Part 3 – A Woman Becomes a Diety (xii-xx)

This is part of a series of posts about Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind by Francis Dakin. For all posts on this topic, see the tag the Biography of a Virginal Mind

But the desire for glory has great power in washing the tincture of philosophy out of the souls of men. — Plutarch

The title of Part 3 neatly sums up Ms. Eddy’s rise, although in reading over my notes, I think the title: Ms. Eddy Becomes a Corporate Monolith would have been more apt, but far too literal for Dakin’s liking. Ms. Eddy was always a business woman of sorts, looking for a long-term way to generate income to escape her poor origins, and Christian Science seems to have been the key.

After leaving Lynn, Ms. Eddy goes to Boston and finds that Big City Life is well suited to spreading Christian Science.  Small town gossip is replaced by Big City Newspaper coverage and sensational doctrine sells. Ms. Eddy sets about working on her brand image, founding the Christian Science Journal, and opening the Massachusetts Metaphysical College of which she was the only teacher.

Eddy continues to work and expand her brand to large cities, namely Chicago and New York, and sends the Christian Science Journal far and wide. As Christian Science expands, so do accusations of plagiarism, and accusations of failed healings. To counteract the plagiarism charges, Ms. Eddy cracks down on unauthorized Christian Science literature – most notably a series of books by Ursula Newell Gestefeld (1), as well as pamphlets by various charismatic Christian Science pastors/ministers of the day (2).

It is worth noting here that throughout Part 3, Eddy is quite concerned with her brand image, and who is controlling how it is being disseminated. She does not take kindly to charismatic students teaching, as she fears their influence may someday overshadow her own. She is also quite upset at others expanding and interpreting her divinely inspired works. Some of the policies penned during this time — including those about obnoxious literature — remain in place to this day.

The failed healings were easily dismissed as well. One of the more prominent failed healings was that of a mother and child during childbirth. Mrs. Corner, having attended some of Ms. Eddy’s lectures attended her own daughter in childbirth in lieu of a doctor. Ms. Eddy’s statement to the Boston Herald of April 29, 1888 blames Mrs. Corner for not having taken the Metaphysical Obstetrics (3) course at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, and accuses Mrs. Corner of “quackery” (Dakin, 240). Dakin is quick to point out after the Corner controversy Ms. Eddy modifies her teachings, and engaged an M.D., Ebenezer J. Foster to assist with the Metaphysical Obstetrics classes (Dakin, 241).

During this time Ms. Eddy works to consolidate her brand. She starts work on the Mother Church/Branch Church structure. The Branch Churches have a democratic structure, while the Mother Church is tightly controlled by Ms. Eddy and a hand-picked Board of Directors. The first members were carefully selected by Ms. Eddy and her chosen students (4). In 1895, Ms. Eddy abolished pastors, she later went on to set term-limits for Readers, so that charismatic individuals could not challenge her position (Dakin, 259-266).

With her power consolidated and control assured, Ms. Eddy decides to retire to Concord, New Hampshire, and eventually purchases a home, hereafter known as Pleasant View. Although Ms. Eddy had picked Pleasant View as a place free from Malicious Animal Magnetism, M.A.M. (aka poor health and “fits”) continued to be an issue. Ms. Eddy’s persecution complex grew, and she began to compare her suffering with that of Christ (Dakin, 280). Luckily, Ms. Eddy never had a shortage of followers to call upon at whim to staff the house, maintain the grounds, and attend to her. It was considered a great privilege to work for “Mother” at her home.

Dakin concludes the section by informing us Ms. Eddy’s last scheduled public appearance before church members was in 1904 (Dakin, 287). This still leaves six years and two more sections of Dakin’s book to get through.

Further Reading

End Notes

  1.  Gestfeld wrote for the Christian Science Journal and in the late 1880s wrote three books, Mental Medicine? (1887), Ursula Gestefeld’s Statement of Christian Science (1888), and Science of the Christ (1889). These books brought her into conflict with Eddy, who accused Gestefeld of distorting her teachings. Gestefeld was dismissed from Eddy’s church and responded with an attack on Eddy in Jesuitism in Christian Science (1888). She later went on to be an influential founder/member of the New Thought Movement.
  2. Yes, Christian Science used to have individual ministers, it wasn’t until 1895 that Ms. Eddy changed over to The Bible and Science and Health are our only preachers. (Dakin 266)
  3. Click to access metaphysical-obstetrics1.pdf

  4. Many of the apostates went on to be influential in the New Thought movement, see Endnote 1, Getsfield.

2 thoughts on “Part 3 – A Woman Becomes a Diety (xii-xx)

  1. BCD says:

    Excellent piece, Kat. Mary Baker Eddy indeed had remarkable instinct for how to build a brand, protect it, and institutionalize it into an enterprise that would continue to pay her (and her organization) dividends.
    I had an “aha” moment while reading Dakin as to why Mary Baker Eddy ended the practice of pastors in branch churches. As you metioned, Eddy put a stop to personal pastors and decreed that henceforth Science & Health and the Bible together would be the pastor. But that is disingenuous. At every Christian Science service, readings from those books constitute the sermon. That is analogous to how a pastor in a mainstream protestant church delivers a sermon: i.e., a pastor will select a text from the Bible and interpret that text via commentary in the sermon. So, in a Christian Science service, it is Eddy who is interpreting the Bible passages via her writings in Science & Health. Thus, in truth she is the pastor, and will be for as long as the Christian Science church survives.
    Eddy could not afford to allow anyone to interpret the Bible other than herself. But more importantly, she knew that if she allowed personal pastors in branch churches, they would be able not only to interpret the Bible through the sermons they developed, but also interpret Science & Health. This she could not allow. And that is the reason Christian Science cannot evolve beyond Eddyism into something more modern and benign, even 100 years after Eddy’s death.

    • kat @ kindism says:

      In reading Dakin I noticed that there was an undercurrent of extreme paranoia that ran through Ms. Eddy’s religious and church creating processes, anyone who might be even the tiniest bit popular had to be stopped. She (rightfully) realized that if too many people started diluting her brand it would all fall apart – the New Thought movement which parallels CS in it’s development is no where near as organized, monolithic, or rigidly structured, there is no one “founder” – there’s a dozen or so and new inspired people regularly get added to to list.

      The wikipedia articles on New Thought and the offshoot Religious Science make for interesting reading.

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