Timeline: Biographies of Mary Baker Eddy

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

1885-1927

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.

1923,1935, 1955, 1998

Christian Science and It’s Discoverer
by E. Mary Ramsay

Ramsay was a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Scotland, who visited Mary Baker Eddy in 1899. She began writing her book in 1913 for “People’s Books,” a series about religious groups written by members for a general audience. The result was a concise biography featuring brief explanations of the teachings of Christian Science. Ramsay did not have access to The Mother Church archives while preparing her manuscript; biographical material came from Eddy’s Retrospection and Introspection (1891) and Sybil Wilbur’s The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (1907). The book was published in England in 1923 and later revised by Ramsay with assistance from The Mother Church archives staff, and republished by The Christian Science Publishing Society in 1935 with reprints in 1955 and 1998.

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

Samuel Putnam Bancroft was a student of Mary Baker Eddy, studying with her in 1870. His book focuses on the years 1870 to 1875, making use of Eddy’s correspondence and early teaching manuscripts that were in his possession. Mary Beecher Longyear financed the book’s writing and publication; consequently Bancroft deposited those documents in the Zion Research Library, which she and her husband founded. The book was considered controversial at the time of publication, because it made use of Eddy’s unpublished correspondence without permission from the Christian Science Board of Directors. Nevertheless it is among the most important reminiscences of Eddy’s early years as a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science.

1927

Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy
by Adam H. Dickey

Adam H. Dickey’s memoir focuses on the last years of Mary Baker Eddy’s life, when he served as a secretary in her Chestnut Hill home from 1908 to 1910. Although he prepared the manuscript in 1924, it did not appear until 1927, when his wife, Lillian S. Dickey, published it posthumously. Two thousand copies were printed and distributed to the members of Dickey’s Christian Science Association. The book was published without the consent of the Christian Science Board of Directors; on learning of this, they were concerned that its contents could be used to attack and ridicule Eddy because of its focus on the challenges she faced. At the Board’s request, Lillian Dickey withdrew the book from circulation.

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.

According to the Flesh
by Fleta Campbell Springer

Publishers Coward-McCann had intended to publish this book in 1929. But after the release that year of Edwin Dakin’s Biography of a Virginal Mind, they delayed publication until late 1930, initially serializing Springer’s book in The Outlook and Independent magazine from November 1929 to January 1930. According to the Flesh was strongly influenced by Georgine Milmine’s 1907 work, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. Springer also utilized Adam H. Dickey’s Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy. As a result, her biography offered no new information or insight into Mary Baker Eddy’s life; the only unique element was 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. The book remains one of the least-known critical biographies of Eddy. 

1932

Mary Baker Eddy: the Truth and the Tradition
by Ernest Sutherland Bates and John V. Dittemore

This book was written by Ernest Sutherland Bates, an academic and author who had taught at several colleges in the United States. John V. Dittemore financed it. A former director of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Dittemore was removed from that office in 1919 and on leaving took historic documents and photographs with him. In 1930 Dittemore advanced Bates the money to write the book, which he completed over the next two years. On publication it received praise from some scholars and members of the press, but it was a commercial failure. As late as 1937, Dittemore was trying to sell the copyright in order to recoup the advance he had given to Bates. The book stands alongside the biographies of Georgine Milmine (1907) and Edwin Franden Dakin (1929) as a deeply critical portrayal of Eddy. At the same time, the access that Bates and Dittemore had to purloined original materials, together with an avoidance of some excesses evident in those two earlier biographies, distinguish it.

1942

A Child’s Life of Mary Baker Eddy
by Ella H. Hay

Hay was an educator in the public schools of Minnesota and a Christian Scientist, who later served on The Christian Science Board of Lectureship. The book represented the first biography of Mary Baker Eddy to target young readers, featuring a larger typeface and simple illustrations. The biography spans the life of Eddy but focuses on her life as a child and her interaction with children in later life.

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.

1952-2009

1952

The Cross and the Crown: The History of Christian Science by Norman Beasley

Beasley was a journalist and author who had written several biographies and histories before The Cross and the Crown. Though not strictly a biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the book tracks her career as a teacher and leader after her discovery of Christian Science in 1866. The book was the first commercially published and widely distributed history of the Christian Science movement. Beasley was not a Christian Scientist, but his works were friendly towards Eddy and her religion. He worked extensively with the church’s Committee on Publication, submitting drafts for historical fact-checking. Evidence suggests that Beasley 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 Beasley’s publisher, Little, Brown, and Co. for infringement of copyright; the case was settled out of court in 1953.

1963

Mary Baker Eddy: A Biography by Norman Beasley

Beasley’s last book of his Christian Science trilogy, which included The Cross and the Crown (1952) and The Continuing Spirit (1956), published posthumously, was a biography of Mary Baker Eddy. The book presents a sympathetic view of Eddy but is not an in-depth analysis of her life and teachings, although the publisher claimed that it contained “much new and original material.” While the Christian Science Church did not endorse Beasley’s books, published over a decade, its Committee on Publication was in regular contact with the author. Beasley interviewed Christian Scientists, as well as borrowing from previously published books including William Lyman Johnson’s The History of Christian Science Movement (1926) and Clifford P. Smith’s Historical and Biographical Papers (1934; now published as Historical sketches from the life of Mary Baker Eddy and the history of Christian Science).

1966

Mary Baker Eddy: The Golden Days by Jewel Spangler Smaus

This was the first biography published by the Christian Science Publishing Society that focused solely on Mary Baker Eddy’s childhood and youth. Jewel Spangler Smaus, a Christian Scientist who had lived in Bow, New Hampshire, was granted access to the archives of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the collections of the Longyear Museum. The book was written for young adult readers, including illustrations and photographs by Gordon Noble Converse, Chief Photographer of The Christian Science Monitor.

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.

1967

Mary Baker Eddy: A Centennial Appreciation

This book is a reprint of twelve articles published in 1966, the Centennial Year of the discovery of Christian Science. The articles were first published in The Christian Science Journal and the French and German editions of The Herald of Christian Science. Each article was written by a Christian Scientist and focused on a different facet of Eddy and her work as an author, teacher and leader.

1978, 1987, 1990

The Discovery of the Science of Man: the life of Mary Baker Eddy by Doris Grekel
The Founding of Christian Science: the life of Mary Baker Eddy by Doris Grekel
The Forever Leader: the life of Mary Baker Eddy by Doris Grekel

Doris Grekel’s trilogy represented the first major biography of Mary Baker Eddy authored by a former member of The First Church of Christ, Scientist since the 1950s. In 1965 Grekel withdrew her church membership after 50 years’ affiliation and began publishing a newsletter, “The Independent Christian Scientist.” She had no access to the church archives or other original sources and borrowed heavily from secondary sources, particularly Robert Peel’s trilogy. This biography also includes many inaccuracies and unverifiable accounts, which have generated apocryphal stories about Eddy.

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.

1991

Mary Baker Eddy: Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science by Louise A. Smith

This concise overview of the life of Eddy was first brought out by Chelsea House Publishers in 1991 as part of their young adult series, “American Women of Achievement.” It was reissued with enhanced images by The Christian Science Publishing Society in 1992 as part of Twentieth-Century Biographers Series. Louise A. Smith, a graduate of Stanford University and Sarah Lawrence College, relied on the Peel and Smaus biographies to develop her own portrait of the Christian Science leader.

The Destiny of The Mother Church by Bliss Knapp (1947, 1991)

Knapp was a Christian Science practitioner, teacher, and lecturer. He was the son of Ira O. Knapp, who was a student of Mary Baker Eddy’s, as well as an original member of the Church’s Board of Directors. His mother, Flavia Stickney Knapp, was also an Eddy student, and a Christian Science teacher. The book begins with the story of the Knapp family’s involvement with Eddy and Christian Science, including the reorganization of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1892, and the growth that followed. Later chapters are Knapp’s commentaries on religious issues. Knapp’s attempts to get the Church to publish his book were rebuffed, principally because of what officials judged to be his deification of Eddy, and the book was privately published in 1947. The Destiny of The Mother Church was issued by the Christian Science Publishing Society in 1991 as part of the Twentieth-Century Biographers Series.

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.

1997

Persistent Pilgrim: the Life of Mary Baker Eddy by Richard A. Nenneman

This was the first biography of Mary Baker Eddy written by a Christian Scientist since Robert Peel’s trilogy. Richard A. Nenneman was a former editor-in-chief of The Christian Science Monitor. He made extensive use of the archives of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, particularly Eddy’s correspondence, which he used to highlight how the discovery of Christian Science changed her life. Nenneman’s epilogue discusses Eddy’s legacy and the continued relevance of Christian Science

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).

2006-2014

2006

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

Stephen 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.

2014

Faith on Trial: Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Science, and the First Amendment
by Peter A. Wallner

A teacher and historian, Peter A. Wallner focuses solely on the “Next Friends Suit” of 1907. That lawsuit was brought in Mary Baker Eddy’s name on behalf of her son, George W. Glover II, and her adopted son, Ebenezer Foster-Eddy. The stated reason for the suit was to enable her sons to take control of her estate. Wallner posits that the case was actually an attack on religious freedom. He makes use of original sources, particularly the papers of William E. Chandler, the attorney who represented Glover during the suit, which are deposited at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email