What is the background on Eddy’s article “Contagion”?
We could not find any specific reference from Mary Baker Eddy as to why she was prompted to write “Contagion.”1 We do know, however, that epidemic diseases were part of the daily news around Boston, where Eddy was then living.
This brief article was first published in the August 4, 1883, issue of The Christian Science Journal (then called the Journal of Christian Science). That was just the third issue of the magazine. The article was reprinted with minor edits in the February 1886 issue.
Preparing the article for the 1897 publication of her book Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, Eddy made extensive revisions. These included changes in reference to Psalm 91; she replaced verses 5 and 6 with verses 9 and 10. This psalm is one of two Bible texts quoted.
In March 1895 Eddy permitted Mary F. Berry, her student and a Christian Science healer and teacher, to republish the February 1886 version of “Contagion” in the Manchester [New Hampshire] Daily Mirror and American. Berry had written to Calvin A. Frye, Eddy’s secretary, saying, “I think it [‘Contagion’] would do much good at this time when people are in such mortal dread of the cholera.”2 Each year from 1883 to 1895, Manchester recorded the most deaths from cholera in the state of New Hampshire. In 1894 and 1895, the city recorded a spike in such deaths. This may have motivated Berry’s request.3 We do not have a copy of the article as published in the Mirror and American.
It is worth noting that the 91st Psalm was highly significant to Eddy. She drew on it throughout her life for writing, teaching, public speaking, and even in the founding of Christian Science. In an April 1901 newspaper interview, she was asked, “On what is Christian Science based?” This was her reply:
I can tell you on what I based my conception of religion and on which, so far as in me rests, I have laid its foundation in Christian Science: The Ten Commandments, The Ninety First Psalm, The Sermon on the Mount, The Revelation of St. John the Divine.”4
- Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, 228–229.
- Mary F. Berry to Calvin A. Frye, 20 March 1895, IC369.49.007
- Report Relating to the Registration and Return of Births, Marriages, Divorces and Deaths in New Hampshire, Volume 15, 406.
- Joseph I. C. Clarke, My Life and Memories (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1925), 337.