From the Papers: Work and parenting in 1885

March 15, 2021


Photo of Mary Baker Eddy, P00250. Janet T. Colman to Mary Baker Eddy,
November 28, 1885, 392.50.015. M. Bettie Bell to Mary Baker Eddy,
December 6, 1885, 020A.09.005. Photo of M. Bettie Bell, P00363.

A number of women sent Mary Baker Eddy letters discussing specific challenges they faced in starting Christian Science healing practices—while at the same time meeting their families’ needs. We thought this correspondence might be of particular interest today, when so many parents, especially mothers, are juggling new difficulties with work and family needs.

M. Bettie Bell took Christian Science class instruction with Eddy in 1885, and helped establish Christian Science in the Chicago area. As a mother of young children, she also had to find ways of developing her interest in Christian Science while caring for the family. In September 1885 Bell wrote to Eddy:

I am coming to Boston this winter if possible Am trying to cure my mother so she can remain with my children – She says if I will cure her she will give me three-hundred dollars to go to Mrs. Eddy. All my family urge me to go – My Husband is the only non-yielding one – & at first he was the most anxious – 1

Bell attended class later that year. When she returned, she wrote that the family needed her immediate help:

I was cordially welcomed in my precious family Thursday morning and found both Babies complaining with belief of remitting fever – They are entirely well this morning and very happy – You can’t know how rejoiced I am with my recent instruction can handle the question of Animal Magnetism with surprising success – don’t know why I was in belief so bewildered and clouded.— truly “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” — many thanks for your patience, charity and tenderness – 2

Eddy responded: “God bless the dear ones, sprang to my lips as I read the letter.”3

Bell wrote back with gratitude and closed her letter by sharing the impact of Christian Science on her family:

My Daisy four years old Says – Mama the “treatment” I like the best is this “God is Love He will, wash me & make me whiter than snow”- She says “that is the prettiest treatment yet – I have cause for gratitude and thank God that my Babies are natural born Christians – My old Lady Mother is cured 25 years an invalid and is giving her eight children beautiful treatments every day – My Husband says give his love to Mrs. Eddy and tell her he is learning too – So you see we all rise up to call you Blessed – I have had a house full of Ladies all day talking Science – God’s name will be glorified – may the Gentle Shepherd help us to realize Love is my cry – 4

Lizzie Filbert became interested in Christian Science after receiving Christian Science treatment from Eddy’s student Jennie Fenn. She took class with Eddy in 1886. The year before, Filbert had written to Eddy, asking how she and her sister could separately attend class at a discount:

I also have a sister who is anxious to learn what would be your price for us both and would It make any difference if we did not come together for we have both a family and I have a baby one year old and for that Reason I should like to come one at a time so as to leave my baby with her While I am gone. and then I could stay with her family while she goes.5

We see a number of letters that depict women working together to face life’s challenges. One particularly moving example involves Janet Colman. After a difficult childbirth, she lost her baby. In this case, her husband had been taking class with Eddy and had to cut his lessons short and return quickly to the family. But in his absence Fenn had helped Colman, who wrote this to Eddy:

Mrs. Fenn has become a noble woman, and a good friend to me, and I have very much to thank her for, and all the rest of my friends in Boston for the work that they have done for me. I am beginning to remember things as I did before I was taken in this belief. The Doctors say they never knew of any one who recovered from what I had.6

Eddy responded: “God is good and His mercies endureth forever Love in abundance to dear children all; tell Mrs. Fenn she has my deep gratitude”7 At the time, Colman and Fenn were both working to establish Christian Science in Nebraska.

All of these women helped establish Christian Science in their respective locations. And they all went on to have long careers as Christian Science practitioners and teachers.

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  1. M. Bettie Bell to Mary Baker Eddy, 9 September, 1885,
  2. M. Bettie Bell to Mary Baker Eddy, 6 December, 1885,
  3. Mary Baker Eddy to M. Bettie Bell, 14 December, 1885,
  4. M. Bettie Bell to Mary Baker Eddy, 31 December, 1885,
  5. Lizzie L. Filbert to Mary Baker Eddy, 9 December, 1885,
  6. Janet T. Colman to Mary Baker Eddy, November 28, 1885,
  7. Mary Baker Eddy to E. L. and Janet T. Colman, 5 December, 1885,