Mary Ann Baker, who lived from 1830 to 1902, was the widow of Mary Baker Eddy’s oldest brother, Samuel D. Baker (1808-1868). She was a devout member of the Congregational church, and as a young woman had served in a mission school for the Choctaw Indians in what is now Oklahoma. While Eddy and her sister in law were not in theological agreement, the two Marys loved each other deeply, and Eddy ensured that her relative’s needs were met in her last years, including providing medical care when Baker faced her last illness.
Three of these “little mementos of the past,” as Baker described them, are particularly interesting. Here, for example, is a silver napkin ring inscribed “Mary A. Baker from sister Abigail.” “Sister Abigail” was Mary Baker Eddy’s sister, Abigail Baker Tilton (1816-1886). Eddy and her sister, the wife of a wealthy mill owner, had a difficult relationship. As Eddy tersely explained in 1907: “My oldest sister dearly loved me, but I wounded her pride when I adopted Christian Science, and to a Baker that was a sorry offence.”1
A happier family scene is illustrated in the next item, a lovely gold bracelet inscribed “S.D.B. to M.A.R. Nov. 2nd, 1858.” This was a gift from Samuel Baker to his bride, on their wedding day.
Another “memento” is what antique collectors today call a “miser’s purse.” One scholar describes this type of purse as “hourglass-shaped … with a long slit in the middle, and a pair of rings in the center to help secure its contents at each end.”2 Men usually kept them in their jacket pockets. A note in Mrs. Baker’s handwriting accompanied the purse: “Made by myself and presented to Samuel, 1865.”
It’s not entirely clear why Mary Ann Baker decided to give away her keepsakes. But while she knew they did not have great monetary value, she also knew her sister in law would appreciate them. As she sweetly described it, the items were “valuable only as relics, with other little mementos of the past; my trunk, and contents with whatever else I may leave, is for you, not because of its value, but only as all a sister has, for one always precious to me.”3
- Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1913), 313.
- Laura Camerlengo, “The Ubiquitous Miser’s Purse,” (masters’s thesis, Cooper-Hewitt, 2010), 7, https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/11723/LauraCamerlengoMiser’sPurse.pdf.
- Mary Ann Baker to Mary Baker Eddy, 30 May 1898, IC 43.