Calvin Frye joined Mary Baker Eddy’s household on August 14, 1882; he was a thirty-six year old widower who had been working as a machinist in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He stayed with Eddy until her passing in 1910, serving as “a combination of secretary, accountant, household manager, and social organizer,” as Eddy biographer Gillian Gill describes him. He was a constant presence in Eddy’s life, a quiet, humble man who was deeply devoted both to her and to Christian Science.
Frye had a meticulous, exacting mind, and he left extensive records of his work with Eddy and her household. Among the collections of The Mary Baker Eddy Library are six boxes of financial record books that he kept, ranging from 1886 to 1917. Frye used account books, bank books, ledger books, and check books, each serving a different purpose and recording the credits and debits to Eddy’s accounts—from purchases of a few pennies up to thousands of dollars in income. After her passing, he kept track of the expenses for the caretakers at her Chestnut Hill home for a few years, and also kept track of his own personal expenditures.
The household accounts are complete from 1898 to 1910, and provide a wonderful glimpse into the daily life of Eddy’s households at Pleasant View and Chestnut Hill. One way to look into these books is by taking a snapshot of one moment in time. For, example, in a typical week at Pleasant View—beginning Sunday, July 23, 1899—we can see that the first expense of the week was for groceries, on Tuesday, July 25. Someone—probably Minnie Weygandt, serving at that time as Eddy’s cook—purchased steak ($0.25), flannel cloth ($0.25), haddock ($0.26), and lamb ($0.35).
Two things are immediately apparent about grocery purchases: the rate of inflation and the frequency and variety of purchases. Food appears less expensive in 1899 than today. Twenty-five cents would not buy a lot of steak at today’s prices! In fact, the sum total of food purchases for that week came to $8.92. According to an inflation calculator, that would be about $230.00 today. Also, we don’t know how many pounds of steak or lamb were purchased, for Frye only rarely recorded the quantities of items. But we do know that Pleasant View in 1899 was not a small household—so they were probably buying several pounds at a time.
The frequency of food purchases is also interesting. With little to no facility for preserving the food that was purchased, Weygandt or someone like her was venturing out nearly every day to buy fresh ingredients for meals. (Pleasant View was a working farm with a thriving vegetable garden; the household was eating far more than is reflected in the account books, and only purchased what they could not grow or raise themselves.) For example, in that same week in 1899, Frye recorded these purchases:
Tuesday—steak, haddock, lamb
Wednesday—raisins, cheese, lemons, melon, salmon, lamb, and squash
Thursday—leg of lamb, fruit, veal, codfish, cheese, steamer (clams)
Friday—veal, plums, melon, oranges, pears, berries, blueberries, butter
In that same week, Frye also recorded wage payments for four household workers (Minnie and Mary Weygandt, Clara Shannon, and himself), receipt of five telegrams, subscription payments to several magazines and newspapers, and purchases of household items such as toilet paper, lace, jelly jars, and beet seed.
Frye used slightly different accounting systems at different times; in July 1899 the left-hand pages were for debits, and the right-hand for credits, with each week reconciled on the bottom-right of the right-hand page. He divided credits further into a miscellaneous column and one that he labeled “Family,” and used for household expenses. He recorded expenses and income in pen, and then went back and reconciled accounts in pencil.
The account books are the most common and comprehensive of the financial record books that Frye kept, but they are by no means our only look at his recordkeeping. He also balanced check books at several different banks and recorded all bank deposits. Everything is carefully noted in his neat cursive script, providing us with a wonderful window into the seemingly mundane details of the inner workings of Eddy’s household. You, too, can examine these wonderful records if you visit us at the Library—they are available for researchers to view at any time.