From the Papers: Women doctors write to Mary Baker Eddy
Many notable people exchanged letters with Mary Baker Eddy. In publishing her correspondence at mbepapers.org, we’ve discovered this includes more than a dozen women physicians and healers. A few informally treated patients in the community. Most were formally trained as physicians, in a time when it was still challenging for women to learn and practice as medical doctors.
Some of these women wrote to Eddy because they wanted her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Others were already reading it. Most acknowledged the importance of spirituality in healing—even if they were practicing traditional medicine. Some even wrote their own books that acknowledged this connection. While the Mary Baker Eddy Papers hold many more examples, we thought we’d highlight a few of these individuals during Women’s History Month in the United States.
Lucretia W. Hart
This self-taught but apparently effective healer wrote to Eddy in March 1884: “I have Practiced Medicine 31 years in the State of Wisconsin during which time have borne and raised 9 children, & am a useful Woman yet, the doctors have Many times wished me to explain my Method of success & I have had no power to tell them.” Hart said others had called her a spiritualist for what she could do. She responded that she didn’t know what made her so effective, adding, “But there is one thing I do know, that is, there is Power in Prayer & Christ is an avenger of all our wrongs.”1 She wrote to Eddy to learn more about Christian Science and subsequently ordered several pamphlets: Christian Healing, The Science of Man, and The Peoples God.
Alice B. Stockham
Among the prominent woman physicians who corresponded with Eddy, Stockham is credited as being the fifth female M.D. in the United States, as well as an advocate for gender equality, birth control, and total abstinence from alcohol. She wrote to Eddy in September 1883: “I have heard something of your science of healing, that you teach it and wish to know more of it.” She added, “Have you a work upon the mental cure–if so how does it sell?”2 Stockham went on to author several books of her own on women’s health, including Tokology: A Book for Every Woman, published in 1885.3
Elmina M. Roys-Gavitt
Another doctor who wrote to Eddy, Roys-Gavitt graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867 and was the first-known practicing female physician in Toledo, Ohio. She was the founder and editor of Woman’s Medical Journal, which later became the Medical Woman’s Journal. Her brief letter simply asks for pricing on six sets of Science and Health, indicating that she likely wanted to sell copies of it to others. In response, Eddy’s secretary Calvin A. Frye sent information on becoming a sales agent.4
Julia A. D. Adams
This homeopathic physician was among several other women who were formally trained in medical schools and expressed an interest in Christian Science, and who took the next step in studying with Eddy or one of her students. Adams graduated from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1886 she completed both the Primary and Normal classes in Christian Science with Eddy. Then she chartered the Oakland Christian Science Institute and was listed in the directory of The Christian Science Journal until 1889.
M. Augusta De Forrest Brown
Graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago in 1883, Brown attended the Milan Conservatory, where she studied the relationship between vocal and physical health. She first wrote to Eddy in October 1885 and shared her interest in Eddy’s healing method:
Still in reading your books, has filled me with an uncontroll [?] able longing to know more of your devine Healing. While reading you Science of Health, there came over me an illumination of Soul, that I had never expected to experience. For years I have never left the bedside of the sick without asking God to help me and many times have been forced to feel that only through him have they been saved. But it never occured to me that He alone had power to Heal, and to save.5
After becoming interested in Christian Science, Brown completed the Primary (1885) and Normal (1886) classes with Eddy. She then maintained a Christian Science healing and teaching practice in New York City for several years.
M. Augusta Fairchild
A graduate of the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College in 1861, this medical doctor then worked at the Western Hygeian Home, a hydrotherapy treatment center in St. Anthony’s Falls, Minnesota. In 1879 she published How to Be Well, a book explaining the Hygienic method of caring for the sick. While later practicing medicine in Hannibal, Missouri, Fairchild wrote to Eddy:
Your book comes to me as a refreshing draught.—I am ready for your teachings. I long to be more and more useful as the years go by. I am a member of the New Church. Not at all governed by prejudice. It is my wish to take a course of lectures with you soon as my affairs will permit.6
Fairchild ended up studying Christian Science with Eddy’s student Silas J. Sawyer, and her letters indicate she healed others through what she learned. In 1890 she authored another book, Woman and Health: A mother’s hygienic hand book. She also established the Fairchild Sanitarium in Quincy, Illinois, which operated until she retired in 1903.
Although these doctors, along with several others, studied Christian Science with Eddy and even practiced it for a few years, they all seem to have returned to practicing traditional medicine. Perhaps what they learned about Chistian Science influenced their care of the sick going forward. Despite the fact that many acknowledged the natural connection between women’s health and spirituality, incompatibilities seem to have surfaced in their attempts to blend the two methods of healing. Silas J. Sawyer, who taught Fairchild, seems to allude to this in one letter to Eddy:
The probabilities are you may have a Dr M. A Fairchild in your next class. She came here, took a course of instruction returned home, to Hannibal Missouri – and continued practicing her physics, massage, mixing with metaphysics… When you teach her, she will agree with you, and make a considerable ring on the word truth, then proceed to suit all your teachings according to her belief, of a “correspondence to truth.” 7
Although Sawyer still advised that Fairchild study with Eddy, she ultimately returned to practicing traditional medicine.
Eddy explained this incompatibility between Christian Science and material practices to another student:
I have laid the sure foundation of all my success in establishing so far the cause of Christian Science by strict adherence in my teachings and practice and writings to the one statement and its proof that all is Mind there is no matter! Hence no mixing with matter Of this is a purely divine science, that is mental, & not material in its methods.8
Eddy actively encouraged these women to study Christian Science, even if only to inform them about an effective healing method. But she knew they would have to heal spiritually, and not by means of material methods, in order to practice Christian Science. The Mary Baker Eddy Papers give us a fascinating look at the intersection of healing and faith for these pioneers in their field.
- Lucretia W. Hart to Mary Baker Eddy, 31 March 1884, IC675B.75.030, https://mbepapers.org/?load=675B.75.030
- Alice Bunker Stockham to Mary Baker Eddy, 12 September 1883, IC714B.86.033, https://mbepapers.org/?load=714B.86.033
- “Tokology” refers to the study of childbirth, midwifery, and obstetrics. For more about Stockham and her interest in Christian Science, see “Women of History: Alice B. Stockham,” https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/women-of-history-alice-b-stockham/
- Elmina M. Roys Gavitt to Mary Baker Eddy, 29 June 1884, IC673B.74.056, https://mbepapers.org/?load=673B.74.056
- M. Augusta De Forrest Brown to Mary Baker Eddy, 17 October 1885, IC342.47.007, https://mbepapers.org/?load=342.47.007
- M. Augusta Fairchild to Mary Baker Eddy, 11 September 1884, IC667A.72.011, https://mbepapers.org/?load=667A.72.011
- Silas J. Sawyer to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 July 1885, IC237AP2.38.007, https://mbepapers.org/?load=237AP2.38.007
- Mary Baker Eddy to A. J. Swarts, 29 August 1884, V00826, https://mbepapers.org/?load=V00826