The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Eddy, Mary Baker

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Eddy, Mary Baker
Edition of 1920. See also Mary Baker Eddy on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

EDDY, Mary Baker, discoverer and founder of the religion (theology and practice) which she named Christian Science, and founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Mrs. Eddy (at first Mary Baker) was born at Bow, near Concord, N. H., 16 July 1821, the sixth and youngest child of Mark and Abigail Baker. One of her ancestors, John Baker, was among the earliest settlers of the colony of Massachusetts Bay (at Charlestown in 1634). One of her great-grandfathers was Capt. Joseph Baker, who earned his title and gained an honorable name in the service of the colony of New Hampshire. Other soldiers of renown among Mrs. Eddy's relatives wrcre Capt. John Lovewell, hero of a war with Indians during the colonial period, Gen. Henry Knox of the War for American Independence, and Gen. John McNeil of the War of 1812. Her immediate family were people of considerable prominence and prosperity: her father a large landholder and well-known citizen; one of her brothers, Col. George Sullivan Baker, a public man and member of the staff of the governor of New Hampshire; another brother, the Hon. Albert Baker, a lawyer and member of the New Hampshire legislature; a cousin, the Hon. Henry M. Baker, a lawyer and member of Congress from New Hampshire.

The home in which Mrs. Eddy was reared was one of refinement and religious devotion. Her parents were members of the Congregational Church, and their hospitality was frequently enjoyed by the clergy of this and other denominations; and in the discussions of religious subjects which often occurred in the home Mrs. Eddy took an interest and participated in a manner that was seen to be unusual and far in advance of her years. To her mother and her brother Albert, however, Mrs. Eddy gave the most credit for her early training. Her mother was a woman of evident gentility and marked spirituality; her brother Albert a graduate of Dartmouth College, studied law with Franklin Pierce (afterward President of the United States), and became a young man of extraordinary promise before his decease at the age of 31.

As a child, Mrs. Eddy was frail and subject to illness. This kept her from attending school regularly; yet she was studious, and with the aid of tutors she gained an education equal to that which was then regarded as liberal. One of her tutors was the Rev. Enoch Corser, pastor of the Congregational church at Tilton, N. H., who supplemented his pastoral duties, sometimes by teaching in the local academy and sometimes by tutoring. Mr. Corser's contact with Mrs. Eddy began soon after she removed with her parents from Bow to Tilton in 1836 when she was 15 years old, and continued for six or seven years. He departed this life before she became famous, but an interesting and significant expression of his opinion was preserved and related by his son, Mr. S. B. G. Corser. Writing from Boscowan, N. H., in 1902, the younger Mr. Corser said: “My father, the Rev. Enoch Corser, was pastor of the Congregational church at Northfield and Tilton (then Sanbornton Bridge) from 1837 to 1843, with which the Baker family was connected. If I remember rightly Mrs. Eddy was about 15 when I first met her, she being several years younger than myself. I well remember her gift of expression, which was very marked. As her pastor, and for a time her teacher, my father held her in the highest esteem; in fact he considered her, even at an early age, superior both intellectually and spiritually to any other woman in Tilton, and greatly enjoyed talking with her. She and my father used to converse on deep subjects frequently. I remember her admiration for him, and she stands out in my recollection as his brightest pupil. He predicted for Mrs. Eddy a great future and spoke of her as an intellectual and spiritual genius.”

From her childhood or girlhood until more than a decade after her discovery of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy was a member of the Congregational Church. Applying for membership at Bow when she was 12 years old, she was examined and given some assurance of acceptance in spite of the issue she took with the then-prevalent doctrine of unconditional election or predestination. Whether she was formally admitted to membership at this time, or not until five years later at Tilton, is a question left uncertain by the records of these churches. It was at this earlier time, when Mrs. Eddy was about 12 years old, that she first experienced the power of prayer to deliver from sickness. Perturbed by the teaching that her brothers and sisters and she were already numbered among those who were to be saved or lost, she became ill with what the family doctor pronounced a fever. In her autobiography, ‘Retrospection and Introspection’ (p. 13), Mrs. Eddy thus related her healing: “My mother, as she bathed my burning temples, bade me lean on God's love, which would give me rest, if I went to Him in prayer, as I was wont to do, seeking His guidance. I prayed; and a soft glow of ineffable joy came over me. The fever was gone, and I rose and dressed myself, in a normal condition of health. Mother saw this, and was glad. The physician marvelled; and the ‘horrible decree’ of predestination — as John Calvin rightly called his own tenet — forever lost its power over me.”

Mrs. Eddy was married three times: first to Maj. George W. Glover, a native of New Hampshire who had removed to Charleston, S. C., and become a successful contractor and builder. His military title was gained by service in the militia and on the governor's staff in South Carolina. This marriage occurred in 1843, when Mrs. Eddy was 22 years old. It was dissolved in less than a year by the death of Major Glover. Ten years later (in 1853) Mrs. Eddy married Dr. Daniel S. Patterson, a dentist of Franklin, N. H. In 1873, after her removal to Lynn, Mass., and her discovery of Christian Science, she obtained a divorce from him on account of long-continued desertion due to his infidelity. In 1877, after she had begun the practice and teaching of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy married Asa Gilbert Eddy of Londonderry, Vt., the first of her students to engage in the public practice of Christian Science healing. He died five years later (in 1882) after having helped to sustain Mrs. Eddy during the period in which the Church of Christ, Scientist, was organized and the Christian Science movement encountered its first active opposition.

During Mrs. Eddy's first widowhood (1844-53) she developed her fluency of expression and her earning capacity by writing occasional verses and by contributing articles for periodicals on topics of public interest. Her ability of this kind was recognized by an offer of $3,000 a year (a large salary at that time) to become associate editor of the Odd Fellows Magazine, then edited by the Rev. Richard Rust, and by the inclusion of two poems from her pen in an anthology of poems and essays by New Hampshire authors which was published first at Manchester in 1850 and again at Boston in 1856. During the same period, Mrs. Eddy served as substitute teacher in the Tilton Academy and experimented with a school for children somewhat like the modern kindergarten. The period between Mrs. Eddy's second marriage and her discovery of Christian Science (1853-66) was one of following the fortunes of an inconstant or faithless husband and enduring the combined difficulties of desertion and ill health.

The course of events that led to her discovery of Christian Science was described by Mrs. Eddy as follows: “During twenty years prior to my discovery I had been trying to trace all physical effects to a mental cause; and in the latter part of 1866 I gained the scientific certainty that all causation was Mind, and every effect a mental phenomenon. My immediate recovery from the effects of an injury caused by an accident, an injury that neither medicine nor surgery could reach, was the falling apple that led me to the discovery how to be well myself, and how to make others so” (‘Retrospection and Introspection,’ p. 24). The accident here spoken of occurred in the evening of 1 Feb. 1866, as Mrs. Eddy was returning from a Good Templars meeting in Lynn, Mass., to her home in the suburb of Swamscott. The contemporaneous account of it furnished by the Lynn Reporter said that she fell on the ice, was taken in an insensible condition to a near-by residence, where she was examined by a physician and cared for during the night; that the doctor found her injuries to be internal and of a serious nature, and that she was removed to her home the following afternoon in a critical condition.

Mrs. Eddy has described her recovery from this injury as follows: “On the third day thereafter, I called for my Bible, and opened it at Matthew ix, 2. As I read, the healing Truth dawned upon my sense; and the result was that I rose, 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 ever since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence” (‘Miscellaneous Writings,’ p. 24). This incident was the occasion for beginning years of profound study of the Scriptures. Of this search and research she has said: “I must know the Science of this healing, and I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason and demonstration. The revelation of Truth in the understanding came to me gradually and apparently through divine power. When a new spiritual idea is borne to earth, the prophetic Scripture of Isaiah is renewedly fulfilled: ‘Unto us a child is born, . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful’ ” (‘Science and Health,’ p. 109).

The next events of major importance in the life of Mrs. Eddy were the writing and the printing of the textbook of Christian Science, ‘Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.’ After writing a statement of her discovery and finding no publisher for it, she became her own publisher and brought out the first edition of 1,000 copies (at Boston in 1875). Copies of this edition now sell at many times their original price, then they were difficult to sell at all, and were not always welcome as gifts. Yet the uncompromising idealism and absolute spirituality of the book demanded and gained attention. A. Bronson Alcott was the first to give Mrs. Eddy a comforting assurance for the future of her book, and Wendell Phillips said: “Had I young blood in my veins, I would help that woman.”

At the outset, it was Mrs. Eddy's expectation, and for years her hope, that the existing churches would welcome her interpretation of Christianity, proved as it was by the restoration of Christian healing. A considerable number of ministers did accept her offer to this profession of free admission to her classes, and some of them invited her to speak in their pulpits. In course of time, however, it became evident to Mrs. Eddy that a distinct church was necessary to preserve Christian Science intact, for the benefit of that and future generations. Accordingly, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, was organized at Boston in 1879. Four years later another step was taken when Mrs. Eddy founded the first of the Christian Science periodicals, The Christian Science Journal. During the ensuing years, the teaching of eight classes of students annually, weekly preaching to eager congregations, editing the monthly organ of her church, and heading all the activities of the expanding Christian Science movement, made her life one of the most eventful in the annals of men. And though Mrs. Eddy, in her later years, trained others to relieve her of some detail and duty and to become the directors of Christian Science affairs, she continued to be the active leader of the movement she instituted until her decease (at Newton, Mass., 3 Dec. 1910). It was characteristic of Mrs. Eddy that she devised the bulk and residue of her estate to be used “for the purpose of more effectually promoting and extending the religion of Christian Science as taught by me.” Her principal writings are ‘Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures’ (1875); ‘People's Idea of God’ (1886); ‘Christian Healing’ (1886); ‘Retrospection and Introspection’ (1891); ‘Unity of Good’ (1891); ‘Rudimental Divine Science’ (1891); ‘No and Yes’ (1891); ‘Church Manual’ (1895); ‘Miscellaneous Writings’ (1896); ‘Christ and Christmas’ (1897); ‘Christian Science versus Pantheism’ (1898); ‘Pulpit and Press’ (1898); ‘Messages to The Mother Church’ (1900, 1901, 1902); ‘Poems’ (1910); ‘The First Church of Christ, Scientist,’ and ‘Miscellany’ (1913). Consult ‘Life’ by Wilbur (4th ed., Boston 1913).

Clifford P. Smith.