Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) was the only woman to found a major Christian denomination.
One of six children, Mary loved her mother deeply, coming to believe that God had both male and female characteristics like those she experienced from her mother. Her stern father insisted that his daughters receive an education.
In the 1840s, she became a journalist, a difficult professional path for women, but her poems were soon being published. She married George Glover but after they moved to South Carolina, he died suddenly leaving her alone and with little money and a child.
Seven years of poverty followed. Her beloved mother died, and her father remarried soon, shocking Mary. She was sickly and could not take care of her boy and placed him with the family nurse who, unbeknownst to her.
She desperately needed a husband and married Daniel Patterson, a dentist, whom she met while trying to treat her severe dental problems. But he was a poor provider and a philanderer and soon the couple was in poverty. Mary began to exhibit hysteria and experience back and stomach pain.
The impoverished couple moved from town to town. Her husband did not allow her son to live with them and he was relocated to Minnesota. Mary began to turn away from the world.
After reading homeopathic materials, she began to consider ‘mental’ solutions to her illnesses and came to associate with Dr. Phineas P. Quimby who explored alternative ‘sciences’ of healing such as mesmerism, a form of hypnotism with clairvoyance. The good health she experienced with Quimby did not last and she began to develop ideas of her own. To Mary, God was at the center. He was the healer and the healing principle was Divine.
She came to rely on a God beyond human comprehension. In early 1864, she gave a well-received public talk regarding the metaphysical dimensions of healing and began to think that there must be a ‘science’ of Christianity.
Her life changed in 1866 when she slipped on ice, badly injuring herself. Helpless in bed that Sunday afternoon, she asked that a Bible be brought to her. While reading it, she felt flooded by the presence of Jesus Christ. When the doctor came the next day, she was up and about.
This was the beginning of her Christian Science.
Though forty-five and poor, she wrote extensively on her new analysis of the Bible. A group of students gathered around her to learn her ideas on healing and she built a practice around these ideas.
Her foundational text on her Christian Science, Science and Health, was published in 1875. Through many revisions this text was an audacious effort by a woman to set forth serous theological ideas despite her lack of any classical education.
She believed that the natural state of human beings was wellness and that sickness could be eliminated by following the laws and examples of Jesus. The soul was more powerful than the body. Her teachings shocked many Christians.
The Christian Science movement grew, and in 1879, the Church of Christ, Scientist, was founded, and a mother church built in Boston with Mary as its pastor. She became now the object of numerous public attacks. She was ridiculed by prominent Americans such as Mark Twain, who described Eddy as a, “sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel.”
Mary Baker Eddy’s life was an extraordinarily rocky ride from a sickly farm girl to being the only female founder of a major Christian denomination, as well as a deep theological thinker, charismatic teacher, administrator and leader.
See below for a biography of Mary Baker Eddy and a musical version of the Baha'i 'Healing Prayer'