Mary Baker Eddy’s critics and supporters agree that she was a good businesswoman. When her husband, Daniel Patterson, deserted her in 1866, she was nearly penniless; by 1907 she had a net worth of over $1,000,000 (about $25,000,000 in today’s money).
Eddy knew how to save and how to invest. She began by purchasing mortgages with what she could save from the $200 that Patterson provided her annually for a few years after their separation, as well as from the tuition she collected from her students. By the 1880s, her main source of income was royalty payments from her books, such as Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
Eddy’s pattern of careful investing continued for decades, and she advised her students to do the same. She preferred United States, state, or municipal bonds. In 1894 she wrote to Clara M. S. Shannon that she would help her develop a nest egg by investing in municipal bonds, concluding “I have caused many of my students to thrive by doing as I have advised you above.”1 Again, when setting up a trust fund for children who had contributed to decorating the “Mother’s Room” in the Original Edifice of The Mother Church, she specified that the trustees should take the money she gave and “invest the same in safe municipal bonds.”2 Eddy regularly received lists of potential bond investments from a firm in Boston and reviewed them with care, considering demographic data as well as interest rates.
As a rule Eddy avoided stocks. In a transcript of the interview with the examiners at the time of the Next Friends’ Suit in 1907, she is quoted as saying that “she could not be tempted to invest in stocks, not even in preferred stocks, and that upon one occasion she had taken the advice of one of her students and had lost ten thousand dollars, and that she has never bought stocks since.” [see Michael Meehan, Mrs. Eddy and the Late Suit in Equity] When the plans were being made for the Concord State Fair to be held near her New Hampshire home, she offered to put in $100. When she realized that it was being organized as a stock corporation, however, she declined to participate as a stockholder and instead gave the Fair Association a gift in that amount.3 Of note, she had an especially strong aversion to mining stocks, at one point returning a gift of “mining stocks valued at $1000 each” and distancing herself in every way from them.4
Even while overseeing the publication of her books and the development of the Christian Science movement, Eddy wrote the checks on her account and made her own investment decisions. The examiners in the Next Friends’ Suit found her explanations of how she oversaw her business affairs—and specifically her investments—in “intellectual good order.”
Nevertheless, good business sense alone does not explain many of Eddy’s actions; while common sense and perseverance were the starting point, her decisions often rested on an intuition informed by her prayer, and to this end she was willing to act boldly and sometimes unexpectedly. Closing the Massachusetts Metaphysical College at the height of its popularity was one such example.
In an extended unpublished piece written in 1892 on the topic of faith in God vs. faith in matter, Eddy wrote about currency, wealth, material organization, and successful approaches to business.She observed that “the smartest business man is not scientifically a safe business[man]. He is not as smart as God while he thinks himself smarter & is quite unconscious of this thought.” She explained that efforts based on “material ways & means … are weak, vacillating, temporal, subject to divisions, factions, feuds & all the et cetera of mortal & material phenomena.” She referred to the “model Christian Scientist” as “the sharpest, the surest, the most successful business man or business woman that this earth can afford.” Then she concluded with this question: “Christian Scientists, what is your model? What is your model business man? The real Scientist who plants in kind—God who sows in Mind and reaps in Mind? Or he who begins with political economy, human plans, legal speculations & ends with them, dust to dust?”5