From the Papers: Early Christian Science—a family affair

September 12, 2022

Church illustration from "New Church is Dedicated," the Kansas City Times, December 26, 1898. Portrait of Jennie B. Fenn by Merriam of Weeping Water, Nebraska, P00662. Portrait of Emma D. Behan, P00362. Image of "How Christian Science Has Grown in Kansas City" from the Kansas City Times, January 22, 1899.

Church illustration from “New Church is Dedicated,” the Kansas City Times, December 26, 1898. Portrait of Jennie B. Fenn by Merriam of Weeping Water, Nebraska, P00662. Portrait of Emma D. Behan, P00362. Image of “How Christian Science Has Grown in Kansas City” from the Kansas City Times, January 22, 1899.

Interest in Christian Science has often run in families, including the first days of the movement. In the American West, three women from one family were early adherents: Jennie B. Fenn (1848–1902), her sister Emma D. Behan (1854–1922), and their mother, Lucina F. Babcock (1821–1912).

Jennie B. Fenn

The first to practice Christian Science, Fenn was healed by A. A. Reed in early 1885. She completed Mary Baker Eddy’s Primary class at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College that March, as well as her Normal and Obstetrical classes in 1886 and 1887, respectively. Fenn joined the Christian Scientist Association in April 1885 and was a member of the National Christian Scientist Association. 

After Primary class, Fenn returned to Omaha, Nebraska, and is noted to have been the first Christian Science practitioner west of the Missouri River. In July 1885, she wrote a letter to Eddy, describing the need for more Christian Scientists in the region: “I am hopeful, and encouraged, with my work. How I wish some scientist was here, there is plenty of work for a half dozen scientist.”1 Her healings were not going unnoticed. “Mrs Fenn is doing a noble work in Omaha,” wrote Sarah E. Benford to Eddy.2 “I have suffered a great deal for the last 10 years,” wrote Lizzie L. Filbert to Eddy in December 1885, “and I feel that Mrs. Fenn is doing me much good.”3 

Fenn also brought Christian Science to Council Bluffs, Iowa, in the autumn of 1885. Within a year of returning west, her healing practice was booming. The following April she wrote to Eddy’s secretary Calvin A. Frye that “peopal [sic] tell me that I have mad [sic] C.S. very popular, and I feel that it is so, for I have all & more than I can do.”4 And that August she told Eddy, “[I] have been so busy with this great work which is largely increasing here in Omaha that I find my time more than occupied.”5 

The following year, in October 1887, Fenn taught the first Christian Science class in Omaha. She would eventually help organize First Church of Christ, Scientist, Nebraska City, as well as the Christian Science Association, No. 19 of Nebraska, serving as its President. She was listed in The Christian Science Journal as a practitioner and teacher in Omaha from 1885 until the time of her death.

Emma D. Behan

Fenn’s younger sister, Emma D. Behan, also became interested in Christian Science in 1885. She first studied with Eddy’s student Janet T. Colman, who, along with Fenn, helped establish Christian Science in Nebraska.

In March 1886, Fenn wrote to Frye, asking if Behan could study with Eddy: 

I do hope that Mrs Eddy can take sister, into her next class, she is doing splendid good work at Lincoln Nebraska Mrs Eddy will find sister as good a worker for the cause as ever was, She is very conscientious in everything that she undertakes.”6 

“Tell her to come by all means,” noted Eddy.7 Behan ended up studying under Eddy in four classes: Primary (1886 and 1889), Normal (1887), and Obstetrics (1887). She joined the Christian Scientist Association in April 1886 and was a member of the National Christian Scientist Association. 

That same year, Eddy asked Behan to relocate from Omaha to Kansas City, Missouri, to help grow the Christian Science movement in that area. Behan moved to Kansas City in June 1886—the first Christian Scientist to do so. She would remain there for the rest of her life, maintaining a Journal listing as a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. 

Once Behan was established in Kansas City, her workload quickly escalated. Patients and students met weekly at her home in 1888. The following year she organized and served as President of the Christian Scientist Association, No. 38 of Kansas City, also known as the Missouri Students Christian Scientist Association. In 1890 Behan became a founding member and President of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Kansas City. In 1893 a second church (also known as the Western church) was organized by Amanda J. Baird, and Alfred Farlow organized Third Church of Christ, Scientist (also known as the Mission church) in 1895. Both were students of Eddy. In 1896 Behan helped unify First Church and Second Church into one First Church. “It is with the deepest humility, thanks giving and love that we announce to you the union of the First and Second churches of this city,” Behan wrote to Eddy. “The coming together of these two bodies was complete, like Solomon’s Temple, without the sound of a hammer.”8 

The following year Behan helped merge First and Third churches into a single Kansas City church. February 1898, however, saw the Second (or Western) church once again pull away. Despite this schism, First Church constructed the city’s first actual Christian Science church building. The dedication of the new structure included addresses by Behan and Farlow, and its first services were held on Christmas Day, 1898.9 “I rejoice more than language can convey over your good work,” Eddy wrote to Behan in 1885. “O how I wish all my students were as willing to do it and improve their talents as you my precious daughter.”10

Lucina F. Babcock

Fenn not only sent her sister to Eddy; she also introduced her mother, Lucina F. Babcock, as well. She wrote to Eddy in August 1888, “My mother is a very simple, in-offensive woman, Will you take her and be as tender with her, as you were with me in my first lessons?”11 In November she contacted Eddy again: “I wrote you some time ago about my mother wishing so much to enter your class.”12 Although Babcock never studied with Eddy, she is listed in the Journal alongside Behan as a Christian Science practitioner at the Missouri Christian Science Institute, in 1898 and 1899. Previously, all three women had joined The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts)—Fenn in 1892, Behan in 1893, and Babcock in 1894. All would remain members for the rest of their lives.

Follow the family

The Mary Baker Eddy Papers collection provides insight into the work, struggles, and accomplishments of these three women, highlighting their contributions as a family to the early Christian Science movement. You can read more of the correspondence on the Mary Baker Eddy Papers website, by accessing the individual reference pages for Jennie B. Fenn, Emma D. Behan, and Lucina F. Babcock.

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  1. Jennie B. Fenn to Mary Baker Eddy, July 3, 1885, 277.41.006, https://mbepapers.org/?load=277.41.006
  2. Sarah E. Benford to Mary Baker Eddy, June 23, 1885, 522.57.009, https://mbepapers.org/?load=522.57.009
  3. Lizzie L. Filbert to Mary Baker Eddy, December 9, 1885, 070.17.021, https://mbepapers.org/?load=070.17.021
  4. Jennie B. Fenn to Calvin A. Frye, April 18, 1886, 943.92.011, https://mbepapers.org/?load=943.92.011
  5. Jennie B. Fenn to Mary Baker Eddy, August 22, 1886, 277.41.013, https://mbepapers.org/?load=277.41.013
  6. Jennie B. Fenn to Calvin A. Frye, March 14, 1886, 943.92.010, https://mbepapers.org/?load=943.92.010
  7. Emma D. Behan to Mary Baker Eddy, March 9, 1886, 481.55.001, https://mbepapers.org/?load=481.55.001
  8. Emma D. Behan to Mary Baker Eddy, December 2, 1896, 481.55.013, https://mbepapers.org/?load=481.55.013
  9. Third church would break away from First again in 1903. Second church built its own edifice in 1904.
  10. Mary Baker Eddy to Emma D. Behan, July 9, 1885, L07839, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L07839
  11. Jennie B. Fenn to Mary Baker Eddy, August 4, 1888, 277.41.021, https://mbepapers.org/?load=277.41.021
  12. Jennie B. Fenn to Mary Baker Eddy, November 2, 1888, 277.41.023, https://mbepapers.org/?load=277.41.023