From the Collections: Phillips family photo album

July 2, 2019

Studio portrait of Susan Oliver with a child, perhaps Fred Oliver, undated. P01448. Bowers.


In September 1863 Mary Baker Eddy’s second husband, Daniel Patterson, began practicing dentistry in the city of Lynn, Massachusetts.1 By the following June, the Pattersons were boarding a few blocks from Daniel’s office.2 Records suggest that Lynn native Thomas Phillips managed their boardinghouse at 42 Silsbee Street. Perhaps sometime in the fall of 1864, Mary befriended his family, Quakers who were her close friends for several years.3

That November she joined the family for Thanksgiving dinner, and the following week she published a vignette of the occasion in a local newspaper, titled “Day After Thanksgiving.” Decades later it was reprinted in The Christian Science Journal and her Miscellaneous Writings. She described the event, with its “mammoth turkey” and other “rich viands,” and expressed her appreciation for the “beautiful group” that spanned four generations.4

Studio portrait of Susan Oliver with a child

Studio portrait of Susan Oliver with a child, perhaps Fred Oliver, undated. P01448. Bowers.

The youngest at that dinner table was likely baby Fred Oliver, present with his parents Susan Phillips Oliver and George Oliver. Susan (“Susie”) was the daughter of hosts Thomas and Hannah Phillips, whom Mary called “Uncle Thomas” and “Aunt Hannah.” At 96 Thomas’s mother, Mary Mower Phillips, represented the fourth and oldest generation at the feast. Biographer Sibyl Wilbur recorded that Mary Phillips and Mary Patterson enjoyed a sweet friendship: “These two women, between whom yawned a half century, loved each other tenderly… They would sit side by side on a sofa with hands clasped, sometimes conversing and sometimes meditating. Mr. [Thomas] Phillips, returning home and finding them there, would call his wife and say, ‘Hannah, do you see our two saints? There they sit together, the two Marys.’”5

Studio portrait of Mary Mower Phillips

Studio portrait of Mary Mower Phillips, undated. P01445. Bowers.

On January 1, 1865, Mary Patterson gave Hannah Phillips a photo album with this inscription:

To Mrs. Thomas Phillips
Presented Jan. 1st, 1865

This is a votive pledge sincere,
Take it my friend,
And may each future year
Some blessing send.

May faces here enshrined,
Sweet thoughts recall,
And those who made this thine
Be first of all.

Bear little book, to Thee,
Like Noah’s dove
[illegible] Thy leaves so free,
[illegible] Blest of Love6

Phillips family photo album, c. 1865

Phillips family photo album, c. 1865. LSC0006, Box 196.

We continue to learn more about the contents of this album, which is housed in the Library’s collections. The Phillips family used it to preserve pictures of people who were probably both family and friends; we have only been able to recently identify one of them—Robert G. S. Shelton.

Studio portrait of Robert Shelton

Studio portrait of Robert Shelton from the Phillips family photo album, undated. LSC0006, Box 196.

The son of a Boston-based merchant and speculator, “Bobbie” Shelton once benefitted from Mary’s prayers.7 Following conventions of the day, Sibyl Wilbur interpreted and published memories of events and conversations that took place decades prior to being formally recorded. While we should not take the quotations she provides as literally authentic, her account provides us with the best available information on Eddy’s interactions with the individuals pictured in this album. According to Wilbur, Mary healed Shelton around 1866, the year she discovered Christian Science:

At the Oliver home [the Sagamore House] lived a rich young man from Boston who had come to Lynn to learn the shoe business. He was intense and active, eager to show his father his business sagacity. But severe application to business and excitement over his new responsibilities threw him into a fever. He was brought home from the factory and put to bed, where he promptly lapsed into delirium. The Olivers saw that he was very ill, and sent for his parents. Before they arrived Mrs. Patterson came to the house and found Susan Oliver in distress over the serious situation. ‘If he should die before they come, what would I do?’ she asked excitedly… ‘He is not going to die, Susie,’ said Mary Baker [Patterson]. ‘Let me go in and see him.’ ‘You may go in, if you think best; but he won’t recognize you,’ said Mrs. Oliver. Mary Baker [Patterson] went into the sick chamber and sat down at the side of the bed. The young man was tossing from side to side, throwing his arms about wildly and moaning. She took his hand, held it firmly, and spoke clearly to him, calling him by a familiar name. ‘Bobbie,’ she said, ‘look at me. You know me, don’t you?’ The young man ceased his monotonous moaning, his tossing on the pillows, and his ejaculations. He lay quiet and gazed steadfastly at the newcomer. ‘Of course you know me, Bobbie,’ she persisted gently. ‘Tell me my name.’ ‘Why, yes,’ he said with perfect sanity, ‘it’s Mrs. Patterson.’ In a few minutes he said, ‘I believe I will go to sleep.’ He did go to sleep and waked rational, and did not again have delirium… Mrs. Patterson had made him well in spite of the physician’s declaration that he was in for a run of fever.”8

Shelton later founded Buffum & Shelton, a shoe manufacturing business in Lynn.9 It was likely around this same time that Mary helped two members of the Phillips family. She healed Hannah Phillips of a dislocated hip, and healed Hannah’s son, Dorr, of an infected finger.10

Studio portrait of Hannah Phillips

Studio portrait of Hannah Phillips, undated. P01443. C. G. Hill.

Daniel Patterson deserted his wife in 1866, running off with another woman.11 Afterward Mary was a frequent visitor in the Phillips home. Decades later a student of Eddy in Christian Science recalled her teacher’s account of an unexpected visit from Daniel, who appeared at the Phillips’s door sometime that summer:

…Aunt Hannah came to Mrs. Eddy [then Mary Patterson]… and said: ‘That man is here and wants to see you.’ She went downstairs and found Uncle [Thomas] with his cane raised to strike him. When Dr. Patterson saw her, he exclaimed: ‘Oh, Mary,’ and, with his arms extended, was about to approach her; but, as she lifted her hand forbiddingly, he halted, then begged her to let him come in. She seized her coat and hat from the hall table and, bidding him come in, was about to pass out herself, when he turned and, saying goodbye, assured her that he would not trouble her again.12

Photograph of Thomas Phillips

Photograph of Thomas Phillips, undated. P01440.

Thomas Phillips died later that summer, and Mary Patterson’s involvement with the family subsequently decreased as she became more involved in practicing and teaching Christian Science.

The Phillips photo album, the family photos, and Mary’s interaction with the family all help expand our understanding of her life and work, near the time she discovered Christian Science. In 1907 Susan Phillips Oliver recalled a prediction her father had made: “Mary is a wonderful woman, Susie. You will find it out some day. I may not live to see it, but you will.”13

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  1. “A Card,” Lynn Weekly Reporter, 12 September 1863, Subject File, Patterson, Daniel – General.
  2. Mary Baker Patterson to George Quimby, June 1864, V03338; Lynn Directory (Lynn, MA: Adams, Sampson, & Co., 1865), 124.
  3. Sibyl Wilbur, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1913), 144.
  4. M. M. P., ”Day After Thanksgiving,” Lynn Bay State, 1 December 1864; Eddy, “Thanksgiving Dinner,” Journal of Christian Science, 1 December 1883, 4; Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings (Boston: Joseph Armstrong, 1896), 230-232.
  5. Wilbur, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy, 145.
  6. Patterson to Hannah Phillips, 1 January 1865, L15486.
  7. “Philo S. Shelton Letters.” Collections & Research. 2 June 2016.
  8. Wilbur, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy, 148–150.
  9. Lynn Directory 1871 (Lynn, MA: Sampson, Davenport & Co., 1871), 56.
  10. Eddy, undated, A11070; Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2009), 65–68.
  11. Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy (Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998), 170.
  12. Janette Weller, “The Human Side of Mrs. Eddy,” 1917, Reminiscence, 16.
  13. Wilbur, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy, 146.