View Image
Reproduced from the archive of The Mary Baker Eddy Library

Overview of 1872-1880

The Library recently completed a two-year project to publish the Mary Baker Eddy Papers from 1872 to 1880, including both the letters that Eddy wrote and those that were written to her. As we move on to the next phase of documents, from 1881 to 1884, we thought it would be helpful to provide an overview of the period from 1872 to 1880, and why it was selected as a starting point for the chronological publication of the Mary Baker Eddy Papers.

These years include a portion of what Eddy biographer Robert Peel refers to as “the stormy middle years of test and experiment.” (Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial, vii) There was the first publication of Eddy’s key work, Science and Health, a labor of love that involved financial hardship and frequent moves for Eddy. There was the betrayal of former students and related lawsuits. And then there were the everyday challenges as Eddy laid the groundwork for a larger Christian Science movement.

Understanding this period through the lens of the Mary Baker Eddy Papers provides a unique and valuable perspective: Eddy’s story is told in her own words and the words of her associates. The annotation that we offer on the documents of this time seeks to clarify and contextualize where we anticipate questions, while also allowing readers to come to their own understanding of events and ideas. This essay shares a few of the key events and themes found in the documents of this period, which may provide a useful starting point for exploring this portion of the Papers.

1872 was pivotal, and marks the starting point for our chronological publication, because in this year, Eddy started writing her textbook on Christian Science, Science and Health. Prior to 1872, Eddy had been practicing Christian healing through prayer and teaching her developing theology and metaphysics to a relatively small number of students in Lynn, Massachusetts. Eddy’s first public indication of her intention to write a full-length book on her metaphysical system occurred in 1872, during a newspaper controversy in the Lynn Transcript with a former student, Wallace Wright. She believed that Wright had misunderstood her teachings, and this may have been one of the reasons she felt a fuller treatment of her ideas would be helpful. In response to the newspaper attacks from Wright, Eddy wrote, in part, “I am preparing a work on Moral and Physical Science, that I shall submit to the public as soon as it is completed” (V05003Click link to view V05003 document in new window).

The road to publication took several years. The writing of Science and Health consumed much of Eddy’s time, and she struggled financially and moved frequently in order to find the quiet environment that would allow her to focus on her work. In 1874, Eddy moved eight times while working on her manuscript. The few letters we have from that year express a sense of fatigue. In one letter to a student Eddy wrote, “Tired to death, broken down with persecution, no home to rest in, invalids all round me, one, room only etc etc to work in This is my present lot” (F00350Click link to view F00350 document in new window). The publication of Science and Health at last came about in 1875. The first edition of Science and Health was 456 pages long, and it did not yet include the “Key to the Scriptures,” which is now part of Science and Health and included in the title. Eddy continued to work on Science and Health throughout her lifetime, publishing new editions as she revised her work.

She published a second edition of Science and Health during this period and also began working on a third. The second edition of Science and Health, published in 1878, is known as the "Ark Edition" because its cover design included an illustration of an ark. Eddy originally intended this edition to be over 500 pages and give a fuller synopsis of her metaphysical ideas, but the printer's proofs were so filled with typographical errors that Eddy could only salvage 167 pages. Now publishing under the name Mary Baker G. Eddy, she labeled this "Vol. II."

This period was also marked by challenges with Eddy’s students, some of which are revealed in her correspondence. In an 1872 letter to a student, Eddy wrote, “some of my students are fit for their calling, those love me and understand me and I have great happiness with them. Others of my students have tried to destroy even this harmony, but they cannot and God will fit them through the furnace” (L08302Click link to view L08302 document in new window). In another letter, she wrote, “I may as well jest over the absurd striplings that turn to rend me, to threaten me with disgrace and imprisonment for giving to them a discovery that money cannot pay for, but a little good breeding might have helped at least to reward the toil, and scorn, and obscurity, by which it was won for them” (F00344Click link to view F00344 document in new window).

She became convinced that a few students who rebelled against her teachings used mental means to cause her personal suffering and illness. In particular, Richard Kennedy is mentioned in many letters from this time period; she wrote of him in one letter, “I cannot tell you the fearful wrongs Dr R K is doing me in Lynn” (L05664Click link to view L05664 document in new window). In time, she would see that the only effective means of dealing with such “mental malpractice” was to not identify it with persons but to overcome it through a conscious awareness of the presence and power of God, divine Love. However, during the 1870s, her relationships with former students continued to be a source of conflict, manifested sometimes personally in the form of illness, but also in the form of lawsuits against her.

One example of a lawsuit involving a disaffected student began in March 1877, when Eddy’s student, George W. Barry, sued her for $2,700 ($61,764.47 in 2016) as payment for various services he had performed for her during the previous five years. According to the "Plaintiff's Bill of Particulars," these included copying manuscripts, running errands, and participating in the decorating and maintenance of Eddy's home in Lynn, Massachusetts. The case, filed in Salem, Massachusetts, was not settled until 1879, and Eddy was ordered by the Essex Superior Court to pay Barry $395.40 ($10,334.90 in 2016), plus $66.37 ($1,734.77 in 2016) in interest, and a referee fee of $60 ($1,568.27 in 2016), of which she was to recover half from Barry.

A bright spot during this period was Eddy’s marriage to Asa Gilbert Eddy. In a letter, Eddy wrote that he “at length won my affections on the ground alone of his great goodness and strength of character” (L08737Click link to view L08737 document in new window). Asa Eddy proved to be an invaluable source of support in dealing with some of these challenges Eddy faced, although he also became a target in what was perhaps the most prominent lawsuit. On October 26, 1878, the press reported that Eddy’s former student, Daniel H. Spofford, had been missing since October 15 and that there was concern for his safety. Even though Spofford had been in hiding and turned out to be alive and well, Asa Gilbert Eddy and Edward J. Arens were incarcerated in Boston's Charles Street Jail on charges of attempting to hire Spofford's murder. Eddy and Arens were defended in court by lawyer Russell H. Conwell, and the charges against them were dismissed. It is not known who ultimately originated the charges against Eddy and Arens, but some biographers have speculated that Richard Kennedy and possibly others may have been involved.[*]Editorial Note: For more information, see Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial, pages 50-58, and Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy, pages 257-270.

Despite these setbacks, the publication of Science and Health had begun to lay the groundwork for a much wider Christian Science movement. While the early Eddy correspondence we have is very limited both in quantity and scope, beginning in 1875 we see letters to and from a wider range of individuals with more diverse life experiences than those of Eddy’s Lynn students. There are letters from individuals around the northeastern United States about how they are being healed and their lives are being positively impacted through the reading of Science and Health. After reading Science and Health, a lawyer and businessman from Washington, D.C., wrote, “It seems a new era of my life is before—a want has been supplied ….” (382.50.004Click link to view 382.50.004 document in new window). Our mapClick link to view map document in new window of letters to Eddy shows a geographic representation of the growing interest in Christian Science during this time.

And yet, Eddy’s local students remained the bedrock of the early organizational structures of Christian Science during this time. The Christian Scientist Association, for Eddy’s students, was founded on July 4, 1876, followed by the Church of Christ (Scientist) in the latter part of 1879. Eddy was the first pastor of her church, and the collection of documents from this period contains many of the sermons she delivered as Pastor. Some of Eddy’s sermons from this time, such as “Bill of Rights for 1880” (A10082Click link to view A10082 document in new window) addressed directly challenges facing Christian Science, such as medical laws that would have limited its practice.

While the building of these local organizational structures would suggest a growing sense of stability for Eddy and Christian Science, uncertainty persisted. Even in 1879, while Eddy was forming the Church of Christ (Scientist), correspondence with two of her students, James Ackland and Arthur Buswell, reveals that the Eddys were considering a move to Cincinnati, Ohio.[*]Editorial Note: The Barry lawsuit had just been settled in Barry’s favor, so this may explain at least some of their desire to leave Boston. Eddy had inquired with Buswell about medical laws in Ohio (243.39.002Click link to view 243.39.002 document in new window), and in one letter, Asa Eddy wrote, “It is a heavy cross to us to stay here longer under the circumstances... The Lord permitting we intend coming to you at Cincinnati in early spring at farthirest [sic] and as much sooner as we can and leave the Church here sufficiently established as to assure us that it will hold its position” (L16164Click link to view L16164 document in new window).

Threaded through this time period is correspondence with Eddy’s son from her first marriage, George W. Glover, who was living in the Dakota Territory. In addition to letters, Glover came for a visit in 1879. It was the first time Eddy had seen her son since 1856. Topics discussed in their letters included Glover’s interest in mining speculation, his financial struggles, and his hope that Eddy and her husband would visit him or even possibly move to the Dakota Territory. For her part, Eddy suggested that Glover consider moving back east to work Asa Gilbert Eddy’s family farm in Vermont, as a more reliable path to financial and family stability than his various mining endeavors (L02082Click link to view L02082 document in new window). Eddy’s letters to her son also showed her interest in the well-being and upbringing of her grandchildren.

In late 1879 and early 1880, Eddy spent some time teaching and preaching in Boston before returning to her home in Lynn in the fall of 1880, where she continued to teach. Julia Bartlett was a student in Eddy’s September 1880 class and represented a new type of more dedicated student who would help bring greater stability to the Christian Science movement. Eddy’s letters from the end of this period reflect her efforts to nurture her promising new students while keeping up with the demands of a growing Christian Science movement. In a letter to Bartlett, Eddy wrote, “Write often and unless your letter needs an immediate answer, you need not be surprised if it does not get it I am so busy” (L07687Click link to view L07687 document in new window). At the close of 1880, Eddy took early steps to form the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, which was then chartered in 1881. Students in Eddy’s College classes during the 1880s were to come from many parts of the United States and return to their homes to practice Christian healing and teach Christian Science to their own students. This laid the groundwork for the remarkable growth of Christian Science during Eddy’s lifetime.

View Image

Back Text

Shown for development purposes only
For more information, see Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial, pages 50-58, and Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy, pages 257-270. The Barry lawsuit had just been settled in Barry’s favor, so this may explain at least some of their desire to leave Boston.