Women of History: Caroline Noyes

January 7, 2019

Studio portrait of Caroline D. Noyes, circa 1890–1895. P01405. Photo by Electric Light Photo Company in Chicago, IL.

“Metaphysics has been more damage to me financially than it has income…. Through my love of the Science I have sacrificed my home and the Companionship of my Husband for nearly a years time. I knew I should have to make sacrifices but I did not know what I should have to meet.”1

Caroline Dorr Noyes (1845–1922) wrote those improbable lines to Mary Baker Eddy in February 1884, responding to Eddy’s invitation to attend her class at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston. She related her trying circumstances as part of a request that Eddy lower her tuition from $300 to $50. We have no record of her teacher’s response, but Noyes did attend the class. What followed led her to become a successful teacher and healer—a pioneer who helped bring Christian Science to the American Midwest.

But who was this student of Eddy who initially claimed that metaphysics had impacted her life negatively? And more important, why did she go to the class despite that declaration? Part of the answer may be found in her own words, from an address titled “Truth’s Appearing” that she delivered in March 1889:

That which is not worth seeking and asking for is valueless to any one, and if some sacrifice is necessary to obtain any object of our desire, that much more will the object, when obtained, be appreciated…. We should have confidence in the expressions of Truth, and according to that confidence or trust it will be unto us.2

Eddy later commented, “No one who had not experienced and learned from this experience could have so written. I wept at its wisdom and childlike receiving and uttering of Truth.”3

Born in Gardiner, Maine, she married Gideon Palmer Noyes in 1864 and moved to Massachusetts, where she first encountered Christian Science in 1882. By the following year, after some success in healing, she decided to dedicate her life to it.4 She even moved to the rapidly growing city of Chicago, to help meet the needs of the young Christian Science movement in the Midwest.5 This was a bold step that meant living far away from her husband.

While Noyes struggled early in her career,6  7  8 she began to see some progress after taking a second class with Eddy in 1885, which qualified her as a teacher of Christian Science. Soon she wrote to Eddy, “I have never been so well pleased with my work as since my return. My Patients have all done finely and I feel more equal to anything that presents itself.”9 By 1886 she was able to support herself and her husband who, having moved to Chicago, began his own public practice of Christian Science. She wrote, “I can earn enough for both of us until he can help—so we have nothing to worry about in that line.”10

Noyes helped keep Eddy informed of developments and needs in Chicago. Her letter of April 15, 1884, expressed concern that the cause was suffering from “indiscriminate teaching.”11 That August Eddy held her first Normal class at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, designed to teach Christian Scientists how to be teachers. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Noyes had already founded the Illinois Christian Science Institute a month earlier—an example of her tendency to respond quickly to her teacher’s encouragement.12 Eddy’s response must have been gratifying: “Was surprised to see that while others have been waiting Mrs. Noyes has started the first public Institute for Christian Science in Chicago!!!”13 That same year Noyes also helped to organize the first Church of Christ (Scientist) in Chicago. While this may have been a milestone, by 1890 the church lost its pastor, Dr. George Day, and dissolved. In her reminiscence Noyes recalled, “…it seemingly devolved upon me to take a stand for Christian Science and Our Leader.”14 As a result, she and some others reorganized the church, which became First Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago.

Without a pastor, the church decided to use readings from the Bible and Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures for their sermon, in place of a preacher. “Recognizing that Science and Health is both our Teacher and Healer,” Noyes reported, “we resolved to take it into our pulpit and make it our Preacher also …. In two months both church and Sunday school have doubled in number.… It has thus demonstrated that a Christian Science church can be carried on successfully and profitably without a regular speaker.”15 That was five years prior to Eddy’s ordaining of the Bible and Science and Health as the official Pastor of the Church of Christ, Scientist.16

The reorganized branch church in Chicago was not the only one that Noyes helped to found. In 1906 she also helped dedicate First Church of Christ, Scientist, Gardiner, in her home state of Maine.17 She had purchased the land seven years before and gifted it to the Christian Scientists in Gardiner for that purpose.18 In 1911 Noyes moved to Gardiner, where she and her husband spent the rest of their lives.

Edith Lunt Smith’s 1934 reminiscence of Noyes gives us further insights into her accomplishments. “[She] always gave liberally,” remembered Smith, “not only of her time and energy but, also, of money to the Cause of Christian Science.” That included a $30,000 bequest ($450,000 in 2018 dollars) to the Gardiner church following her passing in 1922.19

Over the years, Noyes responded to many calls for help from The Mother Church. This included sending money to the building fund for the Original church in Boston, and again 12 years later for the church Extension.20 She attended meetings of the National Christian Science Association, served on its Executive Committee,21 and helped plan Christian Science proceedings at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.22 Later she responded to calls from the Christian Science Board of Directors for “original autograph letters written by Mrs. Eddy,” which are now part of the Church Archives.23

At the time of Noyes’s death, the Christian Science Board of Directors sent a letter to her family, expressing both sympathy and appreciation for her service to the cause of Christian Science.24 She had made significant contributions to the early movement, chiefly by nurturing its growth in what was fast becoming the nation’s second largest city. Smith’s reminiscence frames those achievements in an account Noyes shared about herself:

After working hard in Chicago for some time without making any apparent headway, [Noyes] went on to Boston to see Mrs. Eddy and talk the situation over with her. Mrs. Eddy invited her into the house but did not ask her to remove her wraps. After Mrs. Noyes had told her story, she said to Mrs. Eddy, “One thing, I have done the best I could” to which Mrs. Eddy replied, “Oh, no, you haven’t. Go right back and do better.” … she did not dare to disobey and she took the next train for Chicago. She began to do better and became successful.25

Listen to "Women of History from the Mary Baker Eddy Library Archives," a Seekers and Scholars podcast episode featuring Library staffers Steve Graham and Dorothy Rivera.

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  1. Caroline D. Noyes to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 February 1884, IC304.43.004, https://mbepapers.org/?load=304.43.004.
  2. Mrs. G. P. Noyes, C.S.D., ”Truth’s Appearing,” March 1889, Subject File, Caroline D. Noyes (1845–1922).
  3. Eddy to Noyes, 2 June 1889, L05444.
  4. Noyes, ”Christian Science Notes by Caroline D. Noyes… from her personal experience,” n.d., Reminiscence, LSC009, 1.
  5. Noyes, ”Christian Science Notes by Caroline D. Noyes… from her personal experience,” n.d., Reminiscence, LSC009, 2.
  6. ”My business does not come in good at all I was gone so long my Patients lost interest…” Noyes to Eddy, 10 April 1884, 304.43.006, https://mbepapers.org/?load=304.43.006.
  7. ”Since I have gone to work to help them with the association my Office Business has entirely fallen off…” Noyes to Eddy, 10 September 1884, 304.43.011.
  8. ”The Patient that I told you of in whom I was so much interested was dead and buried on my return…” Noyes to Eddy, 30 November 1884, 304.43.013.
  9. Noyes to Eddy, 20 March 1885, IC304.43.015.
  10. Noyes to Eddy, 24 June 1886, IC304.43.030.
  11. Noyes to Eddy, 15 April 1884, https://mbepapers.org/?select=304.43.007&action=activateIC304.43.007, .
  12. ”Prospectus of the Illinois Christian Science Institute,” n.d., Subject File, Caroline D. Noyes (1845 – 1922).
  13. Eddy to Noyes, 9 August 1886, L05423.
  14. Noyes, ”Christian Science Notes by Caroline D. Noyes… from her personal experience,” n.d., Reminiscence, LSC009, 5.
  15. Noyes, “Church Service,” The Christian Science Journal, May 1890, 65-66.
  16. Eddy, “Church and School,” The Christian Science Journal, April 1895, 1–3.
  17. “Among the Churches” Christian Science Sentinel, 14 July 1906, 731.
  18. “Among the Churches,” Christian Science Sentinel, 21 September 1899, 42.
  19. Edith Lunt Smith, “Caroline D. Noyes, C.S.D.,” c. November 1934, Subject File, Subject File, Caroline D. Noyes (1845 – 1922). Noyes also left bequests to relatives, the Gardiner Public Library, and the City of Gardiner.
  20. The above message from our beloved Teacher and Leader…,” The Christian Science Journal, June 1894, 92-93.
  21. “Official Minutes of the Fourth Annual Meeting, N. C. S. Association,” The Christian Science Journal, July 1889, 172-183.
  22. Noyes, ”Christian Science Notes by Caroline D. Noyes… from her personal experience,” n.d., Reminiscence, LSC009, 7.
  23. ”Mrs. Eddy’s Letters,” Christian Science Sentinel, 17 November 1917, 232.
  24. “Caroline D. Noyes, C.S.D.,” obituary from an unknown newspaper, c. January 1922, Subject File, Caroline D. Noyes (1845–1922).
  25. Edith Lunt Smith, “Caroline D. Noyes, C.S.D.,” c. November 1934, Subject File, Subject File, Caroline D. Noyes (1845 –