Timeline: Biographies of Mary Baker Eddy

Open the dated accordions below to read summaries of selected biographies.

BEFORE 1900

Historical Sketch of Metaphysical Healing (1885)
by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910)

This pamphlet was Mary Baker Eddy’s first extended effort to answer questions about her life and the history of the Christian Science movement. Revised and republished several times, it was the basis for her work Retrospection and Introspection, published in 1891.

Retrospection and Introspection (1891)
by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910)

This book is sometimes characterized as a “spiritual autobiography,” more focused on metaphysics than history. In fact, roughly half of the work is not autobiographical at all. After devoting the first few chapters to family history and her own early experiences, Eddy breaks from that narrative and writes, “It is well to know, dear reader, that our material, mortal history is but the record of dreams, not of man’s real existence, and the dream has no place in the Science of being” (p. 21).

1900–1924

The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1909)
by Georgine Milmine (1874–1950)

A journalist, Milmine scoured New England, primarily in search of hostile testimony about Mary Baker Eddy. Evidence suggests that she paid for at least some of the interviews she conducted. This biography first appeared in 1907 as a series of articles in McClure’s, a popular monthly magazine. It was republished as a book in 1909 and has since been reprinted several times. Its influence on subsequent biographies and perceptions of Eddy has been surprisingly enduring. This is perhaps due at least in part to the role that author Willa Cather (1873–1947) had as Milmine’s primary copy editor, as well as to the fact that major publishers kept the book in print. Edwin Dakin, Stefan Zweig, and other biographers drew heavily on Milmine.

The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (1909)
by Sibyl Wilbur (1871–1946)

A journalist, Wilbur first began writing about Mary Baker Eddy in Human Life magazine in December 1906, countering articles that the New York World had published about Christian Science and Eddy. A few months later she turned her attention to Georgine Milmine’s series in McClure’s and began her own series, “The Story of the Real Mrs. Eddy.” She examined documents, reinterviewed witnesses, and obtained new testimony from witnesses Milmine had not approached. Her series became the basis for the book. This work has been criticized for its overly sympathetic tone, as well as for a recurrent lack of documentation. As biographer Gillian Gill noted: “With regard to both the Milmine and Wilbur biographies, I strongly recommend that any scholar interested in Mrs. Eddy consult the original magazine series. These stay closer to the documentary and interview data than the succeeding books do.” The Christian Science Publishing Society has published this book for a century, and it has undergone extensive revision several times over the years.

Christian Science and Its Discoverer (1923)
by E. Mary Ramsay (1863–1951)

A Scottish Christian Science practitioner and teacher, Ramsay visited Mary Baker Eddy in 1899. She began writing her book in 1913 for “People’s Books,” a series in which members of religious groups introduced their faiths to a general audience. But it was not published at that time. The result was a concise biography featuring brief explanations of Christian Science teaching. Ramsay drew her biographical material from Eddy’s Retrospection and Introspection (1891) and Sybil Wilbur’s The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (1907). Christian Science and Its Discoverer was first published in England in 1923. Ramsay later revised it with assistance from the staff of The Mother Church archives, and The Christian Science Publishing Society first published the revision in 1935.

Mrs. Eddy as I Knew Her in 1870 (1923)
by Samuel Putnam Bancroft (1846–1929)

Bancroft studied with Mary Baker Eddy in 1870. His book is a sympathetic account that focuses on the years 1870–1875, making use of Eddy’s correspondence and early teaching manuscripts in his possession. Mary Beecher Longyear, a Christian Scientist interested in collecting historical materials about Eddy, financed the book’s writing and publication; consequently Bancroft deposited those documents in the Zion Research Library, which Longyear and her husband founded (she also founded an eponymous museum). The book was considered controversial at the time, because it made use of Eddy’s unpublished correspondence without permission from the Christian Science Board of Directors. It is among the most important reminiscences of Eddy’s early years as a healer and teacher.

1925–1949

Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy (1927)
by Adam H. Dickey (1864–1925)

This memoir focuses on the last years of Mary Baker Eddy’s life, when Dickey served as a secretary in her Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, home from 1908 to 1910. Although he prepared the manuscript in 1924, his wife, Lillian S. Dickey, published the book posthumously in 1927. Two thousand copies were printed and distributed to Dickey’s pupils (he was a teacher of Christian Science)—without the consent of the Christian Science Board of Directors, who were concerned that its contents could be used to attack and ridicule Eddy because of its focus on the challenges she faced. At the Directors’ request, Lillian Dickey withdrew the book from circulation. Since that time, attitudes have changed, and excerpts from Dickey’s book were included in We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Volume II (2013).

Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind (1929)
by Edwin Franden Dakin (1898–1976)

The author’s professional background in advertising and public relations perhaps explains why this work reads much like a novel and includes fictionalized dialogue, speculative accounts, and amateur psychology. Dakin’s main sources were Georgine Milmine’s The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science and the archival cache of John Dittemore, who had taken historic documents and photographs when he was expelled from the Christian Science Board of Directors in 1919 (he later sold the collections back to the church). This biography, first published by Scribner’s, was a commercial success. Despite its less-than-scholarly approach, it has had a continuing influence.

Mary Baker Eddy: A Life Size Portrait (1930)
by Lyman Powell (1866–1946)

This work challenges Edwin Dakin’s Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind. It also stands in contrast to the author’s 1907 work Christian Science: The Faith and Its Founder, which presented a far more negative view of Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy. Powell was an Episcopal clergyman and college president, as well as a prolific writer. He had considerable access to The Mother Church’s archival collections, which he used extensively in writing A Life Size Portrait. That fact is noteworthy, as the collections were not generally available for research until The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s 2002 opening. The book was initially published by Macmillan, and has since been published by The Christian Science Publishing Society, with major revisions in 1950 and 1991.

According to the Flesh: A Biography of Mary Baker Eddy (1930)
by Fleta Campbell Springer (1886–1953)

Springer was a novelist and writer of short fiction. Publishers Coward-McCann had intended to issue this book in 1929. But with the appearance of Edwin Dakin’s Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind, the company delayed publication until late the following year. Initially portions of Springer’s book were serialized in Outlook and Independent magazine, from November 1929 to January 1930. Georgine Milmine’s 1907 work The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science had a strong influence on this biography. Springer also utilized Adam H. Dickey’s Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy. As a result the book offered no new information or insight into Mary Baker Eddy’s life, its only unique element being the author’s satirical commentary on Eddy and the Christian Science movement. According to the Flesh marked the third biography of Eddy published within a single year, and the delay in publication proved fatal to its commercial success and legacy. It remains one of the least-known critical biographies of Eddy.

Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (1932)
by Ernest Sutherland Bates (1879–1939) and John V. Dittemore (1876–1937)

An academic and author, Bates taught at several colleges. A former Director of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Dittemore financed the publication of this book over a decade after he was removed from that office. On publication two years later, it received praise from some scholars and members of the press, although it was a commercial failure. The book stands alongside the biographies of Georgine Milmine (1907) and Edwin Dakin (1929) as a deeply critical portrayal of Mary Baker Eddy. At the same time, the access Bates had to original materials Dittemore had stolen when he left office—together with an avoidance of some excesses evident in those two earlier biographies—distinguish it.

A Child’s Life of Mary Baker Eddy (1942)
by Ella H. Hay (1889–1962)

An educator in Indiana’s public schools, Hay wrote a number of children’s books. She became a Christian Science practitioner and served on The Mother Church’s Board of Lectureship. Her book represented the first biography of Mary Baker Eddy to target young readers, featuring a larger typeface and simple illustrations. The biography spans Eddy’s life but focuses on her childhood and interactions with children in later life.

We Knew Mary Baker Eddy (1943, 1950, 1953, 1972, 1979, 2011, 2013)

This compilation of the recorded memories of early Christian Scientists focuses on Mary Baker Eddy’s life and work from the early 1870s forward. These reminiscences also provide valuable insight into the accomplishments of their authors and paint a picture of the early Christian Science movement. We Knew Mary Baker Eddy was originally published as a series of four short books in 1943, 1950, 1953, and 1972. Some of the reminiscences began as talks, given in meetings held during The Mother Church’s Annual Meetings between 1937 and 1946 and then published in the Christian Science Sentinel. All four books were compiled into one volume in 1979. The expanded editions (Volumes I and II) appeared in 2011 and 2013, respectively. The first volume of the expanded edition contains all the reminiscences from the original series, with additional content added from the original manuscripts; it also includes four previously unpublished reminiscences. The second volume, with a few exceptions, comprises previously unpublished reminiscences.

Mary Baker Eddy: Her Mission and Triumph (1946)
by Julia Michael Johnston (1882–1965)

Johnston was a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, the daughter of a student of Mary Baker Eddy. Her account was advertised as “not another biography, but rather a chronicle of the upward path taken by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science” (Christian Science Sentinel, September 14, 1946). However, it was based on a concise linear biography, to which the author added her interpretations of events in Eddy’s life.

Mrs. Eddy: Her Life, Her Work and Her Place in History (1947)
by Hugh A. Studdert Kennedy (1877–1943)

A journalist and former Mother Church member, Studdert Kennedy attempted a favorable biography of Mary Baker Eddy. But it suffers from reliance on the factual inaccuracies of books by Georgine Milmine and Edwin Dakin. It also makes use of John Dittemore’s collection of historic documents. Studdert Kennedy died in 1943, and the book was copyrighted and published in 1947 by Arthur Corey, a critic of The Mother Church who married Studdert Kennedy’s widow. Although the book’s influence has been limited, it has proved to be of some value to future biographers.

1950–1974

Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books (1950)
by William Dana Orcutt (1870–1953)

For over 60 years Orcutt was involved with the publication of Mary Baker Eddy’s writings, first at University Press until 1910, and then at Plimpton Press. His book’s focus was on the last 18 years of her life. While many of those reminiscences deal with the business of bookmaking, they also include his meetings with Eddy. The final part of the book discusses the challenges Orcutt faced in manufacturing the sumptuous Subscription Edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, published in 1941. The Christian Science Publishing Society issued Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books.

The Cross and the Crown: The History of Christian Science (1952)
by Norman Beasley (1887–1963)

A journalist and author, Beasley had written several biographies and histories before this book. Though not strictly a biography, it tracks Mary Baker Eddy’s career as a teacher and religious leader after her 1866 discovery of Christian Science. This was the first commercially published and widely distributed history of the Christian Science movement. While Beasley was not a Christian Scientist, his writing was friendly toward Eddy and her religion. He worked with The Mother Church’s Committee on Publication, submitting drafts for historical fact-checking. Evidence suggests that he borrowed from William Lyman Johnson’s The History of Christian Science Movement (1926) and Bliss Knapp’s Ira Oscar Knapp and Flavia Stickney Knapp (1925). Knapp sued Little, Brown, and Co, Beasley’s publisher, for infringement of copyright; the case was settled out of court in 1953.

Mary Baker Eddy (1963)
by Norman Beasley (1887–1963)

Published posthumously, this was the last book of Beasley’s Christian Science trilogy (the other two were The Cross and the Crown [1952] and The Continuing Spirit [1956]). It is a biography of Mary Baker Eddy that presents a sympathetic view of her but not an in-depth analysis of her life and teachings—although its publisher claimed it contained “much new and original material.” The Christian Science Church did not endorse Beasley’s books, but its Committee on Publication was in regular contact with Beasley over the decade that he worked on his trilogy. In addition to interviewing Christian Scientists, he drew on previously published books, including William Lyman Johnson’s The History of Christian Science Movement (1926) and Clifford P. Smith’s Historical Sketches from the Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1941).

Mary Baker Eddy: The Golden Days (1966)
by Jewel Spangler Smaus (1917–1990)

This was the first biography published by The Christian Science Publishing Society that focused on Mary Baker Eddy’s childhood, youth, and adult life up to 1875, the year her book Science and Health was published. Smaus and her family lived in Bow, New Hampshire (Eddy’s birthplace), for two years while she conducted research. She was granted access to the archives of The Mother Church and the collections of the Longyear Museum, and dug deeply into the archives of various New England historical societies, in order to learn more about Eddy and her times. She wrote the book for young adult readers and included photographs by Gordon N. Converse, a longtime photographer for The Christian Science Monitor.

Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (1966)
Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (1971)
Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (1977)
by Robert Peel (1909–1992)

Peel was a historian and journalist. The books in his trilogy on Mary Baker Eddy and the early history of the Christian Science movement were first published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. His access to the archives of The Mother Church enabled him to cite many previously unknown and unpublished documents. Peel addressed many controversies about Eddy, including characterizations of her as a hysteric, neglectful mother, plagiarist, power-hungry authoritarian, and drug addict. He paid particular attention to the charges made in Edwin Dakin’s Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind (1929) and Ernest Bates and John Dittemore’s Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (1932). He also addressed the mythmaking tendencies of some of Eddy’s followers. Peel attempted to place Eddy in the context of her times and to consider the implications of her ideas for contemporary readers. His many references to philosophers, scientists, and literary figures are balanced by vignettes highlighting her impact on otherwise unknown women and men who responded to her message and became both followers and critics of Christian Science. While Peel’s trilogy has proved an essential resource for biographers on Eddy, and is frequently cited, some have criticized it as too sympathetic toward its subject.

1975–1999

The Womanhood of God: The Discovery of the Science of Man: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy 1821–1888 (1978)
The Womanhood of God: The Founding of Christian Science: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy 1888–1900 (1987)
The Womanhood of God: The Forever Leader: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy 1901–1910 (1990)
by Doris Grekel

This trilogy represented the first biography of Mary Baker Eddy since the 1950s that was authored by a former member of The Mother Church. After 20 years of affiliation, Grekel withdrew her church membership in 1965 and began publishing a newsletter, The Independent Christian Scientist. She had no access to the Church archives or other original material and relied heavily on secondary sources, particularly Robert Peel’s trilogy. This biography also includes many inaccuracies and unverifiable accounts that have generated apocryphal stories about Eddy. Characteristic of this treatment is Grekel’s apparent belief, with contradictory evidence, that Eddy ascended rather than died.

Mary Baker Eddy: A Prophetic and Historical Perspective (1979, 2011)
by Paul R. Smillie (1941–1992)

This self-published book is Smillie’s interpretation of Mary Baker Eddy’s place in biblical prophecy. Shortly after it was issued, he ended his membership in The Mother Church. Smillie’s interests in Anglo-Israelism, pyramidology, apocalypticism, and remnant theology provide the esoteric lens through which he evaluates Eddy’s life and significance.

Mary Baker Eddy: An Interpretive Biography of the Founder of Christian Science (1980)
by Julius Silberger, Jr. (1929–1994)

Silberger, a psychiatrist, used original documentation from Robert Peel’s trilogy. He also made extensive use of questionable anecdotes in the biographies of Georgine Milmine and Edwin Dakin to create this psychological portrait.

Mary Baker Eddy: A Special Friend (1983)
by Karin Sass (b. 1937), illustrated by Christa Kieffer

This brief color-illustrated book for children was the first effort to tell Mary Baker Eddy’s life story in picture book form. It was issued by The Christian Science Publishing Society.

Mary Baker Eddy: Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science (1991, 1992)
by Louise A. Smith

This concise overview of Mary Baker Eddy’s life was first presented in 1991 by Chelsea House Publishers, as part of their young adult series “American Women of Achievement.” In 1992 The Christian Science Publishing Society reissued it with enhanced images, as part of its “Twentieth-Century Biographers Series.” Smith relied on the biographies of Robert Peel and Jewel Spangler Smaus to develop her own portrait.

With Bleeding Footsteps: Mary Baker Eddy’s Path to Religious Leadership (1994)
by Robert David Thomas (b. 1939)

The author’s background as a historian and his training in psychoanalysis are evident in this psychological examination of Mary Baker Eddy’s life. Beginning in 1978 Thomas made regular trips to The Mother Church’s archives over the course of a decade, working closely with the staff, as well as historian Robert Peel. His study focuses heavily on Eddy’s early years and the turbulent events of her later years, with minimal emphasis on her development as a thinker and writer. Thomas is especially interested in Eddy’s relationships with people such as James F. Gilman, Augusta H. Stetson, and Josephine C. Woodbury.

Persistent Pilgrim: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (1997)
by Richard A. Nenneman (1929–2007)

This was the first scholarly biography of Mary Baker Eddy written by a Christian Scientist since Robert Peel’s trilogy. Nenneman was a former editor-in-chief of The Christian Science Monitor. He made extensive use of The Mother Church’s archives and focused on Eddy’s correspondence in particular to highlight how the discovery of Christian Science changed her life. He used Eddy’s correspondence to let her speak for herself about her life and discovery. His epilogue discusses her legacy and the continued relevance of Christian Science.

Mary Baker Eddy (1998)
by Gillian Gill (b. 1942)

An academic and biographer, Gill wrote this book from a feminist perspective, as part of the Radcliffe Biography Series focused on “documenting and understanding the varied lives of women.” She offers a fresh view of Mary Baker Eddy’s achievements, considering the obstacles that women faced in her time. Gill debunked many myths, perhaps most notably the classic view of Eddy as a hysteric. She made use of numerous archives and studied many of the biographies of Eddy that preceded her own.

Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer (1998, 2009)
by Yvonne Caché von Fettweis (1935–2014) and Robert Townsend Warneck (b. 1952)

This biography focuses on accounts of Mary Baker Eddy’s healing work, utilizing material gathered from her correspondence and published writings, as well as from reminiscences. The extensive use of original materials is not surprising, as its authors were employees of The Mother Church’s archives and spent two years gathering the accounts. These appeared first in a 1995 Christian Science Journal series, “Mary Baker Eddy: a lifetime of healing.” The 1998 edition of this book was expanded from that series. Much additional material was added in 2009, and the volume was reintroduced as Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer (Amplified Edition).

2000–PRESENT

Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy’s Challenge to Materialism (2006)
by Stephen Gottschalk (1948–2005)

An intellectual historian and independent scholar, Gottschalk focused on the last two decades of Mary Baker Eddy’s life, creating a history of her commitment to antimaterialist ideas in theology and medicine, and comparing her viewpoints with Mark Twain’s concerns over the direction of American society. This was the first biography of Eddy to make use of research conducted at The Mary Baker Eddy Library. It was published by Indiana University Press.

A World More Bright: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (2013)
by Isabel Ferguson (1935–2010) and Heather Vogel Frederick (b. 1958)

This biography targets a young adult readership, providing detailed attention to issues involving Mary Baker Eddy’s family and personal relationships. Ferguson, a poet and Christian Science practitioner, passed away before the book’s publication. Some passages are based on her 2001 biography, Come and See: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy. Frederick, a journalist-turned-novelist, drew heavily on original materials in The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s collections, as well as in the archives of other libraries and museums.

Faith on Trial: Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science and the First Amendment (2014)
by Peter A. Wallner (b. 1946)

A teacher, historian, and former library director of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Wallner focused solely on the “Next Friends Suit” in writing this book. That 1907 lawsuit was brought in Mary Baker Eddy’s name on behalf of her son, George W. Glover Jr. and Next Friends Mary Baker Glover (granddaughter) and George W. Baker (nephew). Ten days later, Fred W. Baker (a cousin) and Eddy’s adopted son, Ebenezer Foster-Eddy, joined the suit, though Fred Baker withdrew two months later. The stated reason for the litigation was to enable Eddy’s sons to take control of her estate. Positing that the case was actually an attack on religious freedom, Wallner used original sources—particularly the papers of attorney William E. Chandler, who represented Glover during the suit, which are deposited at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

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