Mary Baker Eddy’s Attleborough lecture
Located forty miles southwest of Boston, Attleborough, Massachusetts, played its little-known part in the expanding Christian Science movement. In the early 1880s the town was approaching 12,000 citizens and in transition, moving from textile manufacturing to become a hub of jewelry making. Incorporated as a city in 1914, its spelling officially changed to Attleboro, by 1950 it would be dubbed “Jewelry Capital of the World.”1
The early 1880s also marked a time of transition for Mary Baker Eddy and the fledgling Church of Christ (Scientist), which she had founded in 1879. Holding regular services in Boston, where Eddy had just chartered her Massachusetts Metaphysical College, the church was gaining followers. Within a few years Eddy reported that the state capital was “boiling with the ferment of this glorious ‘leaven’,”2 Eddy was devoted to sharing her discovery as widely as possible—not only in New England’s major city but wherever receptive individuals might be found. So she headed to Attleborough in December 1881, to give a Christian Science lecture to a fresh audience in a new setting.
George D. Choate laid the groundwork for the event. A student of Eddy with his own Christian Science healing practice in Attleborough, he was at that time an active member of the Christian Science movement.3 While practicing in Attleborough, Choate had healed the wife of Eliot Hunt, as well as their daughter. The enthusiastic Hunt was proprietor of the Attleborough Chronicle newspaper—and proved a valuable contact.
Hunt agreed to attend Eddy’s lecture, scheduled for December 2, and to publish a review of it. Then three days before the date Choate wrote to Eddy with bad news:
Do read this letter and help me, advise me show me the way out or I’ll be in hot water at once you know and God knows it is false. I thought I had everything ready for Friday night, but I find there is to be a cantata at the church.4
While we don’t know Eddy’s response, her lecture did take place—its review appeared in the December 17 edition of the Chronicle. It seems most likely that she spoke on Friday, December 16. Unfortunately the only existing records of the lecture are Choate’s letter and Hunt’s published words—the venue and title remain mysteries. By 1881 Eddy had delivered many addresses in Boston, with titles such as “How Christianity Lost Its Element of Healing,” “Christian Healing and Mesmerism Contrasted,” and “How to be Healthy and Happy.” It’s possible the Attleboro lecture was one of these, or a hybrid.
On one hand, Hunt faulted Eddy in the review for trying to cover too much ground—“under the disadvantage of having to crowd into one lecture what really belongs to three”5—while he felt Science and Health provided a clearer explanation of her ideas. His candid review also included the observation that much of the audience met Eddy’s ideas with bemusement:
…the subject treated ‘Christian Science or Metaphysical Healing,’ and the manner of treating it, were so new and startling and so far in advance of the ideas and life thoughts of those who listened, it is not to be wondered at that Mrs. Eddy was not understood, and that many passed out of the lecture room with inquiring looks upon their faces and with a doubtful shake of the head.6
But Eddy also received considerable endorsement, as Hunt went on to state he had experienced the efficacy of Christian Science treatment firsthand. He spoke glowingly of Science and Health. “Its teachings are based upon the Bible truths,” he asserted, “and its doctrines are high and pure. It is certainly a wonderful book and could be read with profit by all.”7 His conclusion was to “watch with much interest the future of this new theory” and “‘prove all things and hold fast to that which is good’.”8 All things considered, Eddy might have done well to feel a little encouraged in this effort outside Boston. If you would like to read lectures and sermons from the 1880s, including how people were discovering and embracing Eddy’s “new theory,” visit mbepapers.org.
- John Daggett, A Sketch of the History of Attleborough (Boston: Samuel Usher, 1894), 366-394.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Eldridge J. Smith, 10 April 1884, L02058.
- In January 1884 George D. Choate withdrew from the Church of Christ (Scientist) and worked as a mental healer in Providence, Rhode Island. He then returned to Boston and assisted his wife, Clara Elizabeth Choate, with the management of the Choate Metaphysical College.
- George D. Choate to Eddy, 29 November 1881, IC 025b.10.008.
- “Christian Science,” Attleborough Chronicle, 17 December, 1881.