What is the background on use of the title "Leader" for Mary Baker Eddy?

In the early days of the Christian Science movement, this title was used infrequently and usually not capitalized. Eddy first referred to herself as “leader” in a letter she sent a student in 1882.1 The title first appeared publicly in an editorial notice that referred to Eddy as “our leader,” in the September 6, 1884, issue of the Journal of Christian Science.

Eddy’s first published reference to herself as “leading” appeared in February 1886, in the 16th edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She wrote, “I hope, dear reader, I am leading you into the understanding of your divine rights and heaven-bestowed harmony….” The index in the back of the book listed this under Eddy’s name: “as a leader, 103.”2

It wasn’t until the April 1886 issue of The Christian Science Journal that “Leader” was first capitalized, in an article by one of Eddy’s students. In the March 1888 issue, Eddy capitalized the term in reference to herself. At this time, however, there was no formal policy on capitalization, and for many years the term appeared in the Journal both with and without capitalization.

Until 1903 Christian Scientists sometimes used the term “leader” in their magazines for other prominent members of the religion. Several examples of this appear in the Journal. In 1895 Eddy formally allowed the designation Mother for herself, although the term had been used informally prior to this.3 She later explained, writing in the third person, “At first Mrs. Eddy objected to being called thus, but afterward consented on the ground that this appellative in the Church meant nothing more than a tender term such as sister or brother” [Note] Mary Baker Eddy, The Manual of The Mother Church, 89th ed. (Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society), 64.[/note]

In late 1902 and early 1903, Mark Twain wrote a series of articles in the North American Review, ridiculing Eddy as “Our Mother.” She replied in the January 22, 1903, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel, and shortly afterward the By-Law “The Title of Mother Changed” (Article XXII, Section 1) was adopted. In its final form, the By-Law says this: “In the year nineteen hundred and three and after, owing to the public misunderstanding of this name, it is the duty of Christian Scientists to drop the word mother and to substitute Leader, already used in our periodicals.” Around the same time Eddy also began shielding the word “Leader” from other uses, approving the By-Laws “A Reader not a Leader” (Article III, Section 8) and “A Member not a Leader” (Article XXII, Section 2).

The day after publication of her reply to Twain, Eddy wrote to Hermann Hering, the First Reader of The Mother Church, asking that he “drop the name mother when speaking of me publicly and substitute Eddy the Founder of Christian Science.”4 But on the same day, her secretary, Calvin Frye, wrote to Hering, “[Eddy] also says Drop the word mother when naming her hymns and use the name Leader.”5 The mix-up was straightened out when Hering wrote to Eddy on February 19, 1903; she approved the use of “beloved Leader,” but not Mother, when announcing her hymns and solos.6

Eddy chose the term Leader as an alternative to Mother describing her place in the Christian Science movement. We don’t find any statements suggesting that Eddy discouraged Christian Scientists from calling her “Leader” after 1903.

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy to Clara Choate, 15 March 1882, L04088.
  2. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: Mary Baker G. Eddy, 1886), 103-104, 552.
  3. Mary Baker Eddy, The Manual of The Mother Church, 2nd ed. (Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society, 1895), 15.
  4. Eddy to Hermann Hering, 23 January 1903, L10926.
  5. Calvin Frye to Hering, 23 January 1903, L12283.
  6. Hering to Eddy, 19 February 1903, L10927.