“Open a public institute at once”

March 13, 2023

Newspaper clippings and portraits of Sue Ella Bradshaw and Minnie B. Hall DeSoto

Card listings from The Christian Science Journal directory, January 1887. Studio portrait of Sue Ella Bradshaw, PA00007.17. Portrait of Minnie B. Hall DeSoto, courtesy of Longyear Museum.

On May 26, 1886, Mary Baker Eddy sent copies of the same letter to a number of her students, asking them to open institutes that would teach Christian Science: 

I see the great need for Christian Scientists to establis public schools in all our principal Cities ––By establishing their Institutes first, the false teachers are doing great harm to our Cause and gaing great advantages.Open a public Institute in some chief city at once is my earnest request and I hope you will heed it 1 

For some time, Eddy had been concerned with ensuring that Christian Science teaching, in its correct form, would be available to those who sought it. This was particularly important as Christian Science was now spreading farther from its Boston origins. 

In 1884 Eddy began teaching a Normal class. It was designed to authorize students to teach their own classes in Christian Science. Many went on to do this. Then early in 1886 Eddy sent a letter to a number of those graduates, encouraging them to take an important step: 

Teach all the students you can get (ready and fit for being taught) and whenever you get a sufficient numbers to even form a quoram of five, or seven, organize them into an Asso. called ‘Students C. S. A.’ and have delegates to send to the annual National C. S. A.2 

Here was a move toward creating a unifying movement of Christian Scientists across the country. The next step involved starting the institutes. As Eddy’s students fulfilled this request, they would help Christian Science gain greater visibility in major cities. They would also help prevent the confusion caused when competing organizations with divergent teachings benefited from interest in Christian Science.

The responses to Eddy’s request showed a variety of reactions. Laura Lathrop wrote from New York on May 28, 1886, expressing shock: “If you should telegraph me to go to Kamschatka and give treatments, deliver lectures, or any other part of the globe I would go but to open an Institute– My dearest, it takes my breath!3 Laura Sargent expressed a similar sense of amazement and wrote from Wisconsin three days later. “I received your letter Saturday,” she said,” and if a bomb-shell had fallen in the midst it seems to me that I could not have been more astonished.4 

Over the course of their letters, however, both women expressed a desire to honor Eddy’s request. Lathrop was concerned about her lack of business knowledge and experience, but she also added this:

I love you and I want to follow your advice not only once but always. And if you think I am fitted for such an undertaking – I cant fail – I never have, and some body will advise me how to go about it, I will do it. 

She also mentioned her intent to seek help from Eddy’s student Silas Sawyer in opening an institute in New York.5 A later letter confirmed that Lathrop was doing just that. 

Although Sargent had initially worried how her husband would feel about her going away to a larger city to open an institute, she went on to share this experience:

Well Sunday morning I happened to turn to the fifth chapter of Luke and when I read the fourth & fifth verses they seemed to have a new meaning, and to just apply to my case exactly Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets foa for a draught,” and then the answer. My dear Teacher before I hardly knew what I was saying I found myself telling my husband just what you wished me to do, and to my great amazement he never had one word of objection to offer but acquiesced to the propaosition as kindly as if I had asked for some trifle. 

Minnie B. Hall responded from Denver on the same day as Sargent, with enthusiasm but also many questions: 

Yours rec’d, please lay down the rules that I should follow in the Public School– Do you mean that they should come in for nothing as our public S. are carried on. please tell me just what you wish- Should I put a card in the paper– If so how? Do you think best to begin here or ain some other place-”6 

Ellen Cross also responded on May 31, agreeing to open an institute and asking her own questions:

I respect your advise and fully coincide with your plan- I have a Class of five here which closes one week from today- I then return to Binghamton where I have another and longer Class than I have had yet, I expect– There is a great deal of interest in Bing. and it is fast extending into the surrounding country- I should say it would be a good point to establish an “Institute”– and if you will tell me the necessary steps to be taken to establish such an institution, I will attend to it at once- Does there need be a charter or any thing of that kind? How shall I word a notice of the “Institute” for the Journal-? Of course I want it to be just right–7 

Amid questions and discussion of institutes, Eddy continued encouraging her students in the specifics of their Christian Science practices. On May 26—the same day Eddy’s letter went out—Sue Ella Bradshaw, who was soon to receive her own copy, was responding to an earlier letter from Eddy offering a specific point of advice for practicing Christian Science.8 Bradshaw replied: 

I will follow your peresent direction. not wishing to go beyond my depth, getting more than I am able to meet. ‘Tis the true healing and teaching I shall strive to attain and I have experienced your ability in those lines.9 

“Your precious letter encourages,” Eddy responded, “with such testimony I can see as Paul did, land, and thank God and take courage10 At the same time, she reminded Bradshaw of the important need she saw for institutes. She ended the letter, “Do as I say, establish a Christian Scientist Institute in California and let me hear from it[.]”11 

In fact, Bradshaw’s institute was the first to be listed in The Christian Science Journal. Her advertisement for the California Metaphysical College appeared in the July 1886 issue. In August the name was changed to “The California Metaphysical Institute.” Her listing stated that the institute “receives patients and affords an opportunity on the Pacific Coast for a course of instruction in the practice of Christian Science Mind-healing.” 

Other individuals mentioned here followed Bradshaw soon after. Hall opened the Colorado Christian Science Institute in Denver and Lathrop started the New York Christian Science Institute in New York City. After continuing to practice and teach for a time in Binghamton, New York, Cross moved to nearby Syracuse and started the Syracuse Academy of Christian Science. The Journal directory from this time includes cards for other institutes established by Eddy’s students as well, primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest. 

This correspondence only recounts the first chapter in the story of Christian Science institutes, which continues to unfold in the ongoing work of the Mary Baker Eddy Papers. But these early letters offer an important window on the mutual efforts needed at this time on the part of Eddy and her students, as they labored to establish the Christian Science movement on increasingly solid footing.

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy to Hannah H. Larminie, 26 May 1886, L04477, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L04477
  2. Mary Baker Eddy to Janet T. Colman, 5 February 1886, L14338, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L14338
  3. Laura V. Lathrop to Mary Baker Eddy, 28 May 1886, IC161A.27.009, https://mbepapers.org/?load=161A.27.009
  4. Laura E. Sargent to Mary Baker Eddy, 31 May 1886, IC236.38.012, https://mbepapers.org/?load=236.38.012
  5. Silas Sawyer had actually chartered the first “institute” in 1884 in Wisconsin. However, his correspondence from this time, and a notice by Eddy published in the November 1884 issue of The Christian Science Journal, would indicate that Eddy was not ready for her students to open institutes at that time. See 237AP1.38.045 and A10179.
  6. Minnie B. Hall DeSoto to Mary Baker Eddy, 31 May 1886, IC223A.37.010, https://mbepapers.org/?load=223A.37.010
  7. Ellen E. Cross to Mary Baker Eddy, 31 May 1886 IC194.32.011, https://mbepapers.org/?load=194.32.011
  8. Mary Baker Eddy to Sue Ella Bradshaw, 14 May 1886, L04633, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L04633
  9. Sue Ella Bradshaw to Mary Baker Eddy, 26 May 1886, IC183.31.008, https://mbepapers.org/?load=183.31.008
  10. Mary Baker Eddy to Sue Ella Bradshaw, 1 June 1886, L04635, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L04635
  11. Mary Baker Eddy to Sue Ella Bradshaw, 1 June 1886, L04635, https://mbepapers.org/?load=L04635