What do we know about writings attributed to Bicknell Young?

May 20, 2022


The signature of Bicknell Young, from a document in The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s collections.

Bicknell Young (1856–1938) was a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. He was also a member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship from the early 1900s to the late 1930s. Many people admired Young’s presentations about his religion and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy.

During his lifetime and since, numerous addresses, letters, Christian Science class notes, and articles have been in circulation that are attributed to Young. But what about the authenticity of this material, its context, and the presumed author’s intentions? Here is some of what our research has revealed.

Bicknell Young and his wife, Elisa Mazzucato Young, attended a 1901 Normal class taught by Edward A. Kimball. After that, Young taught students of his own. He held classes in Chicago until 1938, except between 1909 and 1913, when the Youngs lived in London and he taught there. This may have led to early instances in which his writings were circulated without permission. He explained:

When I was requested [with Mrs. Eddy’s approval] to take up my residence in England in 1909, the Christian Science Board of Directors told me that although my association would have to be held in England. I could send annually a letter to my students in this country, and that they could assemble for the purpose of having it read to them. When I returned to [the United States] in 1913 the process was reversed by permission of the Directors….1

Bicknell’s son Hilgard B. Young, who served for some time as secretary of the Bicknell Young Christian Science Students’ Association, noted that “there are 28 B. Y. [Bicknell Young] Association Letters (or Addresses) 1910 to 1937 inclusive.”2

Perhaps inevitably, interest in addresses by prominent teachers of Christian Science led to surreptitious circulation of what were claimed to be authentic copies. These documents were sometimes acquired by small publishers, reprinted, and sold—a practice that continues today. Our files include Young’s association addresses from 1910 to 1937, with the exception of one from 1916. But these are not open to the public, in accordance with Library policy and Young’s stated wishes.

In 1938, shortly before his passing, Young wrote to his pupils:

All my manuscripts of whatever character or import are my private property. They belong to me exclusively and to my legal heirs. They cannot legally be copied or passed around without my consent or in my absence without the consent of the trustee or trustees of my estate. I ask every member of my association to respect my legal rights to my association addresses, and I anticipate unanimous compliance with my request.3

A short article attributed to Young and titled “Day” has been in circulation for decades. It occasioned correspondence between Young and the Christian Science Board of Directors in 1933. They sent him a copy, asking if he was the author and why it was circulating. He replied:

…let me say that I am the author of the gist of the manuscript “Day” which you enclosed, and which I herewith return.

In further explanation, may I add that the remarks which this manuscript somewhat inadequately records, were made at an Association meeting of my students about five years ago. I deeply regret that these and other notes have been quite widely circulated throughout the field, and I have done my best to stop it.4

After Young’s death, the distribution of writings purportedly written by him accelerated. Material claiming to be verbatim quotes from his class teaching was incorporated into books such as Christian Science Class Instruction by Arthur Corey, a student of Young’s.5 Listed for several years as a practitioner in the directory of The Christian Science Journal, Corey later left The Mother Church and wrote, spoke, published, and taught his own metaphysical system.

The presentation of Christian Science given by a teacher in Primary class instruction, as well as his or her engagement with pupils, is not usually publicized. The same is true of the proceedings of the triennial Normal class that is taught at The Mother Church in Boston. Bicknell Young taught Normal classes in 1910 and in 1937.

Margaret Laird was a pupil in Young’s 1937 Normal class. She later resigned from The Mother Church and promulgated her own teaching. After attending the class, Laird circulated her notes from it to several fellow students. The Board of Directors subsequently asked these people if Laird’s representation of Young’s teaching was accurate. In a 1945 letter, three of them wrote, referring to “the vagueness, inaccuracy, and incompleteness of these ‘notes,’ which in several instances are a perversion of what Mr. Young actually did say in that class.” They continued by saying, “These ‘notes’ make it appear that Mr. Young made statements which are the opposite of what he taught us….” And they concluded, “Mrs. Laird’s ‘notes’ are her own concept of the class and in some cases a fabrication.”6 In a separate document, those three teachers specified errors in the notes, calling them in places “incorrect,” “contrary to anything said,” and a “direct contradiction of what was said.”7

A raft of articles has been in circulation bearing Young’s name which, like “Day,” were not published in the Christian Science periodicals. Are they authentic? While it’s not possible to give an answer in each instance, correspondence by the secretary of Young’s association throws helpful light on the subject. She responded to a 1973 inquiry regarding another article, titled “Oneness”:

A copy of this paper came to our attention about two years ago. It was read with care, and I must say with great appreciation, for it is an excellent paper. However, several students of Bicknell Young who know his writings well, agreed that it was not written by him. To our knowledge he never wrote an article entitled “Oneness.” Because of the length of the article, it was probably an association address. It definitely is not one of Mr. Bicknell Young’s Association addresses.8

The same letter included an explanation of the possible provenance of some pieces attributed to Young:

It was not Mr. Young’s custom to write isolated titled articles for general distribution. What might happen on occasion would be something like this: In a meeting of the Bicknell Young Association, he might turn to some special subject and review it and enlarge on it in considerable detail. These reviews or special explanations were always spontaneous. They were never written out or given from memory. They were always clear, concise, and illuminating.

Customarily, his secretary might make notes of these special reviews. Later on, she would type them out, and Mr. Young might distribute a few copies. This could lead, and did lead at times, to certain abuses. Someone would make revisions or additions to the text, and pass it around as an article by Bicknell Young, perhaps adding a title. Such articles frequently find their way back to the Secretary of the Association, and we do our best to explain the situation.9

The Mary Baker Eddy Library can verify the authenticity of letters by Bicknell Young to the press, and to Mary Baker Eddy, that appeared in the Christian Science periodicals or are found in files of newspaper and magazine clippings in our archives. The lectures by Young that are reprinted in those publications and found in the Library’s Published Lecture file are, of course, authentic. Our holdings also include some of his correspondence.

Bicknell Young wrote just one article published in the Christian Science periodicals—“Prophecy.” It appeared in the June 1919 issue of The Christian Science Journal.10

The Mary Baker Eddy Library is glad to assist patrons in evaluating the authenticity of documents attributed to Christian Scientists. You may wish to visit the Authentications page. If you do not find the information you need, please contact our research staff with your questions.

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  1. Bicknell Young, Questionnaire, Church Archives, box 20943, folder 84549.
  2. From notes by Hilgard Young, “Record of B.Y. activities in the Church,” n.d., Longyear Foundation.
  3. Quoted in “To the members of the Bicknell Young Association of Christian Science Students,” 4 April 1980, Association –Young, Bicknell.
  4. Bicknell Young to Christian Science Board of Directors, 15 March 1933, Church Archives, box 23715, folder 14198.
  5. Arthur B. Corey, Christian Science Class Instruction (San Francisco: Farallon Press, 1945).
  6. Richard J. Davis, Violet Ker Seymer, Herschel P. Nunn to The Christian Science Board of Directors, 1 July 1945.
  7. Richard J. Davis, Violet Ker Seymer, Herschel P. Nunn to The Christian Science Board of Directors, 17 July 1945.
  8. Lois G. Runeman to Audrey K. Miller, 11 December 1973, Association—, Young, Bicknell.
  9. Runeman to Miller, 11 December 1973.
  10. See Bicknell Young, “Prophecy,” The Christian Science Journal, June 1919, 111–115.