Mary Baker Eddy
by Valerie Minard
Mary Baker Eddy (www.marybakereddy.org), born in rural New England in the 1800's, overcame many hurdles to become an acclaimed author, publisher, and religious leader whose impact is still being felt today. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame for "making an indelible mark on society, religion, and journalism." How did this independent New England woman rise from obscurity to become, as Human Life magazine described in 1907, "the most famous, interesting and powerful woman in America, if not the world, today"?
Eddy (1821-1910) was born and raised on a farm near Concord, New Hampshire, in the United States. Because of many bouts of illness, she received most of her education at home, sometimes with the help her brother, Albert, a student at Dartmouth College. This turned out to be an advantage, given the many restrictions on women's education in 19th century America.
She experienced some difficult years as a young woman. She was widowed (and pregnant) six months into her first marriage. Some six years later, her family, thinking her rambunctious son was too taxing for her, removed him from her and sent him to live with foster parents. Hoping to regain a stable home life for herself and her son, she married again, but eventually divorced her unfaithful second husband. In poor health during much of this time, she experimented with allopathic medicine and alternative therapies -- particularly with homeopathy. She was seeking an understanding of the relationship between mind, body, and spirit. Simultaneously, she continued a life-long study of the Bible searching to uncover its promise of spiritual healing.
In 1866, at age 44, in what marked a turning point, she was healed of a life-threatening accident through spiritual insights gained from the Bible. Over the next few years she studied the Scriptures deeply, looking for a spiritual system behind the healing works of Christ Jesus. She tested what she was learning by healing other people, including some considered medically incurable. She also taught others to heal using this system, which she later called: "Christian Science." She called it "Science" because she saw it as the provable, universal laws of God.
Eddy emphasized both the motherhood and fatherhood of God in her teachings. Later, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the women's rights activist, published "The Woman's Bible," also referring to God as the "Heavenly Mother and Father."
Because Eddy's ideas seemed so radical, challenging conventional, theological views, she faced much opposition and prejudice. For a number of years, she was forced to move frequently-as many as nine times within a twelve-month period. She even returned home to find all her belongings in the street on one occasion.
Although now in better health, the next few years would continue to be bumpy. Shunned by family, friends, and former students, amid financial insecurity, Eddy continued with authoring a book that she had been working on since 1872. Outwardly, her life hadn't changed much. Yet, according to biographer Dr. Gillian Gill "the changes in her life were inward and spiritual, but they were to prove decisive.... Contrary to all practical logic...[Eddy] in the early 1870's increasingly emanated a sense of power, authority, and confidence" (Gill, Mary Baker Eddy pp. 234-235).
In 1875, Mary Baker Eddy published the first edition of Science and Health (later renamed Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures http://www.spirituality.com; a major work on practical spirituality explaining how universal spiritual ideas can be applied to everyday life. It describes the spiritual healing system called Christian Science.
While the first part of Eddy's life seemed to be mostly searching, the second part of her life was devoted to sharing her ideas as she herself continued to explore their meaning and impact. She remained driven by an inner spiritual strength, which gave her the independence and stability to break through social, civil, medical, and theological barriers of the time. Her pioneer work continued, as she went on to found a church, a college, a publishing company, and a newspaper.
After her marriage to Asa Gilbert Eddy, she founded a church in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1879, serving as its pastor for about ten years. Later she ordained the Bible and Science and Health as the church's pastor. From the beginning, women, as well as men, conducted Church services. But, now, instead of offering their own sermons, they would read prepared passages from these two books. This practice continues today. There are churches in over seventy countries around the world, including many countries as unfamiliar with women preachers as was 19th century America.
Several years after founding the church, Eddy established the Massachusetts Metaphysical College to teach others her system of healing - including doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and homemakers. This was the first college, of this type, established in the United States and she taught hundreds of men and women over seven years.
Recently widowed, Eddy also started a monthly magazine called The Christian Science Journal, in 1883, and was its first editor. Eventually, she established a publishing company, and added a weekly magazine to its publications called The Christian Science Sentinel. And at age 87, she founded The Christian Science Monitor; an international newspaper, combating the yellow journalism of the day. Its motto being, "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind." Since then it has received seven Pulitzer Prize awards for its reporting.
Today, Eddy's ideas about spirituality and healing are as timeless as ever. Similar ideas are being explored in today's research by physicians and scientists. Her book, Science and Health, has sold over 10 million copies, with close to two million in just the last five years of the twentieth century. It has been translated into 16 languages and was voted by the Women's National Book Association as one of "75 books by women whose words have changed the world." Additionally, Science and Health is the main inspiration for the Web site www.spirituality.com, an interactive community exploring how spiritual ideas become practical solutions.
The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity www.marybakereddylibrary.org, open to researchers, scholars, and the public, allows access to hundreds of thousands of documents and artifacts. It houses one of the largest multi-disciplinary collections by and about an American woman.
Eddy, Mary Baker, "Retrospection and Introspection," The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy, Boston, Massachusetts, 1920
Gill, Gillian, "Mary Baker Eddy," Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts, 1998
von Fettweis, Yvonne Cache' et al., Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, The Christian Science Publishing Society, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998
www.spirituality.com - access the full-text of Science and Health; readers share first-hand accounts of how they have had spiritual healing by reading this book
www.marybakereddy.org - learn about upcoming events at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity
www.csmonitor.com - read the daily online edition of The Christian Science Monitor