From the Collections: Mary Baker Eddy and the Wentworths
Mary Baker Eddy sought lodging in many locations—especially during the late 1860s and 1870s, following her discovery of Christian Science. One such place was the home of Alanson and Sally Wentworth, in Stoughton, Massachusetts. She lived there between 1868 and 1870.1
The Mary Baker Eddy Library offers windows on this noteworthy period in Mrs. Eddy’s life, through letters, reminiscences, and photographs. During her time in Stoughton, she honed her writing, teaching, and healing. The arrangement was mutually beneficial; as a guest she received gracious support from the Wentworths, while at the same time they benefited from her prayerful presence and guidance.
During that period she was known first as Mary Patterson. After separating from her husband Daniel Patterson, she resumed the use of Glover, her first married name. She had met the Wentworths through her first student, Hiram Crafts,2 and moved into the Wentworth home in September 1868. A year later she made the arrangement official, entering into a contract to teach Christian Science to Sally Wentworth, in exchange for room and board:
For value received in instruction which enables me to heal the sick and to teach others the science whereby I have learned to heal I hereby agree to give Mrs. M. M. Patterson board free from expense so long as, and whenever she requires it; and when she is absent from my home to pay her the sum of two dollars per week. This sum to be paid her on condition that I am practicing or teaching this science.3
The exchange was more than a business transaction, however. According to Lucy Wentworth, the family felt “as if an angel had come into our home.”4
Alanson Wentworth (1812–1882) was a Universalist and devotee of the Bible, who “ran a small farm and a part-time shoemaking shop.”5 Sally Talbot Wentworth (1819–1883) was a housewife and a “practical nurse” who used rubbing in her treatment of sick neighbors.6 Married in 1839, they had four children: Horace (1843–1930),7 Celia (1848–1871), Charles (1851–1920), and Lucy (1855–1951). At the time of this arrangement, Horace was already living outside of their home.8
According to accounts, Eddy worked and rested in a spacious second-floor room, tirelessly writing every day.9 Intently focused on understanding the scientific laws that she felt had healed her of life-threatening injuries in 1866, she was immersing herself in Bible study and prayer. Nevertheless, Lucy remembered, their guest also made time for leisurely enjoyment with her hosts:
In the evening when we were alone in her room together, we would either read or play games. Among the games she liked was backgammon. My brother Charles and his boy chums would frequently join our party and then the times would be more lively. We would have a game of hunt the thimble. The fun that went with it made these times anything but tame….10
Additionally, Lucy remembered the particularly close relationship she developed with Eddy:
While she lived with us, she was engaged in her first book. She was fond of young people’s society and made much of me. In fact I was her constant companion when her work was done for the day. Then her door would be unlocked and she was ready to relax. She would often come to meet me on my way home from school and we would go for a short walk around the neighborhood….11
Besides sharing joy and fun, she healed most of the Wentworth family at some point. Her prayers freed Alanson of sciatica and hip trouble, as well as alcohol and tobacco use.12 She also healed Sally of chronic throat disease, Celia of an undisclosed illness, and Lucy of deafness.13 Celia expressed her gratitude in a letter:
I read your letter before breakfast then sat up and eat and drank with the rest and have ever since. before that I had been living on toasted bread and going all day without drink. You don’t know how much good your letter did me. How can I ever pay you for all you have done for me? I will send you some money in this letter but that won’t begin to pay you but it is the best I can do this time….14
Eddy’s healing work not only helped the Wentworths but also began extending to people in the surrounding area. In 1869 she healed Charles Wentworth’s friend’s father of intestinal issues.15 After lecturing at St. Mark’s, a private boarding school in Southborough, Massachusetts, she also healed a student, Oscar Whitcomb. His roommate David Slataper remembered this:
Mrs. Patterson was lecturing on temperance and became interested in Oscar & I. Oscar was a nephew of Mr. Gough (a National Temperance lecturer) and her remarks frequently referred to Mind over matter. After the lecture was over hearing Oscar was sick, she went home with us and talked with our land lady, what was said I did not hear, but next day Oscar was back at his studies.16
On another occasion in 1868, Sally Wentworth faced a threatening situation involving an escapee from an asylum, and realized that the ability to deal with it surpassed her skill. She asked her guest to take over the case. Eddy subsequently recounted what followed, in a sermon:
He was a raving maniac, and they were in pursuit of him…. He took a chair, and poised it, but I looked upward, and he dropped the chair, and asked if I had something to say to him. I said I had, all from the spiritual side, The first thing is you have no disease of the brain; you need never have been in the insane hospital. Then came the comfort and relief, and the poor maniac fell on his knees before me; he was cured. I saw him last week, married, the father of children, a well man. He never was insane after that.17
Sally Wentworth often had good results in her healing practice, even earning up to $50 a week by the time Eddy left their home.18 But like many future students, she sometimes leaned on her teacher for treating difficult cases, rather than basing her prayers on the “divine Principle of [Eddy’s] science.” And because she still clung to her past methods (much to Eddy’s dismay), she fell back, even as her teacher continued to move forward in fully formulating the wholly spiritual basis for practicing Christian Science.19
Indeed, this was still a nascent period in the emergence of Christian Science as a practical healing system. As Eddy acknowledged, among other things it pointed up the need for a serviceable teaching manuscript:
My first students could not be representative Christian Scientists. At that date I had not written a pamphlet or book on Christian Science. These early students had no class book to study, and there was not a book extant on the subject of Christian Science. I needed better to understand my subject before writing it.20
She went on to note the uphill battle in understanding her subject well enough to elucidate it in written form:
At that date its advanced propositions were not fully lucid to my comprehension, and it was nine years after the Alpha of Christian Science that its vast problems were solved and sent forth in the text book, Science and Health, published in 1875, containing the Principle and practice of Christian Science.21
Eddy was not yet writing Science and Health while living at the Wentworth home. Neither is there certainty as to the exact manuscript(s) she worked on while living in Stoughton. But it remains evident that during this time something was taking shape that encompassed her growing understanding of Christian Science—steps on a journey.22 While she gained new insights, the Wentworths copied what she was putting on paper. Kate Porter, a cousin of the family, “did most of the copying of Mrs. Glover’s growing mass of manuscript.”23 Sally Wentworth also transcribed what her guest was composing.
Before the close of her stay, Eddy had completed a draft work of some kind, which she intended for publication. “My volume is finished,” she wrote to her friend Sarah Bagley, “and ready for the press & the outcry that will follow it; first the ridicule, then the argument, and lastly the adoption by the public but it may be long ere the public get it….”24 Parting from the family in 1870, she moved 70 miles north to Bagley’s home in Amesbury, Massachusetts.25
Eddy’s stay with the Wentworths represents a solid stepping-stone on her journey in articulating Christian Science. For 18 months they gave her more than a place to live and food to eat. Through them, she had the aid of a loving family—something she often yearned for but seldom received, especially from her own relatives. While the Wentworths were not the only ones to nurture her, their physical, emotional, and spiritual support played an integral part in the development of Christian Science. Perhaps their willingness to embrace her ideas helped to foreground Christian Science as a practical system of healing.
- Longyear Museum now owns and operates the Wentworth home as a historic house.
- Lucy Wentworth Holmes, “My Memories of Mary Baker Eddy,” 19 February 1936, Reminiscence, 1.
- “Contract, Eddy and Wentworth,” 11 August 1869, Subject File, Wentworth Family of Stoughton Massachusetts.
- Letter of Lucy Wentworth Holmes, 12 November 1936, quoted in Kenneth Hufford, Mary Baker Eddy and the Stoughton Years (Brookline, Massachusetts: Longyear Foundation, 1963), 4.
- Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (Boston: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), 224.
- Georgine Milmine, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), 121.
- Although the family members were supportive of Eddy overall, this was not the case with the oldest son, Horace Wentworth; he ardently opposed her work, both during her time with his parents and in later years, when he publicly attacked her. His publicized allegations became fodder for those who in subsequent decades sought to discredit Eddy and her work. See Peel, Years of Discovery, 228, and Alfred Farlow to Mary Baker Eddy, 22 September 1903, IC006cP2.05.031.
- Peel, Years of Discovery, 225.
- Lucy Wentworth Holmes, “My Memories of Mary Baker Eddy,” 2.
- Lucy Wentworth Holmes to Mary Beecher Longyear, 10 February 1922 (1922.008.0001). Longyear Museum Collections.
- Lucy Wentworth Holmes, letter, 10 February 1922, Longyear Museum collections.
- Alanson C. Wentworth, “Statement by Alanson C. Wentworth, Stoughton, MA Re healing by Mary Baker Eddy,” November 1868, Subject File, Wentworth Family of Stoughton Massachusetts.
- Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1998), 80.
- Celia and Sally Wentworth to Eddy, 15 March 1868, Subject File, Wentworth Family of Stoughton Massachusetts.
- H. L. Cobb to Alfred Farlow, 10 January 190, Subject File, Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) – Healings – Cases.
- David Lee Slataper to Clifford P. Smith, 20 July 1938, Reminiscence, 2.
- Mary Baker Eddy, sermon, 16 November 1884, A10088.
- Mary Baker Eddy, manuscript, n.d., A11065.
- See Peel, Years of Discovery, 228–229.
- Mary Baker Eddy, article, n.d., A10407, 7.
- Eddy, A10407, 7–8.
- Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy,184–185.
- See Peel, Years of Discovery, 229–230.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Sarah Bagley, 10 June 1869, L07798.
- In 1868 Eddy had briefly stayed at Sarah Bagley’s home before she moved in with the Wentworths.