Skip to main content

The Massachusetts Miracle

March 2023
1min read

“With Bleeding
Footsteps” Mary Baker
Eddy’s Path to Religious
Leadership

by Robert David Thomas, Knopf, 351 pages, $27.50 . CODE: RAN-17

Most people know pretty much how they feel about Christian Science, and this major biography of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, doesn’t seek so much to diminish or elevate as to simply follow her life from a psychological viewpoint. The historian Robert David Thomas has spent the last fifteen years tracing Eddy’s rise from sickly child to mother of a worldwide faith; for much of that time he has labored in the guarded stacks of the Mother Church, which makes his the most complete portrait of Eddy and her followers by an outsider.

In February 1866 the then Mary Patterson slipped on a patch of ice and injured her back. Her subsequent recovery, behind which she discerned a divine influence, strengthened her Christian faith and became the founding moment for her church. After a childhood full of struggles with illnesses both real and imagined and of rebellion against her parents’ Calvinism, the Massachusetts housewife had already explored, among other things, homeopathy, hydropathy, and the teachings of the healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby before she fashioned a religious approach of her own.

Robert Thomas’s life of Eddy respectfully applies modern theories of child development to her gloomy early years on a New England farm. To Thomas, she is not “a monumental hysteric of classical dimensions,” as the critic Harold Bloom recently called her, nor is she the cynical autocrat Mark Twain saw. Mary Baker Eddy constructed a world view based on Christ and self-control that proved extremely attractive to millions. Thomas notes that her church was unique not only in that it was founded and led by a nineteenth-century woman but that its female members still outnumbered men “eight to one by the early 1970s.” This book will be a mild disappointment to debunkers; others will appreciate its careful, sympathetic study of a fascinating woman.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate

Stories published from "September 1994"

Authored by: The Editors

“With Bleeding
Footsteps” Mary Baker
Eddy’s Path to Religious
Leadership

Authored by: The Editors

Defend the Valley
A Shenandoah Family in
the Civil War

Authored by: The Editors

The Cold War
A History

Authored by: The Editors

Juba to Jive
A Dictionary of African-
American Slang

Authored by: The Editors

The Face of Mercy
A Photographic History of
Medicine at War

Authored by: The Editors

McElfresh Map Co.
Civil War Maps

Authored by: The Editors

Taking Charge
The Electric Automobile in
America

Authored by: The Editors

Long Time Ago
American Songs by Aaron Copland

Authored by: The Editors

This Is San Francisco
A Classic Portrait of the City

Authored by: The Editors

Knopf Guides

Featured Articles

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.