Did Mary Baker Eddy celebrate birthdays?
Recently we were asked if Mary Baker Eddy celebrated her own, or other peoples’, birthdays. The questioner also shared the research he’d already done before contacting us. It’s great to see patrons digging into our collections, Eddy’s published writings, and the Christian Science periodicals!
For example, he cited statements in the books Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896.1 He also found a related editorial from the Troy Press of Troy, New York, reprinted in the Christian Science Sentinel on July 30, 1910.2 Two letters from The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s archives seemed relevant to him, too.3
“I’d appreciate any additional context you may have on this,” he wrote, “including regarding Mrs. Eddy’s own celebration of her birthday or guidance to others regarding this.” Along those lines, here is some of what we found.
While Eddy acknowledged July 16, 1821, as the date of her birthday in the letters below, she did not celebrate it.4 On July 16, 1890, she wrote this to her student Helen Nixon:
This is what history will call my birthday. But it is sweet to know that I was never born of the flesh but of Spirit.5
In 1896 Eddy made a similar statement in a postscript from a letter to her student Joseph Armstrong:
Tomorrow is my birthday. So saith mortal mind[.]6
Although Eddy did not celebrate her birthday, she did receive a birthday gift from five of her students in 1897 and wrote a gracious note of thanks to them:
My birthday you have made not only historic, but sacred to the memory of five of my most useful and loved students. I have for thirty years endeavored to forget what is behind, but your gift of a beautiful silvery pitcher to me on this day makes it valuable, memorable; and that which is to be pressed forward to as a joy in memory. Accept my deep-felt thanks….7
Eddy occasionally sent acknowledgments and gifts to others on their birthdays. For instance, in September 1881 she wrote to Alice Sibley, after having given her a copy of the recently published 3rd edition of Science and Health:
I am pleased to hear the offering I made to your birth day is acceptable. Hope the good it will do will represent the results of that natal hour to yourself and the race[.]8
In 1886 Eddy gave a check for $500 to her student Frank E. Mason on his birthday and included a message. “Accept this birthday gift,” she wrote, “with a long drawn desire that every year shall make you wiser more noble and strong.”9
In his book The Destiny of The Mother Church, author Bliss Knapp included an account of Eddy’s response to some of his father’s “extreme” views, including “an abnormal sense about celebrating birthdays”:
So on his birthday, which came during her stay in Roslindale, [Eddy] sent [Ira O. Knapp] a present! She gave him her photograph in a hand-painted frame and a vase filled with beautiful flowers. She remembered Bliss Knapp also on his birthday, by sending him her favorite canary bird in a handsome brass cage. Mr. Knapp learned his lesson, and from that time was less extreme regarding ordinary human affairs. It must be remembered, however, that any one who went to the opposite extreme would also have merited Mrs. Eddy’s rebuke.10
Our records also show that The First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church) in Boston acknowledged the official birthdays of noted historical figures on several occasions, in response to a proclamation by the governor of Massachusetts. For example, between 1907 and 1910 it held a “Lincoln Day Service” on February 12, which was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Other Christian Science branch churches in the United States did so, too. The special Bible Lessons for those services were published in the Sentinel.
- Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 246; Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 225.
- “Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy, Founder of Christian Science …” Christian Science Sentinel, 30 July 1910, 947.
- See L05141 and L09969.
- The article “Signs of the Times” on pages 235–236 of Eddy’s book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors) recounts a specific incident in which she referred to birthday commemorations as “meaningless.”
- Eddy to Helen Nixon, 16 July 1890, L04135.
- Eddy to Joseph Armstrong, 15 July 1896, L02789.
- Eddy to Elizabeth Webster, Mary M.W. Adams, Ruth B. Ewing, Kate Davidson Kimball and Edward A. Kimball, 16 July 1897, L07460.
- Eddy to Alice Sibley, 3 September 1881, L11209.
- Eddy to Frank E. Mason, 24 August 1886, L13081.
- Bliss Knapp, The Destiny of The Mother Church (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1991), 43–44.