Did Mary Baker Eddy allow students to take notes in her classes?

October 2, 2017

Several reminiscences in our collection speak on this subject. William S. Farlow attended two Primary classes that Mary Baker Eddy taught (in May 1887 and February 1889). He recorded that “Mrs. Eddy used the question and answer method in her classes and she would not allow her students to take notes, stating that while they were taking down one idea they would miss several ideas that were following”1.

Lulu Blackman, who was in the September 1885 Primary class, recalled this:

As [Mrs. Eddy] began to speak, many of the students opened notebooks and began to write. Instantly she said, “Put up your notebooks.” I had written but one sentence and no other was ever added. There were others who refused to consider the command as final and, almost at once, covertly began again to make notes. With eagle eyes, she detected the overt act and again repeated the words “Put up your notebooks.” All complied; then she resumed her teaching. A little later, one student began again surreptitiously to make notations. Stopping her discourse, Mrs. Eddy for the third time repeated the words emphatically and clearly, and never again was there an effort on the part of any to write down a thought or word that came from this great teacher. She at no time made any explanation of this requirement, but all my days I have blessed her for this ruling because it compelled us to let the form go so that limited, finite statements of Truth might not circumscribe the pinions of her thought.2

Lida Stone, attended the March 1888 Primary class. Her reminiscence includes this:

A very instructive incident occurred at the first meeting of the class. One of the students had evidently come prepared with pencil and paper to take notes. Mrs. Eddy said to this student, in effect, “Put up your pencil and paper.” This was apparently not understood as the student still held her paper and pencil ready. Then in stirring tones, but full of love, she said, “Paper and pencil are not substitutes for intelligence.” It goes without saying that no notes were taken during the three weeks class term.3

The reminiscence of Elisabeth Stoltey, who was in the February 1889 class, provides a slightly different perspective:

At the very beginning of the class, Mrs. Eddy asked us not to take notes. She was very emphatic about this. Mr. – – –  – – -, a rather elderly man, chose the last seat in the corner of the room, disregarding Mrs. Eddy’s request, proceeded to take notes in shorthand. Mrs. Eddy waited until the class was ready to leave, stepping forward to him asked him what he had been writing, although the rest of us were unaware that he had been doing so – she had known it all of the time. He answered her that he had been taking notes. She then demanded him to read what he had written. Then she requested him to continue to take notes through the remainder of the class and turn them over to her. These notes are on the record, I think. She thus reversed the error to a good advantage.4

The man Stoltey refers to might have been Joshua F. Bailey. Records indicate that he did indeed take notes during that 1889 class5. But Eddy was not satisfied with the outcome. She wrote this to Bailey: “I had forgotten until this morning your delinquency in completing the notes of my lessons to the Class. When I recalled it I was shocked! I like your business capacity better than literary work. The notes are comparatively valueless now”6.

Eddy prohibited note taking in her own classes, but did not inlude such a restriction in the By-Laws of the Church Manual under Article XXVI (“Teaching Christian Science”) or Article XXVII (“Board of Education”).7 These articles continue to govern class instruction in Christian Science by authorized teachers.

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  1. William S. Farlow, “Reminiscences of Mary Baker Eddy as told by William S. Farlow,” 7 May 1952, Reminiscence, William S. Farlow, 2.
  2. C. Lulu Blackman, “Reminiscences of Mary Baker Eddy,” n.d., Reminiscence, C. Lulu Blackman, 4.
  3. Lida S. Stone, n.d., Reminiscence, Lida Stocking Stone, 1.
  4. Elisabeth Wendland Stoltey, “My experience and acquaintanceship with Mary Baker Eddy, January 1930, Reminiscence, Elisabeth Wendland Stoltey, 5-6.
  5. Joshua Bailey, 5 March 1889, A12065.
  6. Mary Baker Eddy to Joshua F. Bailey, 21 March 1889, L10692.
  7. See 83-92