Timeline: Biographies of Mary Baker Eddy

Open the sections below to read summaries of selected major biographies.

1885-1907

1885

Historical Sketch of Metaphysical Healing
by Mary Baker Eddy.

This pamphlet by Eddy was her first extended effort to answer questions about her life and the history of the Christian Science movement. Revised and republished several times, it’s perhaps best known as Retrospection and Introspection, the 1891 revision. The book is often characterized as a spiritual autobiography, more focused on metaphysics than history. In fact, roughly half of the work is not autobiographical at all.

1907

The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science
by Georgine Milmine

Milmine, a journalist, scoured New England, primarily in search of hostile testimony about Eddy. Evidence suggests that she paid for at least some of these interviews. Milmine’s biography first appeared as a series in McClure’s Magazine, a popular monthly periodical, and was republished as a book in 1909. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy has had a surprisingly enduring influence on subsequent biographies and perceptions of Mary Baker Eddy, perhaps due in part to Willa Cather’s role as Milmine’s primary copy editor.

The Life of Mary Baker Eddy
by Sibyl Wilbur

Wilbur first began writing about Eddy in Human Life magazine in December 1906, countering articles published about Christian Science and Eddy in the New York World newspaper. Wilbur turned her attention to Georgine Milmine’s series in McClure’s a few months later, and wrote her own series titled “The Story of the Real Mrs. Eddy.” Wilbur, a journalist, reinterviewed witnesses and reexamined documents, and obtained testimony from witnesses Milmine had not approached. She added much content when she reworked her series into a book. This work has been rightly criticized for its overly sympathetic tone, as well as for a recurrent lack of documentation. As biographer Gillian Gill notes: “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.” (Mary Baker Eddy, 569)

Christian Science
by Mark Twain

Novelist, satirist, and social critic Twain took note of the interest in Eddy and Christian Science, and he put together his own book, drawn primarily from articles he had written over the years for Cosmopolitan and other periodicals. Twain fully engaged his vivid imagination in creating this text, fueled by evidence (some true, some false) offered to him from hostile sources such as Frederick Peabody, who made a career out of defaming Eddy. The book was not very successful, but serves as a testimony to Eddy’s importance in American culture. It has raised ongoing questions for Twain scholars trying to understand his obsessive interest in Eddy, whom he alternately loathed and admired.

1929-1947

1929

Mary Baker Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind
by Edwin Franden Dakin

Dakin’s professional background in advertising and public relations perhaps explains a work that reads like a novel and includes fictionalized dialogue, speculative accounts, and amateur psychology. His main sources were Milmine’s Life and the archival cache of John Dittemore, who had taken historic documents and photographs upon his expulsion as a director of the Christian Science Church in 1919. (He later sold the collections back to the church.) Dakin’s biography, first published by Scribner’s, was a commercial success and has had continuing influence, in spite of his less than scholarly approach.

1930

Mary Baker Eddy: A Life Size Portrait
by Lyman Powell

Powell’s work challenges Dakin’s Biography of a Virginal Mind. It also contrasts with Powell’s 1907 work, Christian Science: The Faith and Its Founder, which presented a far more negative view of Christian Science and Eddy. Powell, an Episcopal clergyman and college president, as well as a prolific writer, had considerable access to the Christian Science Church’s collections. Perhaps A Life Size Portrait is most notable for its extensive use of the collections, which were not generally available for research until the opening of The Mary Baker Eddy Library in 2002.

1946

Mary Baker Eddy: Her Mission and Triumph
by Julia Michael Johnston

Johnston was a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, the daughter of Annie R. Michael, a student of Mary Baker Eddy. She produced a concise linear biography of Eddy, based on her mother’s recollections of time spent with Eddy. Johnston added her own interpretations of events in Eddy’s life.

1947

Mrs. Eddy: Her Life, Her Work and Her Place in History
by Hugh Studdert  Kennedy

This effort by a journalist and former member of the Christian Science Church attempts a favorable biography of Eddy, but it suffers from reliance on the factual inaccuracies of the Dakin and Milmine books, though it also makes use of the Dittemore collection of historic documents. While the book’s influence has been limited, it has proved to be of some value to future biographers, such as Robert Peel.

1966-1998

1966, 1971, 1977

Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery
Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial
Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority
by Robert Peel

Historian and journalist Peel wrote what must be considered the classic trilogy on Mary Baker Eddy’s life and the history of the Christian Science movement. His access to the Christian Science Church archives enabled him to cover issues relating to Eddy’s life and times in unprecedented fashion. This trilogy has proved a critical resource for Eddy biographers and is frequently cited, though some have criticized it as too sympathetic toward its subject.

1979, 2011, 2013

We Knew Mary Baker Eddy

This compilation of the recorded memories of early Christian Scientists focuses on the life and work of Mary Baker Eddy from the early 1870s forward. These memories 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. Many of the reminiscences began as talks, given at Annual Meetings of The Mother Church between 1937 and 1946 and then published in the Christian Science Sentinel. All four books were compiled into one book in 1979. The expanded editions (Volumes I & 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.

1980

Mary Baker Eddy: An Interpretive Biography of the Founder of Christian Science
by Julius Silberger, Jr.

Silberger, a psychiatrist, used Freudian theory to interpret and understand the story of Eddy and Christian Science. While using original documentation from the Peel trilogy, he also made extensive use of undocumented anecdotes in Milmine and Dakin to create a psychological portrait.

1994

With Bleeding Footsteps: Mary Baker Eddy’s Path to Religious Leadership
by Robert David Thomas

Thomas was a historian and psychoanalyst, and this background is evident in his book, a psychological analysis of Mary Baker Eddy’s life. Beginning in 1978, Thomas made regular trips over the next ten years to The Mother Church’s archives, working closely with the staff, as well as with historian Robert Peel. His analysis of Eddy’s life focuses heavily on her childhood and the turbulent events of her later years; consequently the book devotes minimal focus on Eddy’s development as a thinker and writer.  

1998

Mary Baker Eddy
by Gillian Gill

Writing from a feminist perspective (as part of the Radcliffe Biography Series on “documenting and understanding the varied lives of women”), Gill, a historian and biographer, offers a fresh view of Eddy’s achievements, in the light of the obstacles faced by women in her time. She debunks many myths, perhaps most notably the classic view of Eddy as a hysteric. Gill made use of numerous archives, as well as studying many of the biographies of Eddy that preceded her own.

1998, 2009

Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer by Yvonne Caché von Fettweis and Robert Townsend Warneck

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

 

2006-2013

2006

Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy’s Challenge to Materialism
by Stephen Gottschalk

Gottschalk, an intellectual historian and independent scholar, focuses on Eddy’s last two decades, creating a history of her commitment to antimaterialist ideas and comparing her viewpoints with Mark Twain’s concerns over the direction of American culture. This book was the first Eddy biography to make use of research conducted at The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

2013

A World More Bright: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy
by Isabel Ferguson and Heather Vogel Frederick

This newly released biography targets a young adult readership, providing detailed attention to issues involving family and personal relationships. Isabel Ferguson, a poet and Christian Science healer, and Heather Vogel Frederick, a journalist turned novelist, drew heavily on original materials in The Mary Baker Eddy Library collections, as well as in the archives of other libraries and museums.

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