From the Papers: A college for teaching Christian Science

May 6, 2022

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Studio portrait of Mary Baker Eddy, c. 1884. P00250. W. Shaw Warren; Photo of Massachusetts Metaphysical College. P05362; Curriculum of Massachusetts Metaphysical College. P00363; Studio portrait of M. Bettie Bell, c. 1870–1885. P01614; Studio portrait of Roger Sherman.

In January 1881, Mary Baker Eddy obtained a charter for the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, an institution for instructing students of Christian Science. Work had been underway the year before to prepare for this institution designed to “teach Pathology, Therapeutics, Obstetrics. Ontology. Moral Science and the adaptation of Metaphysics to the treatment of disease.”1

Eddy wanted to draw a diverse student body from different regions and professions, who could then return home to practice Christian Science in their communities. In 1884 she published a curriculum that served as a sort of student handbook. It included general information about the college, a Constitution and By-Laws for the Christian Scientist Association (the association of Eddy’s students), and some other information about Eddy’s writings and publications. A revised version, which also included a list of students, was published in 1886.

After the curriculum became available, it was sent out in response to many of the questions people were asking about Eddy’s classes. A number of the letters that she received bear the notation “Sent cur.” This indicated that a copy of the curriculum had been sent. Recently, the Mary Baker Eddy Papers team was looking at the curriculum, in light of the many letters referencing it. Some of Eddy’s statements as to who could be a student at the college stood out to us, including this:

 [The Massachusetts Metaphysical College] receives both male and female students. It meets the demand of the age for something higher than physics, physical hygiene, or drugging, to restore the race, hope, health, and the lost Science of Divine Healing.

The curriculum also noted four essential characteristics of the college, including “The total disregard of sex distinctions in students, teachers, or preachers.”2

Those statements caused us to reflect on what it meant for Eddy to receive men and women as students at the College on an equal basis. Although both men and women were able to attend colleges at that time in New England, this typically occurred at separate institutions. It seems Eddy recognized that “sex distinctions” didn’t play a role in whether or not someone could learn the teachings of Christian Science and become a capable healer. We wondered if this was something her students considered as well. And we explored some of her correspondence, noting questions she received about who could be a successful student at the Metaphysical College.

Pearl D. Hoyt wrote to Eddy, asking if he should come and study either with her in Boston, or with the Shermans, one of the first families involved with Christian Science in Hoyt’s hometown of Chicago.3 Eddy responded:

In acquiring Metaphysical Science as applied to the treatment of disease, it requires the best of teachers, and a thorough knowledge of it, so that no question in the learner’s mind goes unanswered. If you have my work, Science And Health, you can see there is very much requisite to be a suitable teacher or healer, and nothing in practice is more pernicious to health and morals than an unqualified teacher or practioner of Metaphysics.4

For Eddy, the quality of the teaching was a paramount aspect of student success.

At that time, the curriculum was not yet available, and Hoyt followed up with some additional questions. In particular, he asked directly, “Is it true that Ladies have the best success as healers and if so is there a reason for it, and why is’t.”5 Although Eddy did not address this question in her response to Hoyt, perhaps the specific language contained in the college’s curriculum was intended to address just this kind of question.6

Hoyt also mentioned his 65-year old aunt, who was very interested in learning Christian Science. Other letters reveal questions from prospective students who wondered whether their age might preclude them from studying with Eddy. Sarah Heywood wrote from Wisconsin: “I am fifty-three years of age, but will that number of years debar me from learning the truths of Christ?”7 Eddy responded: “Your age does not in the least unqualify you to learn Christian science I have had students of eighty, and of ten years of age that have done wonderful cures.…The best time to do good is now.”8

Others wondered whether there was some particular gift that one needed to possess in order to study. In 1884 Mrs. C. Bond wrote to Eddy from Illinois:

What is this healing power? Is it done by the laying on of hands, or by Faith or prayer? Is it a gift inherited or acquired & does every one possess it or is it a certain few that have it or can have it? You see that I am quite ignorant in regard to it in any sense of it – I hope & trust that you will enlighten me by giving me the desired information – How is one to know if they possess this healing power?9

Bond received a copy of the new curriculum in response.

After they attended the class, we noted, Eddy received letters from both men and women, telling what the experience had meant to them. Mattie Williams’s husband had been strongly opposed to her attending class at the college. After returning home, she wrote to Eddy:

We had a pleasant and profitable trip home

We found some hearts open and hungrry for the word of Truth the Seed of the Kingdom, and we began Sowing as we journeyed homeward. Mr Williams and my two boys George and Charles met me at the Station with large peasure Sleigh. He my husband was not ashamed to meet me a great change has come over him. he can scarce leave me now. last evening he did not go to his place of business had remained home with me.

All is well all will be well the reign of harmony has began in my own dear house. God is with us.10

Attending class with Eddy also seemed to help the Shermans establish their practice on a more solid basis in Chicago. Bradford and Roger Sherman wrote to Eddy: “We often recall to mind the profitable and valuable instructions received while at the College. and your untiring earnest efforts to lead us in the right way to truth through science.”11

On returning to her family after attending a class in 1885, M. Bettie Bell, who studied alongside her brother, wrote to Eddy:

You can’t know how rejoiced I am with my recent instruction can handle the question of Animal Magnatism with surprising success – don’t know why I was in belief so be wildired and clouded.— truly “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” — many thanks for your patience, charity and tenderness – my Brother remarked oh! Sister if I could just see her every day – I could be a better man – & he never was so loth to leave a strange place– so lovely were the hearts and the influence around us – would that we could always be in such loyal companionship as that of our Teacher and her lovely Students12

Eddy responded:

Your interesting letter at hand. Was delighted to learn of yours and your brothers good estate. So appreciative, so joyful. God bless the dear ones, sprang to my lips as I read the letter.13

Eddy certainly saw value in family members attending classes together at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, whether they were husband and wife, parent and child, or siblings, and she offered discounts in such cases. For example, she wrote to Emily F. Seal in June 1885: “For yourself and daughter I will make my highest reduction, not on the grade of indigents, but for the privilege it is to me to teach two in the same family, they are such helps to each other in the future for I shall make it clear to you both.”14

It seems evident from this correspondence that the study and practice of Christian Science was available to all who showed a humble willingness to learn.

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy to James C. Howard, 1880, L08647, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L08647
  2. Curriculum of the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, 1884, 000000000012, https://mbepapers.org/?load=000000000012
  3. Pearl D. Hoyt to Mary Baker Eddy, 28 September 1883, IC679B.76.045, https://mbepapers.org/?load=679B.76.045
  4. Mary Baker Eddy to Pearl D. Hoyt, 7 October 1883, L15520, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L15520
  5. Pearl D. Hoyt to Mary Baker Eddy, 11 October 1883, IC679B.76.046, https://mbepapers.org/?load=679B.76.04
  6. Mary Baker Eddy to Pearl D. Hoyt, 17 October 1883, L15521, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L15521
  7. Sarah E. Heywood to Mary Baker Eddy, 6 October 1883, IC549.58.001, https://mbepapers.org/?load=549.58.001
  8. Mary Baker Eddy to Sarah E. Heywood, 11 October 1883, L07822, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L07822
  9. Mrs. C. Bond to Mary Baker Eddy, 19 October 1884, IC649A.67.017, https://mbepapers.org/?load=649A.67.017
  10. Mattie Williams to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 March 1884, IC589.60.008, https://mbepapers.org/?load=589.60.008
  11. Bradford Sherman and Roger Sherman to Mary Baker Eddy, 16 April 1884, IC321.44.020, https://mbepapers.org/?load=321.44.020
  12. M. Bettie Bell to Mary Baker Eddy, 6 December 1885, IC020A.09.005, https://mbepapers.org/?load=020A.09.005
  13. Mary Baker Eddy to M. Bettie Bell, 14 December 1885, L09898, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L09898
  14. Mary Baker Eddy to Emily F. Seal, 16 June 1885, L14305, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L14305