The passage in Science and Health states: “In 1880, Massachusetts put her foot on a proposed tyrannical law, restricting the practice of medicine.”1 The law is also mentioned in The People’s Idea of God: “Massachusetts…put her humane foot on a tyrannical prohibitory law regulating the practice of medicine in 1880.”2

In January 1880, a petition was brought forth by Robert Treat Paine, Jr., (of Cambridge, Massachusetts) and other members of the American Social Science Association. It asked that there be legislation passed that would “prevent all persons from practicing any branch of medicine in this State except such persons as have furnished to the Authorities of the State sufficient evidence of good moral character and of the possession of a thorough knowledge of their duty and calling.”3 The legislation called for a medical board “…composed of members from the Massachusetts Medical, Homeopathic Medical and the Eclectic Medical societies.”4

Proponents of the bill argued their point by stating that “the act is designed to prevent a man who has been trained to be a blacksmith, and who has worked as a blacksmith for a good part of his life from moving into the next town and, without preliminary study, putting out his sign as a doctor and being employed by his neighbors in the belief that he is all he pretends to be.”5 Over the course of many days in February 1880, a hearing of the petition before the Committee of Public Health of the Massachusetts Legislature was held. Paine stated that “the object of the petition…is to regulate the practice of medicine in order to protect, within reasonable limits, the health of the community.” He added that “…petitioners do not wish any rigid, severe, or harsh law, but desire that some regulation should be adopted.”6

Opponents to the bill argued “…that many of the most wonderful cures are made by ‘irregular’ practitioners, i.e., men who have never graduated from any medical college, and who would be refused licenses under the law that is proposed.”7 One man argued that “…it was impious for the state of Massachusetts to attempt to dictate to the Almighty through what instruments and means he should perform his miraculous cures.”8

For her part, on February 29, 1880, Mary Baker Eddy preached a sermon at Hawthorne Hall titled “Bill of Rights for 1880,” (the Bill of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution was passed in 1780). In it she argued “that any legislation or law intermeddling” with “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was “wholly unconstitutional and unchristian.”9 She also stated that every man and woman had the right to choose what means they utilized to improve themselves physically. Additionally, she stated that “every individual has the unquestionable right to choose what Christianity he shall seek, preach, and practice” and no legal body had the right to take away man’s God-given freedom.10

At a time when medical training and practice were virtually unregulated and with few standards, Eddy argued that alternative means of healing should not be outlawed or discounted.

The bill did not pass the committee on public health and in April of 1880 was withdrawn.

 

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Writings of Mary Baker Eddy, 1906), 161.
  2. Eddy, The People’s Idea of God (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1908), 10.
  3. SF – Eddy, Mary Baker – Writings – Science and Health – References in.
  4. “The Medicine Men,” Boston Daily Globe, February 19, 1880.
  5. “The Voice of the People,” Boston Daily Globe, February 15, 1880.
  6. “A Lively Consultation,” Boston Daily Globe, February 18, 1880.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “The Medicine Men,” Boston Daily Globe, February 19, 1880.
  9. Eddy, 29 Feburary 1880, A10082.
  10. Ibid.