The Shakers & Ms. Eddy

This is one of several posts exploring the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Eddy, as well as what may have influenced the writing of Science & Health. This, and future posts dealing with this topic will be tagged MBEPlagerism.

Mother Anne Lee - via Google Image Search

Mother Anne Lee – via Google Image Search

In Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind (1), Dakin drops a paragraph pertaining to “what is perhaps the most important letter of the entire group, containing as it does a reference to the neighboring Shakers and the curiosity in which they were held.” (Dakin, p. 13). Dakin goes on to highlight some similarities in terminology, theology and practice, then he completely ignores the Shakers until p. 193 when they are briefly mentioned again, in reference to Ms. Eddy’s (and Ann Lee’s) views of themselves as the Woman in the Apocalypse (2).

The Shakers got a much earlier start and were well established in the New England area by the later part of the 1700. Ms. Eddy was coming of age in what the Shakers termed the Era of Manifestations (1837-1850) a golden age of Shaker growth and prosperity (3), so young Mary would have been undoubtedly aware (at least on some level) of their teachings.

I am not an expert on Shaker Theology so I hope the wikipedia page is at least somewhat accurate. The wikipedia page breaks it down into five main points that I have very briefly summarized below (4)

  1. Dualism – the idea of God as both father and mother
  2. First and Second Coming – Jesus was the male coming of God, while Ann Lee was the female coming of God
  3. Celibacy and Children – everyone is celebrate, children acquired through adoption.
  4. Gender roles – women and men are equally valued and equal in the sight of God
  5. Worship – unadorned meeting houses, services rather chaotic with much dancing and singing

Christian Science shares the dualistic father/mother God, and some have speculated with Ms. Eddy as the woman in Revelation, Science and Health/Christian Science is the second coming — I’m not totally sure how the theology works.

While Ms. Eddy does have unique views on sex and reproduction, she never takes it quite to the extreme of demanding celibacy, although she does take great effort to point out marriage should be tolerated but only until the Apocalypse (5).

Ms. Eddy also never takes a hard-line stance on gender roles, her chapter on Marriage could be (and has been) read both ways, with vague qualities of masculine and feminine — again, once the Apocalypse happens this is all something to be tolerated. For the most part, the Christian Science movement has been fairly progressive in allowing men and women to participate equally, many of the influential people in the early movement were woman, as was the founder of Principia College.

The only similarity that Christian Science shares with Shaker meeting houses is their unadorned nature — the exception being the Mother Church, which has amazing stained glass windows (6). Christian Science services are always devoid of dancing and generally devoid of spontaneous shaking.

Dakin draws a few more parallels between Ms. Eddy and Mother Ann Lee (7), but I have not been able to confirm his claims regarding her. According to Dakin, Lee proclaimed she had the gift of healing, and felt that she assumed the sins and sufferings of her followers. Lee governed her followers with fear and allowed them to believe she had mental powers which “could inflict torture.” Dakin goes on to state that the Shakers called their church “The Church of Christ” and their main organization the “Mother Church” (Dakin, 13).

While Eddy’s claims (healing powers, feeling suffering/malicious animal magnetism) and behavior (absolute power) do mirror Lee’s, Mother Ann Lee’s wikipedia page does not confirm or deny Dakin’s claims, and Dakin does not footnote these facts. While Dakin’s claims regarding Ms. Eddy are most certainly true, it does leave a certain amount of room for speculation as to how much, and what, Ms. Eddy may have borrowed from the Shaker movement.

Further Reading: “Mother” Ann Lee and the Shakers

    1. DAKIN, Edwin Franden., and Mary Morse Baker. EDDY. Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, London, 1929. Print.
    6. For a full analysis of the Mother Church’s stained glass windows I highly recommend, see also

3 thoughts on “The Shakers & Ms. Eddy

  1. mkhuggins says:

    This is very good work and a very good research project.

    I like Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere, once an idea enters the noosphere, anyone can access it and in fact, in science, there are often races between people (or today, institutions) to bring a new idea to fruition. Most people know that the first one gets famous, as Pasteur did, over at least one rival, but both would end up sharing the Nobel prize, so to speak- had they had them during Pasteur’s day.

    Just as many ideas were abroad in the 60’s, most people did not know where (or whom) they came from, but everyone just knew the vocabulary. I think MBE borrowed from everywhere she saw something she liked. Everyone else at the time was doing the same thing. They just learned the vocabulary of the time and used it for their own purposes,

    Had Mary had to write Science and Health as a thesis at an accredited institution, she would have had to study the literature of the day and recite in writing who contributed what ideas to the field and give the best quotes, fully referenced, before the she tried to add onto it, or bring to light some new facet. Well, I don’t think her thesis committee would have let her think she was original, and neither would she have thought so, had she actually studied the previous literature, instead of re-writing quotes out of newspapers.

    I think it is worth a thesis for someone else to do this work and then attach it to S&H as being her her sources. I just think she borrowed from the noosphere, or the collective unconscious, or maybe just the kind of conversations that were current at the time. Like the way a joke or saying goes viral. She was using the vocabulary that was viral at the time, perhaps positive she had a new twist.

    • kat @ kindism says:


      I have a running list of people that Ms. Eddy “borrowed” from, some deserve more credit than others, for example, I’d argue she (directly) borrowed more from Quimby than Hinduism. Many of her supposed sources are tedious reading (at best), or they have been translated and interpreted over the years (Hegal, Swedenborg, Kant, etc.), as well as the slightly more esoteric “inspiration” of the Free Masons (conspiracy theory alert!) and gnosticism.

      Eventually I do hope to cover them all — or at least the ones cited by multiple sources. I’ve written about Hegel, and have notes for Swendenborg and Quimby. I’ve got an upcoming post about one of her editors, Rev. Wiggin. I find I have to pace myself with these, as the reading is quite dense, and reading Ms. Eddy’s work is tedious and mind-numbing.

      I will have to look up Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere, it does sound like an appropriate place to pull S&H from.

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