Women of History: Annie Knott

February 23, 2015

Portrait of Annie M. Knott, circa 1898. P01068. Unknown photographer.

“As a Christian woman I am deeply thankful for living in an age of wonderful progress and enlightenment ….”
—Annie Knott

Annie MacMillan was born in East Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1850. Her devout Christian parents instilled in her a strong sense of religious freedom. At age 8 she had already memorized entire Bible chapters, “never to be forgotten.” During the early 1860s the family left Scotland and settled on a farm in Ontario, Canada.

While still quite young, Annie had the opportunity on one occasion to meet reformer Bronson Alcott, as well as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other women active in the women’s rights movement. Another important event in her early life occurred when she prayed for her gravely sick sister, who became well immediately. Later, after learning of Christian Science, she would acknowledge this as a Christian healing.

After marrying Kennard Knott in the late 1870s, she lived in England, where she became disillusioned with conventional medicine when it failed to heal a sick relative. After her marriage failed, Knott, now a single mother, relocated to Chicago in 1882. It was here that she first learned of Christian Science. Soon she had embraced this religion and settled in Detroit, establishing herself as a practicing Christian Science healer. She took classes from Eddy on teaching Christian Science (1887) and obstetrics (1889). Her two sisters also received teaching from Eddy.

The early 1890s found Knott busy preaching sermons and nurturing Detroit’s growing Christian Science movement. Less than five feet tall, she is described as capable and industrious, often motherly, and fully dedicated to supporting the cause of Christian Science. No doubt this helps explain why she became one of the first women to hold positions of authority in the church.

In 1898 Knott was appointed to The Christian Science Board of Lectureship and travelled throughout what was then the American frontier, giving talks on Christian Science—something then seen largely as a man’s activity.

Five years later she moved to Boston to become an editor of the Christian Science periodicals, becoming known for her careful use of the English language and dedication to maintaining the accuracy of Eddy’s teaching. Then in 1919, during a turbulent time in the early church, she became the first woman to sit on the Christian Science Board of Directors, serving for almost 15 years. “Within twenty-four hours after I had become a member of the Board,” she later remembered, “a subpoena was served upon me to appear at a suit called before the Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether the Directors of The Mother Church or the Trustees of the Publishing Society were to have control to the Christian Science publications, including Mrs. Eddy’s writings.” At length the court ruled in favor of the Directors. She had helped the church to weather a great storm and emerge intact, ready to move ahead in its healing mission.

Annie Knott died on December 20, 1941, at the age of 90. She is admired and respected to this day for her accomplishments as a pioneering leader and healer.

Want to know more about Annie Knott? Contact The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s Research Room: [email protected]  or 617-450-7218. You can also read her reminiscence in the book We Knew Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2011).


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