From the Papers: A New Year’s gift leads to a new beginning
Camilla A. Hanna (1847–1923) was ill when she learned that three of her friends had been healed by the prayers of Christian Science practitioner Jennie Fenn. Her interest piqued, Hanna started asking her family if they had heard of the new Science that Mary Baker Eddy had first introduced about a decade earlier. She wrote to Eddy in July 1886 and described what happened next:
My father sent me a New Year’s present of your Science & Health, It was like revelation to me. The truth sunk right down into my heart & took root there. I had been sick. I got well. I talked it, read it, dreamed it. & then wanted someone to teach me how to demonstrate it, so I could for others what it had done for me.1
That simple gift—a book received on New Year’s Day—led to a whole new life for Hanna and her husband, Septimus J. Hanna (1844–1921). The Mary Baker Eddy Papers team has only just begun to publish the story of her time in Christian Science, which stretches from 1886 until her passing in 1923.
After Hanna’s healing, both she and her husband became dedicated students of Christian Science. Although her early letter outlined a desire to study with Eddy, she also acknowledged a significant obstacle. She had already received some instruction and knew this could prevent her from studying with Eddy, who was cautious about offering her Primary class to people who might have received a potentially flawed understanding of her teachings. Hanna revealed that the person she had studied with had offered her both what seemed to be legitimate Christian Science and the corrupted version promulgated by Edward Arens, an early student of Eddy:
A friend of mine came up from Denver, & told me that there was a lady from Boston there who was teaching it. I wrote to her asking her to take me for a pupil. She replied that she would, Then for the first time I found there were different schools, & different teachers. I had not dreamed that there was anything except your system of Healing taught. & that was what I wanted to learn. I did not know the danger there was of falling into error. This lady said she had been healed by an Arens student, then took a course of lectures from the one that healed her. That she also had taken a course of lectures from an Eddy student. & could & would teach me both systems & I could use whichever I preferred.
But Hanna discerned the differences between the two versions and dedicated herself to studying the Christian Science textbook. She wrote, “I rejected everything else, took S & H, & studied it, learned all I know from that & have been successful.” She then appealed to Eddy:
If with no teaching I can do so much, I think what I might be able to do if you will allow me to come to you. I am anxious to help others, but more than anything else, I want that peace of mind I know will be mine, when I get a clear understanding of this Truth.2
Although Hanna did not immediately study with Eddy, her commitment to learning legitimate Christian Science and healing, only according to Eddy’s method, would later be rewarded.
In 1890 the Hannas attended the National Christian Scientist Association in New York. From there they went directly to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Septimus became the pastor for Christian Scientists holding regular services and helped establish a church. In 1891 and 1892 they were both listed as practitioners in Scranton, in the directory of The Christian Science Journal.
In the fall of 1892, Eddy called the Hannas to Boston and gave them seven private lessons in Christian Science, ultimately fulfilling Camilla’s desire to study with her. Later they both became members of Eddy’s last Normal class in November 1898. The Normal classes prepared Christian Science healers who had already taken the first “Primary” course to teach students of their own.
Camilla Hanna also went on to play an important role in the publication of the Christian Science church magazines. She became assistant editor of the Journal in 1892, when Septimus was editor. And she was instrumental in establishing the Christian Science Sentinel, which began publication in September 1898.
When Septimus became a lecturer in 1902, the Hannas relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado. They finally settled in Pasadena, California, in 1911. A New Year’s gift of Science and Health had healed Hanna and set her on a new path. She spent the rest of her life helping and healing others. Happy New Year from all of us at the Mary Baker Eddy Papers!
Read two other articles about the “first letters” of students taught by Mary Baker Eddy, who went on to have impactful careers in Christian Science: “To prove the ‘Truth’ you had taught us” and “Early letters and long careers.”
- Camille A. Hanna to Mary Baker Eddy, 13 July 1886, 033F.13.001. https://www.marybakereddypapers.org/?load=033F.13.001
- Hanna to Eddy, 13 July 1886, 033F.13.001.