Learning from Letterhead
As the early Christian Science movement expanded, Mary Baker Eddy received letters from people in many walks of life. This is evident not only in the correspondence itself but even the stationery it was written on. Looking at some examples in our collection, we learn about those who were finding an interest in Eddy’s discovery.
One of her students, John M.C. Murphy, maintained a busy Christian Science healing practice after taking Eddy’s class in 1883. Before that he was a “Hatter and Gents’ Furnisher,” whose claim to fame—as indicated on his stationery—was “Murphy’s Perfect Fitting Shirt.” Eddy received a number of letters from people in the clothing industry, particularly seamstresses, expressing interest in Christian Science. Many saw opportunities not only for being healed but also for starting new careers as healers themselves.
Eldridge J. Smith was another student at this time. He wrote Eddy frequently, expressing a desire to be free of business commitments so he could devote himself fully to practicing Christian Science. What was his line of work? According to his stationery, selling “elastic” chairs. Some of his letterhead provided more details on the back page, including a description of the patented process used to make his chairs—“stringing slats on steel springs or flexible wires”1—and a mention that they were even in use at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. This discussion furnishes our only insight into Smith’s business.
The Massillon Bee-Hive Cash Store featured on its letterhead a hive-shaped logo, with the slogan “by industry we thrive.” A local history book described the Ohio store’s name as “emblematic of the busy life and industry going on within its walls.”2 Cash stores differed from other general stores; as the name indicated, they did not accept credit sales.
One employee of the Cash Store, Henry Newstetter, hoped to take Primary class with Eddy—but he didn’t have tuition funds.3 He was, however, able to subscribe to The Christian Science Journal and buy a copy of Eddy’s book Science and Health (subsequently titled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures), which, he said, he and his family loved reading.4
Other letters in our collections show writers engaged in the causes of their day. Methodist minister T. M. Griffith wrote Eddy on the stationery of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Department of the Study of Hereditary Tendencies. It also named his wife, Mary L. Griffith, as Superintendent. His letter expressed great interest in a copy of the Journal that they had received.
At this time the WCTU was studying the role of heredity in alcoholism.The organization’s Journal of Heredity questioned whether people’s susceptibility was biologically predetermined or if they could shape their own lives.5
Were ideas shared in that Christian Science Journal helpful to the Griffiths in their work? It’s likely Mr. Griffith’s letter referred to the August 1883 issue, which included Eddy’s answer to the question “Can your Science cure intemperance?” She wrote, “Yes; Christian Science ‘lays the axe at the root of the tree:’ its antidote for all ills is God, the perfect Mind, which should correct mortal thought, the source whence appetites spring; and God can destroy the thought that leads to intemperance, as to sickness or sin, in which case either one will be cured.”6
Judging from these four letters and others like them, Christian Science was resonating with many different kinds of people, all looking to learn about this new approach to health and healing. More than just visually and historically interesting, their stationery gives helpful insight into who they were.
- Smith to Eddy, 28 July 1883, IC382.50.029
- William Henry Perrin. History of Stark County: With an Outline Sketch of Ohio. Baskin & Battey (Ohio), 1881, p. 656-657.
- Newstetter to Eddy, 7 August 7, 1883, IC697AP2.81.023, https://mbepapers.org/?load=697AP2.81.023.
- Newstetter to Eddy, 28 June 1883, IC697AP2.81.020, https://mbepapers.org/?load=697AP2.81.020; Newstetter to Eddy, 9 November 1883, IC697AP2.81.025, https://mbepapers.org/?load=697AP2.81.025.
- Riiko Bedford, “Heredity As Ideology: Ideas of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of The United States and Ontario on Heredity and Social Reform, 1880–1910.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 32, no.1 (2015), 81-87.
- “Answers to Questions.” The Christian Science Journal. 4 August 1883, 3.