How did Eddy face times of housing insecurity?

February 19, 2021

Eddy's house in Lynn, MA
Corner of Market and Oxford Streets, Lynn, Massachusetts, c. 1871. P07176. Unknown photographer.

Five months before her passing, Mary Baker Eddy remarked, “The strongest tie I’ve ever had, apart from love of God, has been my love of home.”1 Over the course of her long life, she had lived in numerous locations, under varying conditions, for short and long amounts of time. There were periods when her housing situation could have been termed precarious, and by at least one estimate she relocated almost 70 times. But it was always important to her to have accommodations in which to establish her sense of home as “the dearest spot on earth” and “the centre, though not the boundary, of the affections.”2

In her quest for stability in housing, Eddy encountered particular challenges between the years 1844 and 1875. She had spent a childhood and adolescence living in two homes provided by her father, Mark Baker. The family first lived on a farm in Bow, New Hampshire, from the time of her birth in 1821 until 1836, when they moved 25 miles to the village of Sanbornton Bridge (later renamed Tilton).

When she married George Washington Glover in 1843, it appeared that her husband, a building contractor, would continue providing her with a comfortable home. They moved to South Carolina in 1844. But after only six months George Glover died, and his pregnant widow returned to live again in her parents’ home. More than 30 years of difficulty followed, during which she struggled to find congenial and more permanent living places. These years of instability came to an end in 1875, with her purchase of a house at 8 Broad Street in Lynn, Massachusetts.

In no instance was Eddy reduced to living on the streets during this time; places to live always opened up for her, although they often left much to be desired. Sometimes she lived with relatives and at another time in a house that her sister, Martha Pilsbury, owned. For a period she moved frequently to a series of boarding houses and private dwellings owned by others. According to biographer Robert Peel, “All her life a home of her own was a matter of deepest importance to Mrs. Eddy, and one of her greatest hardships was the fact that so much of her existence had to be lived in other people’s houses.”3

One example of Eddy’s challenges in living with relatives took place when she and her young son, George Glover II, were no longer welcome in her father’s home after his remarriage in 1850, following the death of her mother a year earlier. In 1851 she moved into the home of her sister Abigail Baker Tilton, where she lived for two years. Tilton found George hard to control and also came to believe that, due to increasing illness, her sister would be better off without the need to care for the boy. A decision was made for her that a young woman named Mahala Sanborn would care for him. Sanborn had recently married Russell Cheney, and the couple moved with George to the remote hamlet of North Groton, in the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

In 1853 she married dentist Daniel Patterson, and late in April 1855 they also moved to North Groton—probably because of her strong desire to be near her son, whom she missed terribly. But Daniel Patterson did not let George move in with them, and a year later the Cheneys moved hundreds of miles away, to Enterprise, Minnesota, taking George with them. After that Mary Patterson’s precarious health declined into invalidism, and her husband couldn’t make adequate money from his dental practice. That, coupled with a nationwide financial panic in 1857 and economic depression, finally led Pilsbury, who held the mortgage on the North Groton property, to foreclose.

On September 20, 1859, Mary Patterson wrote in her notebook, “On this day my sister sells our homestead” (although they did not move out until the following March). She followed this with a poem expressing her anguish:

Father didst not thou the dark wave treading,
Lift from despair the struggler with the sea?
And seest thou not the scalding tears I’m shedding,
And knowest Thou not my pain and agony? …
For my sick soul is darkened unto death,
With Stygian shadows from this world of wo;
The strong foundations of my early faith
Shrink from beneath me, whither shall I flee?
Hide me O, rock of ages! Hide in Thee.4

The Pattersons were driven to a boarding house in Rumney Depot, New Hampshire. Through the next 15 years, boarding houses and private homes with rented rooms would be Mary Patterson’s primary places of residence. During this period women often ran boarding houses and rented out rooms, as a way of bringing in extra income. She was frequently on her own in these years; her husband often travelled, was captured and imprisoned during the Civil War, and deserted her in the spring of 1866. At length, she divorced him in 1873.

Her housing situation was unstable. For example, she moved in the fall of 1867 to the village of Amesbury, Massachusetts, where she found room and board in a large home owned by a retired sea captain, Nathaniel Webster. His wife, known as Mother Webster, operated the home as a boarding house. When she told Mother Webster she’d felt led to apply for lodging there, she exclaimed, “Glory to God, come right in!”5 As Mother Webster was a spiritualist, Mary Patterson no doubt sat through some of the seances that her landlady hosted. These likely provided insights about spiritualistic phenomena that would later be incorporated into Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, her primary work on Christian Science.

But her residence in the Webster home lasted only about ten months. Before the Webster grandchildren arrived each summer, boarders would be summarily evicted. And on one stormy night Eddy, along with her few possessions, was turned out of the house. At that point a fellow boarder led her down the street, where she found immediate new lodging at the residence of Sarah Bagley, who would become an early student of the Bible research that had been consuming all her time and attention.

Science and Health was published in October 1875. Earlier that year—again using her former name of Mary Glover (she would not become Mary Baker Eddy until her 1877 marriage to Asa Gilbert Eddy)—she was rooming in another house, in Lynn. One March day she looked out the window and saw that the house across the street was for sale. By the end of the month she had purchased it.

At this point the tables turned in a sense—she was now the woman letting out rooms to others, reserving only a small portion of the house for herself. This purchase of 8 Broad Street marked the end to her years of housing instability. As her income increased after 1875 from the sale of her writings, as well as from rental income, she was able to afford more suitable accommodations. Her love of home and family would eventually increase to include a household with live-in employees, who assisted in her work of leading the Christian Science movement.

For more on this topic, listen to the Seekers and Scholars podcast episode Mary Baker Eddy—writing without a room of her own.

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  1. See Reminiscence File, diary of William Rathvon, entry for 3 July 1910.
  2. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 58.
  3. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1966), 140.
  4. untitled poem, Copybook #1, entry for 20 September 1859, A09001, 60-61.
  5. Affidavit of Mary Ellis Bartlett, quoted in Georgine Milmine, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (New York: Doubleday, Page, & Co., 1909), 116.