Women of History: Clara Shannon

December 18, 2020

Clara Shannon
Clara Shannon, c. 1892. P01593. Unknown photographer.

Clara Marie Sainsbury Shannon (1858–1930) was one of Mary Baker Eddy’s closest companions for over 20 years. During that time she studied Christian Science with Eddy, served as a worker on her staff, and witnessed firsthand some of the most significant moments of her life. “Dear Miss Shannon,” Eddy once wrote, “is one of the salts of this earth.”1

Born in England, Shannon emigrated with her family to Montreal, Canada, in 1873. There she and her sister Blanche first became aware of Christian Science in 1886 and soon found it healing them of physical ailments.2

Shannon first met Eddy when she took Christian Science Primary class instruction in September 1888.3 What she learned had a great impact. For example, she later recounted an experience that occurred when Eddy was wrapping up a day of teaching and a woman was brought in who was suffering from a mental illness:

… I watched the changes of expression that came over [the woman’s] face, from fear to peace and joy. And, oh! the love that was expressed in our Leader’s face as she looked down on her, stretched both arms and lifted her up, saying, “Get up, darling!” Then our dear Teacher put that needy one’s head on her shoulder and patted her face, as she lovingly talked the truth to her….4

Shannon wrote to Eddy some weeks later: “Thank you again and always for all your goodness to me, which love can never die. It is so great that I cannot tell it. God, Life, Love are so different now!”5 After the class, she returned to Montreal to set up a healing practice.6

Over the next few years, Shannon corresponded consistently with Eddy, asking for advice about healing patients, reporting on the progress of Christian Science in Montreal, or simply expressing her appreciation for Eddy’s work.7 She continued her studies, enrolling in the Normal class at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College on May 21, 1889. Eddy taught the first day only, before turning the teaching over to Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy. That was the last class that Eddy taught until November 1898.8 Throughout that time, however, Eddy supported Shannon’s work. For example, in July 1889, she wrote, “My very dear student, I am rejoiced at the growth I can trace in you. Keep in your field and you will reap what you sow Your faithfulness and true motives will bring their reward.”9

In June 1892 Eddy moved from Boston to Concord, New Hampshire, establishing her residence there and naming it Pleasant View. Shannon was one of the close companions selected to come and live there, along with other notable people such as Laura Sargent and Calvin Frye. She served in the Pleasant View household intermittently from 1892 until 1903, often staying there at times when Sargent was away. Her longest period of service was from September 1894 to January 1899.10 As a member of the staff, Shannon became one of Eddy’s most trusted confidants. Through her reminiscence we have some touching and personal accounts of Eddy’s early life, including this:

Here is an anecdote that [Eddy] told me as a lesson in economy, which was to teach me not to be wasteful. When they were children, in the winter evenings they used to shell corn for food for the chickens, etc. On one occasion little Mary was sitting by the fire, and as she shelled, a grain of corn fell off her lap. She pushed it with her little foot towards the burning log. Her Mother said, “Mary, get down and pick up that corn.” She answered “Oh! Mother, it is only one grain.” “Never mind”, said her Mother, “It will help to make a meal for a little chick.” I have not forgotten that lesson.11

Eddy also spoke to Shannon about the significance of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and why she chose to publish a work about her study of healing. She had been called to treat a woman through Christian Science who was suffering from “consumption,”12 whom doctors had been unable to help. Shannon recalled Eddy telling her about a conversation that took place after the woman’s recovery:

One of the doctors, an old, experienced physician witnessed this, and he said “How did you do it, what did you do?” She said, “I can’t tell you, it was God,” and he said “Why don’t you write it in a book, publish it, and give it to the world?” When she returned home she opened her Bible, and her eyes fell on the words “Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book.” Jeremiah 30:2; which showed her God’s direction.13

Employed at Pleasant View, Shannon witnessed some of the most significant moments in the early history of Christian Science. One of the best-known was Eddy’s first visit on April 1, 1895, to the recently completed Original Edifice of The Mother Church in Boston. Eddy, Shannon, and Frye had traveled from Pleasant View early that morning, and Shannon described what she saw as Eddy first entered the building:

Mother then walked into the Auditorium and I followed and remained at the end of the Church near the door so that if she needed anything there was someone at hand.

Our Leader walked up the left aisle of the Church facing the Reader’s desk, went very slowly and at times would stand still, look up and around; this she continued to do until she reached the Readers’ platform and stopped at the steps leading up to it. There she knelt on the first step and I well know how her grateful heart was going out in thanksgiving to divine Love for all the way that God had led her. 14

This was a moment of profound importance—not only for Eddy but for other early workers in the Christian Science movement. Shannon also recalled this:

Then Mother crossed the Church and noticed Mr. Colman15 weeping; he was sitting in the pew in front of me with his head bowed leaning on the pew in front of him. He was so overcome with joy and memories of the past and by what he had just seen and heard.

Our Leader went into the pew and sat beside him, touched his shoulder and said: “Why, brother, don’t you remember in the days gone by when we went to the Hall to have our services there, how you and I had to pick up pieces of paper and bits of orange peel in order to make the room clean.” Then she reminded him of several other things which happened in those days, and telling him how different it was at this time and how much we had to thank God for, encouraged him to look up with thanksgiving and rejoice.16

In 1903 Shannon returned to England at Eddy’s encouragement, to practice healing there. She later became a teacher of Christian Science. During that time she traveled to the Middle East.17 While there exists no record of the specific reason for that travel, Eddy may have encouraged it. In her reminiscence, Lady Victoria Murray described a visit she had had with Eddy, when she expressed her own interest in taking such a trip. Murray recalled, “She [Eddy] showed interest and pleasure when my father talked to her of his travels, and of Scotland, and expressed a desire to travel, especially that she might see the Holy Land.”18

Clara Shannon in Egypt

Clara Shannon in the Holy Land, n.d.. P01594. Unknown photographer.

Later Shannon drafted an article in which she reflected on her visit to Palestine. En route from Jericho to Jerusalem, her travel group stopped at a place called the Apostles’ Fountain. There she encountered a shepherd carrying a sheep. From that experience, she wrote about the importance of providing care to those who especially need it:

… Then I learned what happened at the end of each day, when the sheep were taken to the fold. The shepherd, when he reached the fold, would go in at the door, put his rod across it and let in one sheep. He would examine that sheep — its feet and knees, its coat and its face and head, and from his horn of oil would anoint any place that was hurt or scratched, would bathe its face and head with oil, and the cup which was kept there for that purpose he would fill to the brim with water, and let the sheep drink until he was satisfied, as we read in the 23rd Psalm — “Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.” This was done to each of the sheep in turn, and then the shepherd would close the door and remain with them all night.

The shepherd’s rod is used not for smiting but for delivering. If one of the sheep is missing, the shepherd calls, and if it does not come he seeks for it. If he finds it with its horns entangled in the thorns and bushes, with the rod (and the end of which is a crook), he extricates it, thus giving it its freedom. Also, if the sheep strays on another man’s property, he redeems it. The staff is used to protect and defend the sheep from wild beasts or anything that would attack them; hence the verse, “Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”19

Shannon remained a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, living in London for the rest of her life. ​She faced money and health challenges at times,​ ​but on the whole made a positive contribution to the movement in England. The Christian Science Board of Directors awarded her a pension in the 1920s, after learning that Lord and Lady Astor, prominent British Christian Scientists, had been supporting her financially.20

While Shannon’s work during the early days of Christian Science was certainly significant, our collection also shows clearly that the particular care and support she provided to Eddy were exceptional. Something from a note she received in 1892 indicates Eddy’s recognition of that fact—and her profound appreciation: “I thank you dear one, first for yourself, second, for what you are to me, third, for the good you do ….”21

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. Mary Baker Eddy to Marguerite Sym, 7 May 1889, L05555.
  2. H. Roy and Gladys Gertrude Conway, “How Christian Science came to Montreal, Que.,” 2 October 1969, Subject File, Clara M.S. Shannon (1858-1930), 1.
  3. ”The Students of Mary Baker Eddy,” The Mary Baker Eddy Library, January 7, 2019, https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/who-took-classes-on-christian-science-with-mary-baker-eddy/
  4. Yvonne Cache von Fettweis and Robert Warneck, Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2009), 155.
  5. Clara M.S. Shannon to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 October 1888, IC318.44.003.
  6. H. Roy and Gladys Gertrude Conway, “How Christian Science came to Montreal, Que.,” 2 October 1969, Subject File, Clara M.S. Shannon (1858–1930), 1.
  7. For one example, see Clara M.S. Shannon to Mary Baker Eddy, 15 February 1889, IC318.44.009.
  8. “The Students of Mary Baker Eddy,” The Mary Baker Eddy Library, January 7, 2019, https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/who-took-classes-on-christian-science-with-mary-baker-eddy/
  9. Mary Baker Eddy to Clara M.S. Shannon, 4 July 1889, L07751.
  10. We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Volume II (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 174; Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1977), 12.
  11. Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” 1927, Reminiscence, 8.
  12. This likely referred to tuberculosis. However, at that time consumption was a diagnosis based on a variety of symptoms, and the two terms are not synonymous.
  13. Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” 1927, Reminiscence, 24.
  14. Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” 1927, Reminiscence, 44–45.
  15. E. L. (Erwin Leslie) Colman (1849–1895).
  16. Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” 1927, Reminiscence, Clara Shannon, 47.
  17. We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Volume II (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 175.
  18. Victoria Murray, 1918, Reminiscence, 1.
  19. Clara Shannon, “St. John. Chapter X 4,5, 7, 9, 11, 14, 15, 27–30,” n.d., Subject File, Clara M.S. Shannon (1858–1930), 1–2.
  20. Hermann S. Hering to the Christian Science Board of Directors, August 24, 1929.
  21. Mary Baker Eddy to Clara M.S. Shannon, 10 October 1892, L07757.