From the Collections: Mary Baker Eddy’s interview with Arthur Brisbane
In her day, the media presented varying accounts of Mary Baker Eddy to their readers. Some agreed with the New York Herald’s report that she was a “Veiled Prophet” shrouded in mystery. Others disagreed with this assessment.12
Eddy was of course aware of both the negative and the positive portrayals of her in the daily press and the Christian Science movement, and snippets of these articles can be found in some of the scrapbooks kept in her household. While she had kept scrapbooks from an early age, as demands on her time increased, members of her staff maintained them on her behalf.
The Mary Baker Eddy Library collections contain 33 scrapbooks that were compiled either by Eddy or a household member. Their contents include newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and letters. The items pasted in these pages not only tell the story of a person or place but also reveal a larger history of a specific time, period, or event.3 They help show the growth and development of the Christian Science movement.
In one scrapbook, seven pages have been neatly pasted from an August 1907 Cosmopolitan magazine article by Arthur Brisbane, “An Interview with Mrs. Eddy.” While it might be easy to miss it among the book’s 67 total pages, it tells a larger story.4 See close up here
The years 1906 and 1907 saw two major attacks on Eddy in the press. Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World published a scathing article in late 1906. Titled “Mrs. Mary Baker G. Eddy Dying; Footman and ‘Dummy’ Control Her,” it reported that Eddy was in failing health and being held hostage in her home. Pulitzer had sent reporters to her Concord, New Hampshire, residence. And despite gathering few facts and only having a brief interview with her, they broadcast to the world that her secretary and staff were manipulating her and her great fortune.5 Then in January 1907, McClure’s Magazine began its series on Eddy, which used outright lies to denounce her and her movement.
Other newspapers and magazines picked up the World article, as well as the most sensational parts of the McClure’s series, creating a public news stir around the country and even overseas. The public had become convinced that Eddy was dying and that members of her staff were controlling her. Biographer Gillian Gill notes that Pulitzer “had no reservations about subjecting [Eddy] to public scrutiny.” As Gill explains, while the yellow journalism of the World was unfounded, Eddy’s seclusion in Concord had created an air of mystery around her:
The New York World was read for sensation, not accuracy, but even by the paper’s own standards the claims made in this article on Mary Baker Eddy were extreme…. one has to understand the peculiarity of Mrs. Eddy’s situation. She was increasingly famous, her movement was increasingly influential, but she had retreated to New Hampshire in 1889, and since the late 1890s fewer and fewer people could claim to have spoken to her or had a handwritten letter from her.6
On March 1, 1907, William E. Chandler filed a lawsuit in order to “protect” Eddy and her assets. Pulitzer had hired Chandler to start what has been called the “Next Friends” suit, feeling it was his duty to save Eddy and prove “the essential truth (if not the precise factual accuracy!) of his paper’s recent assertions.”7 Interestingly, Pulitzer dropped out before the suit was even filed. Chandler took over the reigns and argued that because Eddy could not defend herself, he would act legally on behalf of her and her son, George Washington Glover, Jr., and Next Friends Mary Baker Glover (granddaughter) and George W. Baker (nephew). Later Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy (adopted son) and Fred W. Baker (cousin) would join in, though Fred Baker later withdrew.8 Eddy felt that both she and her movement were personally under attack—and the newspaper articles on this court case that are contained in her scrapbooks certainly corroborate this conclusion.9
General Frank S. Streeter, Eddy’s legal counsel, decided that in order to counter these statements in the press she needed to speak for herself. To that end, she and her advisors launched what Gill describes as “a brilliant series of public relations moves.” Streeter arranged for five interviews with various journalists and two prominent psychologists (who determined Eddy’s mental capacity). All of them had positive praise for her.10
The most famous of these interviews was from Brisbane, a journalist well-known to the American public for his plain and simple writing style. He met with Eddy on June 8, 1907, and published his report in the August edition of Cosmopolitan. A veteran writer, he had worked for a variety of newspapers, including The New York Sun and the World, and had built up a national following with his daily column, “Today.” By the time of his death in 1936, Brisbane was America’s highest-paid journalist.1112
Streeter chose Cosmopolitan because the magazine had treated Christian Science fairly. In a July 1907 letter, Alfred Farlow advised the church’s Committees on Publication that the magazine was a friendly publication.13 Cosmopolitan had even reached out to Eddy in early 1907, asking her to write an article for them that defended Christian Science.14
When Brisbane wrote about his meeting with Eddy, readers gained a better understanding of her. Brisbane reported that Eddy lived in a simple home surrounded by caring staff. He described that, although she was elderly, she was strong and healthy:
She is of medium height and very slender. She probably weighs less than one hundred pounds. But her figure is straight as she rises and walks forward. The grasp of her thin hand is firm; the hand does not tremble….(her) face is almost entirely free from wrinkles …. Mrs. Eddy has accumulated power in this world…. But it is a gentle power, and it is possessed by a gentle, diffident, and modest woman…. with Mrs. Eddy you see only the face, the very earnest eyes, and the beautiful, quiet, expression that only age and thought can give to a human face….15
Brisbane found that Eddy was independent and able to manage her finances and her household by herself. He carefully noted her clarity of thought and found that she deserved only “affectionate reverence and sympathy.”16
Brisbane’s article helped to counter negative attacks on Eddy in the press. His report could be trusted, because he was a professional journalist whose respect for Eddy never diminished despite his not having been a Christian Scientist.17 He recalled to his friend Helena Hoftyzer that it was his “privilege” to interview Eddy, who he said was “one of the keenest intellects I had ever encountered.” According to Hoftyzer, Eddy also healed Brisbane of feeling very tired during their interview, helping him to understand the value of her teachings.18
Eddy later wrote to Brisbane and told him that the interview was an “unusual pleasure that I have allowed myself.”19 Brisbane’s admiration for Eddy continued even after her death in 1910. He served as a pallbearer at her funeral.20
- Joseph I. Clarke, “The Veiled Prophet of Christian Science,” The New York Herald, 5 May 1901.
- For additional information on Mary Baker Eddy and the press, see The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy and The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, In My True Light and Life (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors, 2002), 711–770.
- For more information on scrapbooking, see Eva H. Buchanan-Cates, “Scrapbooks: troublemakers and treasures in the archives,” National Museum of American History, 30 September 2017, https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/scrapbooks-archives
- Isabel Ferguson and Heather Vogel Frederick, A World More Bright: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 172–175.
- Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy (Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998), 472, 474–475.
- Ibid., 479.
- Ferguson and Frederick, 176–180.
- Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977), 282.
- Gill, 511–516.
- “Brisbane Career Story of Activity In Editorial Field,” The Christian Science Monitor, 26 December 1936, 5.
- See In My True Light and Life, 744–751.
- Alfred Farlow to Committees on Publication, 11 July 1907, L18126.
- Perriton Maxwell (Editor, Cosmopolitan magazine) to Mary Baker Eddy, 23 January 1907, IC659b.70.042.
- Mildred Seydell, “Realizes Ambition of Twenty Years; Talks With Arthur Brisbane,” Atlanta Journal, n.d., Subject File, Arthur Brisbane.
- Helena Hoftyzer, no title, 27 July 1942, Reminiscence, 3, 4–5.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Arthur Brisbane, 8 June 1907, V03069.
- Arthur Brisbane, no title, 23 May 1943, Reminiscence.