From the Papers: Modest means for writing Science and Health
In the work of transcribing and annotating Mary Baker Eddy’s correspondence, the Library staff has been learning some interesting information about how the founder of Christian Science managed her finances. Our research also gives insight into her life while she was writing her book Science and Health between 1872 and 1875. This included real estate transactions.
By 1872 Eddy’s healing practice with Richard Kennedy had dissolved, and she was being attacked in the press by former student Wallace W. Wright. At this point she was also transitioning away from teaching Christian Science and practicing healing, to focus on writing. She announced publicly that she was “preparing a work on Moral and Physical Science” and that in the past years she had not had “much opportunity to write.”1
Besides not teaching or healing, Eddy had separated from her second husband, Daniel Patterson. She needed to generate new sources of income that would cover her living expenses and allow her to focus solely on writing her book.
Here real estate provided her with an option. For most of the nineteenth century, mortgages in New England did not involve institutional lending. Instead they originated with individuals, who earned money on their savings by making low-risk loans, secured against a borrower’s property. This practice allowed Eddy, then a resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, to use what savings she had to earn a modest income.
Based on our preliminary research, Eddy loaned three separate mortgages, worth about $5,200, between October 1872 and October 1873. Based on the terms of the original agreements, these earned $703 in interest over three years, averaging $234 annually.2
The income generated by lending these mortgages was just enough for Eddy to subsist on. By means of comparison, a woman working full time (60 hours a week, six days a week) in a Massachusetts boot or shoe factory (then Lynn’s primary industry) earned an average annual wage of around $416.3 In Massachusetts in 1872 the average weekly board for a woman was $3.75, with an average annual cost of $195.4 So while Eddy’s room and board consumed nearly all of the income she made from the mortgages, it provided the food and shelter she needed to devote her hours to research, prayer, and writing.
The fact that Eddy was “rent poor” may also explain the reason for her frequent moves between 1872 and 1875. It’s likely that there were times when her income forced her to look for cheaper lodgings.
Those years of poverty and transience did pay off. By October 1875, two of the three mortgages had been repaid in full and discharged. Eddy’s book Science and Health had just been published, and she had purchased a home at 8 Broad Street in Lynn.
As for the third mortgage, it defaulted in 1879, and she repossessed the house, located at 439 Boston Street in Lynn. It was through our work on the Mary Baker Eddy Papers that we discovered references to her “estate on Boston St.” This prompted us to do further research into that property and how she acquired it. We discovered that she kept the house as a rental property, negotiating the landlord and tenant relationship, and finally sold it in 1884.
Our research has only just scratched the surface on this interesting topic. We hope to locate more of Eddy’s correspondence and financial records, which we hope will provide an even fuller picture of her income during the 1870s.
- “To the Public, Moral Science and Mesmerism,” Lynn Transcript, February 3, 1872.
- $5,200 would be equivalent to about $114,000 in 2021; $234 would be equivalent to about $5,100.
- This would be equivalent to about $9,200 in 2021. See “Average Weekly Wages: 1860–1897” in Twenty-Eighth Annual Report of the Bureau of Statistics of Labor (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1898), 4.
- Twenty-Eighth Annual Report of the bureau of Statistics of Labor, 23.