Childhood & Early Years
Mary Baker Eddy was born as Mary Morse Baker in Bow, New Hampshire, on July 16, 1821. Her father, Mark Baker, a religious man from a Protestant Congregationalist backdrop, was a firm believer in final judgment. He was very strict, often trying to break Mary’s indomitable spirit with sticks.
Her mother, Abigail Barnard Baker née Ambrose, was also very religious; she once reprimanded Mary for picking up a pitch pine knot from a neighbor’s property, as it amounted to stealing and violated of the Ten Commandments. However, unlike her husband, known for his temper, she was very soft and kind.
Mary was born the youngest of her parents’ six children, having three brothers named Samuel Dow, Albert and George Sullivan, and two sisters named Abigail Barnard and Martha Smith. Among them, Albert was her favorite. She regarded him as her mentor and teacher.
As a child, Mary suffered from some kind of nervous problem, often falling on the ground, writhing and screaming. Sometimes, she was unconscious for hours, sending the family into panic. She also suffered from chronic indigestion, often eating only bread and vegetables, that too once a day, as a remedy.
From her childhood, she was opposed to the Calvinist doctrine of ‘predestination’. Instead, she believed in a loving God, often wondering if “He” was really so benevolent, then why the world was full of misery, turning to the Bible for an answer.
At the age of eight, she started hearing a voice, calling her three times by her name in an ascending scale. The phenomenon lasted for twelve months until she mustered enough courage to answer it. An avid reader of the Bible, she soon began to wonder how Jesus healed people.
She was mostly educated at home, studying moral science, natural philosophy, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew grammar with Albert. By the age of ten, she was familiar with Lindley Murray's Grammar and the Westminster Catechism. She also began writing verses from an early age.
In 1836, the Baker family moved to Sanbornton Bridge, now known as Tilton. There she entered Holmes Academy. Later, she began to study at home with Reverend Enoch Corser, under whose guidance she began developing her spiritual and intellectual maturity.
Possibly in 1838, she entered Sanbornton Academy, the private school run by Professor Dyer Hook Sanborn in Bridge. In the same year, at the age of seventeen, she was received into the Congregational church in Tilton, despite the fact that she was vehemently opposed to many of its doctrines.
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Grief & Infirmity
In 1841, Albert, her favorite brother and mentor, passed away. Mary now began writing verses, investigating into the metaphysical implications of death. When she heard that Albert’s political rivals were questioning his integrity, she wrote ‘Lines on reading an attack upon the political career of the late Albert Baker.’
In June 1844, she lost her first husband and returned to her father’s house, pregnant and penniless, lapsing into a state of chronic illness after the delivery of the child. For two years, she lived under the care of a household servant, trying to maintain herself by writing articles for various journals.
By 1846, she recovered enough to open a kindergarten school, but the venture was unsuccessful. Sometime now, she also worked as a substitute teacher in the New Hampshire Conference Seminary, which later became famous as Tilton School.
In 1849, her mother died. At that time, she was engaged, but her fiancé too died within three weeks of her mother’s death. Her father remarried in 1850. Although she was allowed to live with the family, her son was sent away to live with the family nurse.
In 1853, she got married for the second time, becoming ill soon after that, trying various methods of treatment, failing in each of them. Finally, in 1861, she visited a water cure sanatorium, where she heard about Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a magnetic healer.
Finding a Cure
In 1862, Mary, at that time Mrs. Patterson, traveled to Maine, starting treatment under Quimby from October. By applying his idea that the mind is the key to good health, she began to feel better. She soon started holding lengthy discussions with Quimby on the methods of treatment, eventually becoming his student.
In 1864, she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, with her husband. By then, she was well enough to take active part in social life, meeting friends, attending churches and writing for journals.
She also kept in touch with Quimby. However, she noticed that while she felt better when she was with him, her symptoms seemed to reappear as soon as she left his presence. Very soon, she started having reservations about some of his methods, especially about hypnotism.
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On the evening of February 1, 1866, she slipped on the ice while returning from a meeting with her friends. The doctor found her condition to be critical. On February 4, she asked for the Bible, opening it at ‘Matthew, 9:2’, where Jesus Christ cured a man with palsy.
As she read the passage, the truth behind Jesus’ healing became clear to her. Very soon, she got up and dressed, feeling far better than she ever had. She had gained a new insight and was hungry for more.
Founding of Christian Science
In 1866, Mary’s husband deserted her, forcing her to move in with her sister. But as she was required to give up her unconventional belief, she had to leave her sister’s home as well. For the next few years, she moved from place to place, living in poverty.
She spent her time on Biblical study, searching the scriptures, trying to find what she called the ‘Science of Mind’. Soon, she became certain that ailments could be cured through an awakened thought arising out of awareness of God and rejection of drugs. This, she called ‘Christian Science’.
She now delved deeper into her discovery, trying to find practical application, ready to apply it on anyone desperate for a cure. Sometimes, she was loved and welcomed, but in most cases, she was misunderstood and taunted.
In spite of being rejected, she never gave up, putting up her first advisement as a healer in ‘The Banner of Light’, a weekly spiritualistic journal in 1868. However, she always made it clear that she was not a spiritualist, clearly distinguishing ‘Christian Science’ from ‘spiritualism’, which took help from the spirits.
Although she was not spiritualistic and abhorred the idea, she knew many clients who believed in the concept and acted as a medium for them, sometimes out of goodwill and sometimes for money, possibly till late 1872. Concurrently, she gave lectures opposing spiritualism, weaning away many erstwhile spiritualistic clients.
She also taught small classes of students, while continuing to write. While her first student, Mr. Hiram S. Crafts, became an expert mental healer, she was disappointed with many others. Nonetheless, she continued to heal, teach and write, finishing ‘The Science of Man’ in 1870.
In February 1872, she began working on her most important book, having it published in 1875 as ‘Science and Health’. Later renamed as ‘Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures’, it became the central text of the ‘Christian Science’.
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In 1876, she established Christian Science Association as a fellowship and professional organization. In the following year, she married Asa G. Eddy, becoming Mary Baker Eddy and setting up her new home in Boston. It provided her with the right ambience for healing and teaching.
Establishing a Church
In Boston, Eddy’s lectures began to attract increasingly larger crowds. But the established churches continued to reject her theory. Undeterred, she founded the ‘Church of Christ, Scientist’ on August 23, 1879, becoming its first pastor.
Soon, her work began to blossom and in 1881, she opened the ‘Massachusetts Metaphysical College’ in Boston, where she taught Christian Science to 800 students until she closed it down in 1889. The tuition fee was $300 per student, a huge amount in those days.
In 1883, she launched ‘The Journal of Christian Science’, serving as its chief editor and also writing a number of articles for it. Later, some of these articles were collected and published in the form of a book, ‘Miscellaneous Writings’.
In 1884, Mrs. Eddy took her movement to Chicago, from where it spread to other parts of USA. But along with many followers, she also had some detractors, who accused her of plagiarizing Quimby’s work. Nonetheless, she continued with her own work.
In 1888, she opened a reading room, which began to sell the Bible along with her books and other publications. Very soon, other branches began to open similar reading rooms, and today there are more than 1,200 Christian Science Reading Rooms worldwide.
In 1892, she reorganized her church as ‘The First Church of Christ, Scientist’ and by 1894, the Mother Church in Boston had its own magnificent edifice built. In 1895, she gave up her post as the pastor, ordaining the Bible and ‘Science and Health’ in the position.
In 1898, she founded ‘The Christian Science Publishing Society’ for publishing her works and also the works of her followers. In the same year, she also launched ‘Christian Science Sentinel’, a weekly periodical written for the general audience.
In 1903, Eddy launched ‘Herald of Christian Science’ in response to a demand for a monthly publication on Christian Science in Germany. First published in German, it soon began to be published in twelve languages, catering to a worldwide demand for Christian Science literature.
Continuing with her work, she launched ‘The Christian Science Monitor’ in 1908. Thereafter, she busied herself with revising the ‘Manuel of the Mother Church’, which was published two weeks after her death in 1910.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1843, Mary Baker Eddy married George Washington Glover and moved to South Carolina with him. Within seven months of her marriage, her husband died of yellow fever and she returned to her father’s house, pregnant and penniless, giving birth to her only child, George Washington Glover II, on September 12, 1844.
After her mother’s death, her father married again and sent away her son. In 1853, she married Dr. Daniel Patterson, a dentist, with the explicit hope of being reunited with her son. But that did not materialize; they could not meet before 1879. She divorced Patterson in 1873.
In 1877, she married one of her patients, Mr. Asa G. Eddy, moving to Boston with him, at last finding peace and security. He died five years later, in 1882.
In her later years, Mrs. Eddy withdrew more and more from the activities of her church, spending quiet time in her home in Chestnut Hill, in the suburbs of Boston. There she died of pneumonia on December 3, 1910.
She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her memorial continues to attract popular attention. Around 1,700 Christian Science churches in 76 countries continue to carry her legacy to the present day.