Early Christian Science in Scotland: spotlighting the Ramsay family
As some people in the English aristocracy started to embrace Christian Science during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,1 so did the Scottish nobility. The women of the Ramsay family in Perthshire, Scotland, not only joined the Christian Science movement but were instrumental in organizing and growing First Church of Christ, Scientist, Edinburgh.
Lady Charlotte F. Ramsay (b. Stewart) (1852–1904) was born in Dum Dum, West Bengal, India. She was the second wife of Sir James H. Ramsay, 10th Baronet of Bamff, a historian whom she married in 1873. In 1896 she experienced healing by reading a copy of Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which had been lent to her. When she showed the book to her two stepdaughters, E. Mary Ramsay (also known as Mary) (1863–1951) and Charlotte L. Ramsay (1865–1953), they also became interested. In 1898, all three women studied Christian Science with Eddy’s student Julia Field-King, when she was teaching in England. They also joined The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts) on June 4, 1898; Lady Charlotte F. Ramsay was made an honorary member in September 1903.2
During the winter of 1899, the two sisters traveled to Boston, to learn more about Christian Science. While in America, they visited Eddy at her home in Concord, New Hampshire. The following June they also helped organize Christian Science services and a Reading Room in Mansfield, Massachusetts.3 They returned to Scotland in September, and that November were among eight people who organized First Church of Christ, Scientist, Edinburgh, along with its Reading Room. Mary was on the church’s executive board and was eventually elected its president. Charlotte was also on the church’s board and served as its First Reader. Lady Ramsay was also a member.
Marjorie Colles was a student of Eddy who taught and worked as a practitioner in Ireland and England. She wrote to Eddy about Lady Ramsay, observing, “she will gladden yr heart- She is in earnest, and reliable.” Colles thought Lady Ramsay would be helpful to the movement abroad. “Mother dear,” she asked Eddy, “could you ask her to join the class, it wd be a help to the work in Scotland.”4 It seems Eddy took that advice, for at her invitation all three Ramsay women took the Normal class in June 1901, taught by Eddy’s student Edward A. Kimball in the Board of Education of The First Church of Christ, Scientist. In a July 1901 letter to Eddy, Kimball described them as “excellent students” who were “well qualified to teach.”5 Charlotte wrote to Eddy that October, when she was back in Edinburgh:
The teaching me [sic] received there was to me indeed a revelation, & I cannot say what comfort & peace it brought me, how it calmed my fears, & showed me the nothingness of animal magnetism…. That class was like a glimpse of the kingdom of Heaven, & I came away with a sense of riches, of heavenly treasure.6
While in Boston, the three women had also attended the annual Communion service of the Mother Church on Sunday, June 23, 1901.7
Lady Ramsay was listed in the directory of The Christian Science Journal as a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Alyth, Scotland, from 1902 until her death in 1904. Both of her stepdaughters were also listed as Christian Science practitioners and teachers in Edinburgh from 1902 to 1948.
The Ramsay sisters wrote consistently to Eddy, in order to keep her informed about the growing Christian Science movement in Scotland. In May 1902 many people, including Lord Dunmore of the British aristocracy, visited Edinburgh to hear a lecture by William G. Ewing, who served on the Christian Science Board of Lectureship. Charlotte wrote to Eddy on May 14, 1902:
The lecture was beautiful, & we had a grand audience- Many came from all parts of Scotland & from the north of England, & so much love & thankfulness was expressed- Dear Mrs Colles, Lord Dunmore, & other of our London friends were with us. We had such a happy service on Sunday, our little hall taxed to the uttermost to hold all the people- This has been a glad day for Scotland, & we shall go on with renewed energy in our work, & with a nearer & dearer sense of the Omnipotence of Infinite Love-8
A few months later, in December 1902, Charlotte wrote to Eddy about changes to the church leadership:
Our annual meeting was held on the 13th & there have been some changes made on our Board of Directors. We know that this is a sign of progress, for it clearly points to activity, & to the sifting of the tares & wheat. Since this church was organized three years ago, there have been charges on the Board every year, & each time it has meant an improved condition.9
As the church and its leadership evolved, the surrounding community grew with it. In 1907 a committee that included Charlotte reported on the expanding movement in Edinburgh:
We are sure you will be glad to know that Christian Science is getting a firm hold in this country… Copies of our text-book have been accepted by eight of the principal libraries in this city, and by the prison, and the Sentinel is supplied every week to ten hotels and to the station waiting-rooms.10
In 1901 a donation from Eddy had started a building fund for the church in Edinburgh. Eight years later it was announced that a church would be erected. In a November 2, 1909, letter, Eddy congratulated Charlotte and the church board:
Like the gentle dew of heaven and the refreshing breeze of morn, comes your dear letter to my waiting heart, waiting in due expectation of just such blessedness, crowning the hope and hour of divine Science, than which nothing can exceed its ministrations of God to man. I congratulate you on the prospect of erecting a church building, wherein to gather in praise and prayer for the whole human family.11
Only a year later, church president Mary ceremoniously laid the first foundation stone for the building on July 1, 1910. In a July 1, 1910, letter to Eddy, she described the building plans:
Inside, our church will take the form of a hall of moderate dimensions, well lit and airy, with no decoration but handsome wood panelling to a considerable height, and a platform with carved balustrade. The Sunday School rooms are underneath, but with good windows as the ground falls pretty rapidly away to the Water of Leith. Outside, the church will be simple and strong, but dignified, as befits our old historic town the greatest Cause on earth.12
In addition to organizing and serving First Church Edinburgh, the Ramsay sisters wrote and published on the Christian Science movement. In 1903 Charlotte heard that Dr. James Hastings, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who compiled and edited voluminous works on religions, was preparing an encyclopedia that would include an entry for Christian Science. She proactively wrote to him, asking if he’d like her to obtain an accurate statement. He arranged for her to meet with his publisher, and she was invited to write the article herself. She drafted an article and sent a copy of it to Eddy, who provided corrections. When she saw the manuscript, Eddy wrote, “I like the general trend of your article.” But she also said, “What you wrote on the practice of Christian Science was not strong and profound enough.”14 Charlotte continued to refine the article with Eddy’s help, and it was printed in Hasting’s 1908 landmark Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.15
Mary served in the public relations role of Christian Science Committee on Publication for the East of Scotland. During this time she authored the book Christian Science and Its Discoverer, an early biography of Eddy intended to correct misunderstandings published in the press about her and Christian Science. Although she began the work in 1913, World War I delayed its publication until 1923. The Christian Science Publishing Society acquired the copyright in 1929 and republished it in 1935, after it underwent an extensive review.16 Both sisters also published numerous articles in the Sentinel.
The Ramsay sisters passed away in Edinburgh in the early 1950s, within two years of each other. Through correspondence in The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, which is annotated and displayed on the Mary Baker Eddy Papers website, we see their family’s story unfold. Lifelong church members, leaders, writers, teachers, and healers who communicated frequently with Mary Baker Eddy, these women were pivotal figures in Scotland’s early Christian Science movement.
- See British aristocracy and early Christian Science—the Murray family
- Another of Sir James H. Ramsay’s daughters, Agnata F. Butler (b. Ramsay) (1867–1931), also joined The Mother Church on November 1, 1898. A classics scholar in Cambridge, England, Butler was listed in the directory of The Christian Science Journal as a Christian Science practitioner from 1902 until the time of her passing.
- Charlotte L. Ramsay and E. Mary Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 15 August 1899, 229.37.003, https://mbepapers.org/?load=229.37.003
- Marjorie Colles to Mary Baker Eddy, 29 June 1901, 053A.16.019, https://mbepapers.org/?load=053A.16.019
- Edward A. Kimball to Mary Baker Eddy, 1 July 1901, 155DP2.25.009, https://mbepapers.org/?load=155DP2.25.009
- Charlotte L. Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 5 October 1901, 229.37.008, https://mbepapers.org/?load=229.37.008
- “Communion Service,” Christian Science Sentinel, 27 June 1901.
- Charlotte L. Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 14 May 1902, 229.37.010, https://mbepapers.org/?load=229.37.010
- Charlotte L. Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 19 December 1902, 229.37.012, https://mbepapers.org/?load=229.37.012
- “Letters to our Leader,” Sentinel, 23 March 1907.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Charlotte L. Ramsay and Board Of Directors First Church Of Christ, Scientist, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2 November 1909, L07682, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L07682. This has been reprinted in Eddy’s book The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 208.
- E. Mary Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 1 July 1910, 613AP2.62.005, https://mbepapers.org/?load=613AP2.62.005
- Adam H. Dickey to E. Mary Ramsay, 4 July 1910, V04218, https://mbepapers.org/?load=V04218
- Mary Baker Eddy to Charlotte L. Ramsay, 7 December 1904, L06115, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L06115
- Charlotte L. Ramsay to Mary Baker Eddy, 27 December 1904, 229.37.017, https://mbepapers.org/?load=229.37.017
- “Mary Baker Eddy: twentieth-century biographers series: an introduction,” Sentinel, 1 August 2013.