hampshire, of a Scotch-English ancestry of farmers who tried to "do justice, love mercy, and walk numbly with their God." The neighboring villagers referred to her as "a tiny baby with a long name" — Mary Ann Morse Baker. Her mother died early, worn out with the hardship of raising a family of three boys and three girls upon the stony soil of New England. Brought up under the "strong understanding and iron will" of her father, little Mary developed—it would be wrong to say grew up, for physically she never did grow up—into a nervous, willful, sickly yet lovable child. An affectionate, fanciful and thoughtful little tadpole of a child—"all head and no body." She was fond of corresponding with her older brothers, who had gone to seek their fortune in various parts of the country. "The family has left to attend a Sabbath funeral," she wrote in one of her letters to brother Sullivan—a composition as charmingly formal in style as it was charmingly informal in grammar, "and I am left alone to review past events . . . There is one thing if I have not improved it aright I have learned from experience to prize more perhaps than ever I did before that is Dear Brother the friendly advice and council you was ever giving me and the lively interest you ever manifested in my welfare but now when I sit down to my lonely meal I have no brother Sullivan to encourage me as formerly—but there is no philosophy in repining I must extend the thought of benevolence farther than selfishness would permit and only add my health at present is improving slowly and I hope by dieting and being careful to sometime regain it . . ."

From a sickly and lonely childhood she emerged into a sickly and lonely womanhood. Unable to take an active part in the external physical world, she became introspective, philosophical, aloof—an adventurer into the inner world of her own mind. She dreamed dreams and wrote verses—rather crude, it must be confessed—and hoped for the day when her health might permit her actively, rather than passively, to "extend the thought of benevolence farther than selfishness."

In the meantime she was married twice—to George W. Glover and to Daniel Patterson—lost her first husband through death and her second through desertion, gave birth to a son (by her first husband) and was compelled, owing to her illness and her poverty, to give him up to the tender mercies of a stranger, wandered over the rocky hillsides of New England in quest of a place to lay her head, and found herself at last, at the age of forty-six, an aimless bit of wreckage in the human driftwood of the dispossessed.

Mary Baker was rapidly completing the ordinary span of human life an obscure and total failure.

And then something happened. Whether this something was an external physical fact or a fancy within her own mind is a question for the scientists and the theologians to quarrel about. It is the business of the biographer merely to record the incident and to note the resultant transformation of a frustrated outcast into an inspired leader. This incident took place in Lynn, Massachusetts, on a midwinter day shortly after the Civil War. While walking on the slippery sidewalk, Mary Baker fell and painfully injured her spine. "The physician attending me," she wrote later on, "said I had taken the last step I ever should." But as she lay despondently on her bed she asked for her Bible, and her eye—through divine guidance, she maintained—fell upon a passage in Matthew ix, 2-7: "And lo, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed . . . and Jesus said to the paralytic, Be of good cheer, child; thy sins are forgiven . . . Arise, and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose, and went away to his house." In these words, declared Mary Baker, "I discovered the Science of divine metaphysical healing." The reading of this secret of divine healing produced so great a surge of power within her, she tells us, that immediately she "got out of bed and walked." And this is how the modern religion of Christian Science was born.


FOR THREE YEARS she withdrew from society, pondering upon her "great secret" and translating it into the language of a new Bible. The gospel of personal health through universal love. After her three years of secluded study she became once more a wanderer—this time, however, not to seek but to bring peace. A great change had come over her. Gone were her helplessness and her bitterness. Instead, there shone in her eyes a light like a benediction, so that "her very presence brought healing to the sick." The "temperamental little invalid" had became a gentle herald of mercy. "If ever there was an angel upon earth," wrote an acquaintance of Mary Baker's at that period, "it is this woman."

Yet her way to final recognition was still beset with misunderstanding and derision and the gossip of evil tongues. Her opponents called her a "stupid old humbug"; and even among her disciples there were those who felt disappointed to find her somewhat less perfect than the marble statue of a saint. She was far too human, they said, to be the messenger of the sublime. And they were not altogether wrong. Her works—and isn't this true of even the greatest of mortals?—were never able to catch up with her words. She still gave way occasionally to outbursts of temper, of petty jealousy, of foolish pride. And she had developed a pitiable hunger for the possession of material goods—a reaction, perhaps, from her earlier pathetic deficiency in these goods. She accepted payment for her spiritual ministrations. And in this procedure she was neither insincere nor inconsistent with her own teaching. A profound belief in the healing power of Christ Scientist, she maintained, will abolish not only your physical ailments, but your economic ailments as well. Ill health and an empty purse are evils to be ashamed of and to be got rid of. Economic security attained through honest methods, she insisted, is not only permissible, but desirable, for the maintenance of the happy life.

And so she found nothing wrong in the practice, and in the encouragement for her disciples to practice, the teaching of the principles of Christian Science for a specified fee. Together with her (third) husband, Asa G. Eddy, she moved to Boston (in 1882) and opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College for the training of practitioners in the new religious science of physical and spiritual well-being. For her textbook she used her own recently published outline of her new doctrine—Science and Health.

The college was a success from the start. For there was something magical in the personality of this little woman of sixty who had brought to the world the waters of a new fountain. The fountain of perpetual youth. There was a fascination about the very name of her new religion—Christian Science. It connoted the miracles of religion and the principles of reason. Indeed, it professed to identify religion with reason. "Christian Science is the scientific system of divine healing"—the one certain system of healing, said Mrs. Eddy, because it is the one method based upon the scientific law of truth. And this law of truth, asserted Mrs. Eddy, is the spiritual reality as opposed to the physical unreality of the world. Man is endowed with two sets of senses— the physical senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, which bring us false images of life, and the metaphysical sense of the spirit, which gives us the true essence of life. Our physical senses can recognize only external objects. For example, we can see the sky, touch a table, smell a rose, and so on. But these physical senses cannot recognize internal emotions. We cannot see hope, touch joy, or smell love. We know of their existence only through our metaphysical or spiritual sense.

Now parallel to our two sets of senses—declared Mary Baker Eddy—there are two kinds of science: the physical sciences, which are based upon our physical senses, and the metaphysical science, which is based upon our metaphysical sense.

And now there arises an obvious and important question. Which of these two kinds of science is based upon fact, and which upon falsehood? To this question Mrs. Eddy gives an emphatic answer. The only true science is the metaphysical science. The material world is a passing mirage; the spiritual world is an eternal reality. This eternal reality can reach our consciousness—declares Mrs. Eddy—not through the eye or ear or hand or mouth or any other physical organ, but only through the mind. The physical senses can come into contact only with destructible matter. The metaphysical sense finds itself in the presence of indestructible spirit. "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual."

And this spiritual essence of man—the Godlike and therefore the only real part of him—is the complete lord and master of his material body. Let us for a moment glance at these two selves: the material and the spiritual, which—according to the teachings of Christian Science—compose the personality of every human creature.

The material or "false" self. This is the ordinary, everyday part of you and me. It possesses certain external attributes—such as size, color, form, motion, irritability, expression, and the handicap of physical change and of physical decay. It is a rather pathetic sort of prisoner, bound by its body and subject to its environment—a helpless clod arising from the dust and destined shortly to return to the dust.

The spiritual or "true" self. This is the innermost, universal part of you and me. It exists in consciousness, in aspiration, in mind. It is bounded by no physical dimensions and subject to no material limitations. The scope of its activity is infinite. It can encompass the universe within a single thought and travel in an instant to the remotest regions of time and space. The attributes of this spiritual self are radiance, joy, freedom, power, love. No prisoner this, and no slow and bungling toiler who painfully fashions things only to see them destroyed. This real self is not subject to destruction, not subject to sin or sickness or death. For it is an essential and imperishable part of the Eternal Spirit of Life.

It is this Spirit of Life which dominates our existence, declares Mrs. Eddy. Let us only yield to it, and it will blot out all the errors and the terrors of the body, all its hatreds and jealousies and diseases and disharmonies and wars. The more we dwell upon the potency of the mind, the less distinct becomes the illusion of matter. (The modern physicists, it is interesting to note, seem to be tending toward this metaphysical idea as enunciated by Mrs. Eddy. These physicists, in their search for reality, have found it necessary to keep on refining matter until they now regard it as "consisting mostly of emptiness within which . . . electric charges are rushing about with great speed." The "material substance" of the universe seems thus to be dissolving into an immaterial force.)

Christian Science, therefore, teaches the supremacy of spirit over matter, of mind over body. This supremacy is an "established truth" based upon "the law of God, the law of good, interpreting and demonstrating the divine principle of universal harmony." Harmony in the individual, leading to perfect health; and harmony in society, leading to perfect love. "That day will come (may it come speedily) when all who have not yet awakened from the sluggishness of material life will have that joy . . . will feel love and goodness transforming them and their surroundings to a beauty and peace unknown before . . . Then will it be forgotten that there have ever been dreamed such things as sickness, bereavement, or estrangement; that there have ever been dreamed such things as poverty, toil, or disappointment." For on that day it will be recognized throughout the world that there is no death but a shedding of the old and useless material garment. On that day it will be recognized that the spirit alone is triumphant—the world-embracing spirit which "creates a life all goodness, all beauty, all friendship, and unfolds this life in endless variety of form, color, and action—forever."


THIS, in brief, is the doctrine that Mrs. Eddy taught to her disciples. Many of them insisted upon remaining not only her disciples, but her devoted slaves. They addressed her as Mother, they spaded her garden, mowed her lawn, mended her clothes, prepared her food, copied her manuscripts, and read her proofs. And the only reward that most of them required was the reassurance that she was happy. "It is we, and not you, who are in debt for services performed. For we have given you only a few idle moments of our time, but you have given us a new life."

One day the distinguished philosopher, Bronson Alcott, came to visit the Metaphysical College. He found a young man by the name of George Barry arranging the furniture in the parlor. Mr. Alcott engaged him in conversation. The young fellow showed a keen intellect and poetical imagination. "Do you mind telling me your age?" asked the philosopher.

"I'm five years old, sir." And then, in answer to Alcott's puzzled expression, he went on: "It's five years since I first met Mrs. Eddy."

So potent was the magic of her personality that even those who quarreled with her couldn't help adoring her. One of her earliest pupils, Daniel H. Spofford, had become mixed up in a lawsuit against her. Yet even in the midst of his bitterness he remarked that Mrs. Eddy had "brought into my life its most illuminating truth." Another of her pupils, Mrs. Augusta Stetson, was excommunicated from the Christian Science Church at the instigation—some people asserted—of Mrs. Eddy herself. "I gladly accept this crucifixion at the hands of my superiors," she declared. "It is but another step in my climb to our leader's own Christ-like level."

Her followers had indeed come to look upon their leader as a modern Christ. They flocked around her and worshiped her and offered her huge sums of money for the perpetuation of the Mother Church. This church was at first a small and unpretentious institution incorporated for the "transaction of the business necessary to the worship of God." But the institution grew with amazing rapidity both in size and in influence. On December 30, 1894, a new building for the Mother Church was dedicated in the "cultural center" of Boston. In the "Holy of Holies" of this new Temple there had been erected a shrine to the founder and leader of the "religion of perpetual health." The mantelpiece of this shrine, as the attendant explained to the hushed visitors, "is of pure onyx . . . the rug is made of a hundred breasts of eiderdown ducks . . . the wash room . . . is of the latest design with gold-plated pipes . . . the painted windows were inspired by the Mother's poem, Christ and Christmas . . ."

But even this magnificence failed to satisfy the followers of Mrs. Eddy. They were anxious to build a monument of still greater splendor as a token of their adoration for their leader. And so, in the summer of 1902, they began to raise a fund of two million dollars—this fund was rapidly oversubscribed—and four years later "the snow-white Temple of Bedford stone and granite reared its dome to a height of two hundred and twenty-four feet, one foot loftier than the Bunker Hill Monument."

The contemporary reporters vied with one another in their lavish descriptions of this, "the most imposing church edifice in the world"—with its seven marble and bronze staircases, its seventy-two bronze lamps each suspended by eight chains, its "pillarless and postless vault like the inverted bowl of the sky," its vast organ, its costly tapestries, its mile and a half of pews.

The dedication attracted "no less than forty thousand visitors" from every part of the country. In order to accommodate the throng, there were six separate services within a single day. At each of these services, thousands of devout voices sang the dedicatory hymn written by Mrs. Eddy herself:

  Shepherd, show me how to go
     O'er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow,—
     How to feed thy sheep;
I will listen for thy voice,
     Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
     All the rugged way . . .

But at all these services for the dedication of the Mother Church there was one absent. The eighty-five-year-old Mother Eddy. She was too feeble now to be present in person at the culminating triumph of her life.


TOO OLD to attend public functions, but not too old to go on with her inspired work. Under her constant and "youthful" leadership, her disciples organized an enterprising publishing company and five Christian Science periodicals—the Journal, the Quarterly, the Sentinel, the Herald, and the Monitor. This last publication—regarded even in skeptical circles as one of the cleanest of newspapers—first saw the light when Mrs. Eddy had already embarked upon her eighty-eighth year.

"This woman," observed her disciples, "is deathless."

"Or dead," countered her opponents. Indeed, the rumor had begun to circulate that Mrs. Eddy had already died, and that it was only her memory embodied into a mythical personality that was driving her followers into renewed endeavors. Soon this rumor began to assume an uglier form. "Mrs. Eddy," it was said, "is not dead, but out of her mind. Otherwise she wouldn't be so carefully shielded from the public gaze."

This rumor had finally become so insistent that the editor of one of the newspapers decided to track it down. He sent a reporter to demand an interview with her—a rather cruel ordeal for a tired old lady of eighty-eight. Mrs. Eddy met the reporter, assured him of her serenity and her sanity, and concluded the interview with the following words: "All that I ask of the world is time, time to assimilate myself to God. I would take all the world to my heart if that were possible; but I can only ask my friends to look away from my personality and to fix their eyes on truth."

But the public still kept persecuting her with its foolish demands for her presence. The divinity must needs come in person to receive her daily meed of prayers—and of deprecations. This public insanity finally compelled her to take up a caustic pen. "Since Mrs. Eddy is watched, as one watches a criminal or sick person, she begs to say in her own behalf that she is neither." And therefore, she went on to advise all and sundry, "please try to be composed and resigned to the shocking fact that Mrs. Eddy is minding her own business . . . and she recommends this surprising privilege to all her dear friends and enemies."

From that time on, Mrs. Eddy was left mercifully alone. She settled down to a quiet "assimilation with God," taking an occasional drive around the Reservoir in the beautiful Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill, and waiting patiently—"not for the end but for the beginning of life." And this "beginning of life," as she so hopefully expressed it, came in her ninetieth year—on a December night in 1910.

"Out of the fictitious world of the senses into the factual world of sense."

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