Mary Baker Eddy
Mary Baker Eddy (July 16, 1821 – December 3, 1910) was the founder of Christian Science (whose mother church is The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts), an international newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, and several religious magazines still in circulation today. Though dependent and infirm until well into middle age, by the end of her life, she had become wealthy and a property owner, and was one of the most famous, controversial and powerful women of her time. More than two dozen biographies have been written about her life.
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
Eddy's chief written work, the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was included by the Women’s National Book Association on its list of "75 Books By Women Whose Words Have Changed the World.“ While the first edition of Science and Health gained limited notice, a decade later Eddy, and the orthodox-challenging form of Christianity she promoted, had gained notoriety in Boston where her teaching drew adherents from male-dominated orthodox churches, many of whose pastors lashed out in response.
Mary Baker Eddy first self-published Science and Health in 1875, and continued revising it for more than three decades until shortly before her death. Many sources overlook the importance of this book in its finalized form in 1910. It is well known as the foundational guidance for the Church of Christ, Scientist, but more than this, it is a work of deep religious and philosophical significance. She was a woman whose long life ended a decade before women had gained the right to vote in the United States and who managed to stir up questions about issues that so many male religious leaders and thinkers believed they had settled. In writing about the first edition of Science and Health, feminist scholar and biographer Gillian Gill homes in on this exact point:
"The real issue is the author's audacity, her daring to think that a woman like her, with her resources, could write, not the expected textbook on mental healing techniques, not the comfortable compendium of healing anecdotes, but a book that takes on the great questions of God and man, good and evil, and that rejects orthodox verities."
When quite young, Eddy traveled with her first husband from her native New Hampshire to North Carolina, and when he died she was left with no money and six months pregnant. She managed to make the 1400-mile journey back to family in time for the birth, where she lived with her parents. After her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage, she was forced, due to her poor health, to have her young son live with a family friend, who later married and moved with the boy to Minnesota. Eddy married for a second time, at least in part out of hope to provide a home for her son, but Daniel Patterson ended up forbidding it. He eventually deserted his wife, and she successfully sued for divorce. She later married a third time, a happy union lasting only five years until the death of her husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy, in 1882.
Following years of chronic ill health and efforts to regain it through a variety of curative methods of the day, at the mid-point of her life, she experienced instantaneous cure when, turning to a healing account of Jesus in her Bible, she was “filled with the conviction that her life was in God.”  She was healed not only of the aftereffects of a serious accident that occurred a few days before, but found lasting relief from other chronic ailments. With newfound health and deeper delving into Bible study, she became a healer, teacher, influential author, and leader of a rapidly growing new Christian denomination and church. In time she would accumulate personal wealth and found a newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, that over the next century would win seven Pulitzer prizes. She bought and sold land at a time when very few women did. In her old age, she fought off a large-scale attempt by others to declare her incompetent and seize control of her personal estate.
The MARY BAKER EDDY Library provides a timeline for more than thirty biographies of Mary Baker Eddy. Several of these stand out as particularly worth attention.
From 1909, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science by Georgine Milmine was created by aggregating a series of exposé articles published 1907 to 1908 in McClure's Magazine. According to Gillian Gill's extensive investigation of the Milmine work as background for her own 1998 biography, not only is Milmine's authorship in question, but the background sources for the articles were dominated by people who had brought lawsuits against Mrs. Eddy or had previously fallen out with her, and the true authorship of the series more likely belongs with some of McClure's well known staff (especially including the now famous Willa Cather).
Milmine's authorship was not challenged in print until 1993, when a letter was found implicating Willa Cather as author of parts 2-14 of the series. Cather appears not to have wanted any public association with the book, and the terms of Cather's will prevent a key letter about the matter from being published (although Gill paraphrases its contents). Ms. Gill notes the extraordinary influence of this early biography on subsequent biographies (such as Powell 1907; Dakin 1929; and Bates/Dittemore 1932), despite its own source materials being mostly lost and despite the complex mystery surrounding its authorship and the intentions and objectivity of its authors.
The promotion of this book touts it as being free from influence from the Church of Christ, Scientist (not for lack of trying), so it was, perhaps unfortunately, for a time considered to be the single trustworthy source of information on, especially, the first half of Mrs. Eddy's life. While some of the Milmine biography is neutral in tone, or even complimentary, the majority of it is extremely scathing. And the author was clearly targeting a female audience. The reader may be startled at several figures of speech taken from the realms of knitting and sewing.
The most extensive and illuminating biographical treatment of Eddy comes in three volumes by Robert Peel: Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (1966), Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (1971), and Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (1977). Summing up the trilogy in the New York Times Book Review, Martin E. Marty, who was professor and endowed chair of the University of Chicago Divinity School, observes that Peel “has begun to break the barriers between apologists and critics.” Prior to Peel’s 1,250-page biography -- the first to have full access to the extensive archives of the Church of Christ, Scientist -- readers could only choose between idealized or hostile portrayals of Eddy, neither of which had the scholarly integrity and reliability of what Peel spent two decades laboring to produce.
Stephen Stein, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus, in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University recognized Peel as “. . . the most distinguished biographer of Mary Baker Eddy. . . .”  Independent feminist scholar Gillian Gill, in her biography of Mary Baker Eddy, observed that “…Peel was probably the best mind Christian Science has attracted, and the biography he wrote is at least one order of magnitude better than any other”  Peel’s penetrating investigation into the details of Eddy’s quotidian existence is generously seasoned with striking spiritual insights and a capacious grasp of the wider social, political, and intellectual forces surrounding a life of tribulation, discovery, devotion, and authoritative leadership.
Published in 1998, Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill provides a balanced approach. The author was granted, after some patient waiting, access to archives that at that time were closely held by the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston. This now out-of-print, 713-page tome (150+ pages of which are notes, references and appendices) is one of the more clear-eyed examinations of Mary Baker Eddy's life, and contains much useful material about the condition and expectations for women in the latter part of nineteenth-century America. Taking essentially no stand on whether or not Mary Baker Eddy possessed a special healing ability, and making no judgements about her religion, the book examines Mary Baker Eddy as a person, a woman, and later a public figure. This has been viewed by some as a liability in that the historical significance and animating dynamic of Eddy’s life largely reside in what Gill neglects: religion and spirituality. It's one of those books where the readers may find themselves spending as much time reading the footnotes as the text itself.
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill, 1998. Plates between pp 284-285
- About The Christian Science Monitor online, last access 3/25/2021
- Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, 2006; last access July 27, 2020
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill, 1998, p. 217. ISBN 978-0738202273
- Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery, p. 197.
- The MARY BAKER EDDY Library, Timeline of MBE biographies, last access July 27, 2020
- The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science by Georgine Milmine (disputed); text originally from 1909; paperback, reprinted Jan. 28, 2013 by Hardpress Publishing; 564 pages; ISBN 978-1313288934
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill, 1998, Perseus Books, 713 pages. ISBN 0-7382-0042-5. See pp 563-568
- The MARY BAKER EDDY Library, Timeline of MBE biographies, last access July 27, 2020
- "New York Times Book Review," March 12, 1978.
- The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 75, No. 1, January 1982.
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill. Perseus Books, p. 581.
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill. Perseus Books. ISBN 0-7382-0042-5. 713 pages.
- Mary Baker Eddy by Gillian Gill, 1998, Perseus Books, 713 pages. ISBN 0-7382-0042-5. See pp 557-562, in which Gillian Gill describes over six pages the process of obtaining permission for the archives, and then actually using them (without being able to photo-copy anything).
- Understanding Mary Baker Eddy, a paper delivered by Thomas C. Johnsen at a conference of the New England American Studies Association, April 28, 2002, p.22.