Women of History: Ivimy Gwalter
L. Ivimy Gwalter (1889–1979) was a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science who served The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in many ways, including for 20 years as a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors. Perhaps most extraordinary are her many contributions to the Christian Science periodicals—well over 100 articles published over eight decades, beginning with a testimony of healing at the age of ten.
She came from a family of European immigrants. Her father, Henry Leonard Gwalter (1861–1947) was Swiss, and her mother, Lucy Lydia Ivimy Gwalter (1865–1921), came from England. They were married at the British legation in Zürich, Switzerland, in April 1888. Ivimy was born in September of the following year in New Jersey. Henry Gwalter likely came to the United States in relation to his work as a merchant of raw silk, as New York City was then (as now) a major center for the fabric industry.1
Ivimy’s parents became active students of Christian Science sometime in the early- to mid-1890s, after moving from New Jersey to New York City. In 1955 Ivimy recalled:
Christian Science came into our home when I was a small child. My mother was healed through reading Science and Health and delivered from a life of semi-invalidism. My father, too, found Christian Science of great help; his business reverses were wiped out and replaced by an increasing sense of security and prosperity. Christian Science meant everything in our home.
The Sunday following my mother’s initial healing my parents were invited to attend Third Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City, by the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Simmons, who had loaned Mother the book. Third Church had just been chartered and was meeting in tiny rooms on 125th Street in the Hamilton Bank Building. Mrs. Carrie Harvey Snider, C.S.D., was First Reader, and Mr. Charles Simmons, our neighbor, Second. I was the youngest of the very few children in the Sunday School.
Within a matter of weeks my parents joined Third Church. They were among the first group of members to be admitted….2
It is likely that around this same time Lucy and Henry Gwalter received Primary class instruction in Christian Science healing with Carrie Harvey Snider, CSD, who was a pupil of Mary Baker Eddy. They both joined The Mother Church in 1897, and later that same year Lucy became listed as a practitioner (healer) in The Christian Science Journal. She became a teacher of Christian Science in 1907.
While continuing to work as a businessman, Henry also supported the growth of Christian Science both in New York City and in his native country. He wrote of “A Grateful Acknowledgement from Switzerland,” published in the February 1899 Journal.3 The piece is mostly a reprint of a letter Henry Gwalter had received from Zürich. He explained that “the following letter was received by me a few weeks ago from one who, without other help, such as class teaching or church or personal contact with [Christian] Scientists, and having to overcome, withal, the difficulties of a foreign language, is faithfully trying to make Christian Science his own ….” This was some years before the first issue in 1903 of The Herald of Christian Science, a German periodical, and the 1912 publication of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy in German translation.4
The youngest member of the family, Ivimy Gwalter, published a testimony in the Christian Science Sentinel in August 1900:
I am a little girl ten years old, and have had many demonstrations. I am very much interested in reading the children’s demonstrations. I thought some of the children might like to hear one of mine.
I had to go to the dentist to have some teeth filled, and as I always had been very much afraid of going before, I thought I ought to overcome fear, so I read Science and Health, and treated myself several days before going, knowing that “perfect love casteth out fear,” and God did not send fear or pain. I did not have any fear or pain. I had to go to the dentist twice and he said I was very good. Then I knew I had really made the demonstration, but I knew it was God that made it, and not myself. I go to Sunday School every Sunday, and to Church too. We are all Scientists, and love Christian Science very much.5
The following year, Lucy Gwalter published an account of their church sharing Christian Science literature with the America, the flagship of the Baldwin-Ziegler polar expedition, as well as sending publications to libraries in South Africa and Australia.6
Lucy and Henry Gwalter left these calling cards at Pleasant View, Mary Baker Eddy’s home in Concord, New Hampshire, when they visited in June 1901. They were among several thousand Christian Scientists who visited, two days after four Communion services were held in The Mother Church, when Eddy’s Message to The Mother Church for 1901 was read. Subject File, Mary Baker Eddy, Addresses: June 25, 1901 – Calling Cards.
In November 1904 Ivimy Gwalter became a member of The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist). After graduating from high school she spent a year in Geneva, Switzerland, studying languages.7 She then returned to New York and studied music at the Institute of Musical Art (now known as The Juilliard School). Records list “Miss Lucy Ivimy Gwalter” as a graduate of the Department of Piano in 1913.8
Nevertheless her aim was not apparently a career in music but in serving the church she had come to love. As she later remembered:
It had long been my ardent desire to enter the public practice of Christian Science, but Mother wisely insisted that I should first learn to earn my living in another way. Consequently, for a brief period I pursued music as my vocation and taught piano. In 1918 my longing for the practice was consummated. However, my name did not appear in the Journal until 1922, as I served in the interim for four years in the Jointly Maintained Reading Room on 42nd Street, New York, as Assistant and later as Head Librarian.9
By the mid-1920s Ivimy Gwalter was a full-time Christian Science practitioner, writing articles regularly for both the Journal and the Sentinel. She followed in her mother’s footsteps as a student in The Mother Church’s Board of Education Normal class in 1940, teaching and holding annual association meetings in New York City.
In 1947 her life took on another big change, when she was appointed an associate editor of the Christian Science periodicals, which additionally included a move to the Boston area. The following year saw yet another major change—she was elected a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors. Gwalter was just the third woman to be a Director, succeeding in the position previously held by two others featured in this Women of History article series: Annie Knott and Nelvia Ritchie.
Gwalter was a Director in the decades following the Second World War—a time of extraordinary growth and change in the world, as well as in the Christian Science movement. For example, during her time of service, seven translations of the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health, were published, in Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Norwegian.
These excerpts from a 1965 Journal article give her thoughtful reflections on a more international concept of “sonship”:
In Christian Science, words take on new meanings. And so in a remarkable Bible Lesson, which begins on page 180 of her “Miscellaneous Writings,” Mary Baker Eddy, the beloved Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, points to the need of spiritualizing our sense of sonship. We must understand sonship not in terms of a personal relationship of man to God but as the scientific order of his being. Thus we shall replace the human concept of a father, a mother, and a host of sons, each a separate and detached entity, with the scientific understanding of the relationship of God and man, divine Principle and idea. In this relationship the idea can never be severed from its source, nor can it be less than God’s perfect and eternal expression. Embraced in Love, each idea moves in accord with its Principle….
Think what it means in terms of world problems to see the son of God, not clashing races and hordes of persons struggling and fighting for existence in Asia, in Africa, in Europe, in the Americas—not many races, not many peoples, not many minds but only the son of God. Let us think of this too in regard to our branch churches, not scores of members motivated by clashing views and human opinions but everywhere, collectively as individually, the son of God. Oh, let us pray to see man thus through the lens of Science!10
After 20 years as a Director—and just before construction began on the new Christian Science Center in Boston—Gwalter decided to retire from her directorship and devote her time fully to Christian Science practice, teaching, and writing. Our photograph depicts her at the groundbreaking for the new buildings on August 15, 1968.
Ivimy Gwalter’s life of service, as well as the lives of her parents, may be summed up in this extract from one of her Journal editorials:
The Christian Scientist is not merely an observer; he is a doer. Thus in his evaluation of the affairs of his church, of the politics of his country, or of the state of the nations he is not satisfied to sit idly by and look on either approvingly, critically, fearfully, or rebelliously. Rather does he, through consecrated and alert obedience to the inspired admonitions of his Leader and through daily study of her writings in conjunction with the Scriptures, so enlarge his spiritual understanding and spiritualize his thought and outlook that he is found agreeing always with Truth, never with error, acknowledging God’s allness, error’s nothingness, and man’s true self-identification or oneness with God.11
- This biographical information on the Gwalter family is found in Ancestry.com.
- Gwalter, “Historical Sketch,” 28 June 1955, Box 534067, Folder 336060.
- Henry L. Gwalter, “A Grateful Acknowledgment from Switzerland,” The Christian Science Journal, February 1899,753–756.
- The letter Henry Gwalter sent along was signed “S.R.G.,” who is likely “Sal. Rordorf Gwalter” of Zürich. While our research hasn’t yet determined if he was related to Henry Gwalter, this seems a definite possibility.
- Ivy Gwalter, “Christian Science in Dentistry,” Christian Science Sentinel, 16 August 1900, 822.
- “Christian Science in South Africa,” Sentinel, 24 October 1901, 124, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/issues/1901/10/4-8/among-the-churches
- “New Associate Editor,” Sentinel, 7 June 1947, 992.
- “Institute of Musical Art, Lectures Recitals and General Occasions, October 14, 1912 – June 9, 1913,” 82, Juilliard archives.
- Ivimy Gwalter, “Historical Sketch,” 28 June 1955, Church Archives, Box 534067, Folder 336060.
- See Gwalter, “Claiming our Sonship with God,” Journal, December 1965, 617-620.
- Gwalter, “Fulfilling our Duty,” Journal, June 1948, 276.