- Historic Sites
Mary Baker Eddy
Unschooled and uncompromising, she founded her own faith
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
The further history of Mrs. Glover and of Christian Science reflects two intertwining objectives. She needed to have someone to depend on, but would never again allow herself to acknowledge depending on anyone as she had on Glover, on her father, on Patterson or on Quimby. She required, rather, that the man need her ; she would be attracted, over and over again, to some manly person, but she would have to dominate him, keep him at a distance, ultimately push him away. She would then feel that he had repudiated her and would perceive him as her enemy, struggling to exert his influence from a distance. The more susceptible she felt to caring for someone, the more she needed to perceive him as malign. And these men for whom she felt continuing attraction invaded her dreams and peopled the nightmares which were to torment her for the rest of her life. By contrast, the men whose presence she could bear were those who were devoted and tractable—men like Gilbert Eddy, a man ten years her junior, whom she proposed to and married, or Calvin Frye, whom she took to be her secretary when Eddy died, or Ebenezer J. Foster, whom she adopted at another later moment of crisis. Each arrangement permitted her to deny to herself how much she needed the man. Consciously, her trust was all confided to God’s healing power alone.
The other strand of need to which she devoted her life was the development of Christian Science. With creative and intuitive ingenuity, she made the most of every opportunity that the social order of her time offered.
America in the mid-nineteenth century was experiencing a profound shift in religious and moral attitudes. The Civil War, industrialization, and the growth of the cities and towns were accompanied by a shift of the center of agriculture in the North from New England farms to the wider and more fertile fields of the Midwest. The concomitant widening in the structure of society, away from the earlier agrarian democracy and toward greater extremes of wealth and poverty, contributed to a loosening of religious ties. In particular, fundamental, deterministic Protestantism seemed less relevant to an urban social order that confronted men and women every day with the inequity of life. To a largely agricultural community, bound to the land and the seasons and the accidents of nature, a God who required acceptance of the way things were was suitable, but a God who offered hope for the amelioration of one’s lot seemed more appropriate for those members of the new society who were struggling toward affluence.
As more people moved to the cities, the actual experience of life in the American family was changing. Husbands and wives were sharing fewer of the family activities; men were becoming more the absent bread winners .and women more the keepers of the home and children. These changes affected the psychological climate of the household and the patterns of child rearing as well. In addition, family size was decreasing, education was becoming more specialized and prolonged, and young men and women were marrying at later and later ages. Thus another conflict appeared: pressure was building for prolonged chastity. Early sexual experience became not simply inexpedient but downright immoral. It might have been not so much the prohibition of sexual expression as the moral conflict about it that made so many young people susceptible to various psychological symptoms, symptoms which often took the form of bodily discomforts and dysfunctions.
Although the regular medical establishment was beginning to recognize the existence of these claims of the body, a whole burgeoning field of mental healing—outside the regular medical establishment—sprouted and flourished in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This phenomenon offered great opportunity to women, particularly mature, genteel women with some education and some sense of the world; widowed or unmarried women, for example, faced perhaps with the need to earn a living but untrained—as all women were then—in any profession. These women could now become healers, requiring only the most cursory instruction, and if they had the proper personal characteristics and self-confidence, could become quite successful indeed. From the very first classes in the fall of 1870, the preponderance of Mary Baker Patterson’s students were women, and the career opportunity she offered them contributed in a significant way to the growth of Christian Science.
Her writing proceeded along with her teaching. She published her theories, at first largely derived from Quimby, in Science and Health , the first edition appearing in 1875. (Later editions aooeared under the title Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures .) In short order she founded a church of which she was the pastor; an institution of instruction, the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, of which she was, for practical purposes, the entire faculty; and a publicity organ, the Journal of Christian Science, of whose contents she was sole arbiter and major contributor.