Women of History: Jeannie Dove

April 24, 2023

Portrait of Jeannie Dove

Still image of Jeannie Dove, c. 1970. It is taken from the film “But What Can I Do?” which was shown in Boston at the 1970 Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Thanks to Jeannie Dove (1917–2000) and other pioneers, Christian Science took root in Ghana. Her career as a spiritual healer and teacher aided its growth not only in her own country but throughout West Africa.

Mary Baker Eddy and her followers first established Christian Science in North America in the late nineteenth century, but the religion was little-known in Ghana until the 1950s. In 1951 a native of Accra, the capital city, was healed in London by its prayer-based method. This sparked interest and led to the formation in 1954 of an informal group of eight people. They completed a church building in the center of Accra three years later, just a few months after Ghana won independence from Britain. Generous individuals who were interested in Christian Science rented the land at one shilling per year for 50 years, renewable for another 50. Continued growth brought the group recognition as a Christian Science Society in 1960, listed in The Christian Science Journal directory.1 

It was during this introductory period that Dove became interested. Her father was a lawyer and an Anglican, her mother a Methodist. Dove explained on a resume that she had worked “as a dressmaker and then a journalist.”2 She described herself as “having been brought up in a Christian atmosphere,”3 and as “a keen Bible student.” When she heard of Christian Science in 1958, her “first impulse was to brush it aside.”4 But that sentiment evolved, and she ended up becoming deeply interested. In a 1969 interview, she described that experience: 

The first article I started reading [in a Christian Science magazine] caught my eye and I…felt, This must be the truth I’ve been looking for. I read through the first [Christian Science] Sentinel and before I started the second, I got up and all the medicines in my house just went outside my house, and that very day a friend who’d been to America came to see me. As soon as he came, without offering him a seat I said, You’ve been to America. Do you know anything about this textbook that’s spoken of here: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures? He said, “Yes! When things were very hard for me in America I bought a secondhand copy, and I’ve got it.” I said, you know, don’t sit at all. You go right back and bring me that book. I’d like to read it. And with it bring the Bible. 

Dove recalled her first encounter with the Christian Science textbook:

I slept very little. I woke up very early every morning, and I read and read, and in three days I had gone through it just to get the gist of it, you know, to know what it was all about…. I got to the middle of it and began to work on myself, do little healings on myself, so that by the time I finished I quite understood a little bit about Science. Then I went through the book again, read it several times over.

Dove joined The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist) in 1965. Then, she recalled, “after studying Science and Health for several years I decided to have [Christian Science] class instruction. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to work prayerfully for supply to cover the expenses of the trip to England, where I had been accepted by a teacher.”5 This had all been preceded by a nocturnal epiphany that sealed her commitment:

…that night, the thought came again, Sell everything in this house and raise some money to go for your instruction. I always wanted to help people and in a big way and a good way. So, as I went off to sleep the thought came, a beautiful angel thought came, Because you have Me you have everything. I went off to sleep and next morning before I really awakened the thought came again … because you have Me, you have everything.6 

She went to England for Primary class instruction in Christian Science, a multi-day foundational experience, and remained for six months, working and attending Christian Science churches in London. After returning to Ghana she entered the public practice of Christian Science healing, with a Journal listing that started in 1969.7 She was the first listed practitioner in Ghana and is quoted as having said, “I am very happy in this work!” 8 

A fellow Christian Scientist noted a change in Dove after her trip to England: 

Prior to taking class instruction, she, not unusually, considered herself a person in the privileged class [because of her father’s status as a lawyer]. However, she is now very approachable, and in humbleness and trust she is prepared to help, through prayer, any member of the public who may call on her.9 

Another Christian Scientist in Accra recounted a healing involving Dove around that time:

My washman’s boy who had rheumatoid arthritis since his childhood had treatment from various medical doctors without getting permanently cured. It reached a stage when the doctors announced that there was nothing more they could do for him. When I heard of his case, he could only get out of bed supported and could take just a few steps at a time.

I talked to his father about Christian Science healing and on a Tuesday afternoon took them both to Miss Jeannie Dove for [Christian Science] treatment. The following Friday the boy was able to walk a distance of more than a mile from his home to mine to do my laundry. His swollen joints were back to normal and his twisted fingers had straightened out. It is two years since this healing took place, and now he is very healthy looking and cheerful and so thankful to God.10 

Class instruction had for decades been offered by authorized teachers in South Africa, as well as in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Beginning in the 1960s, the geography and diversity of the Christian Science teacher corps slowly expanded, as the religion gained adherents in the Global South. In 1973 Dove was part of a Normal class of 30 students held at The Mother Church in Boston. She became the first Black teacher of Christian Science in Africa.11  

Dove faced an unexpected challenge a few years after she began teaching Christian Science. She rented the house where she lived and maintained an office for her healing practice. Learning about her expanding responsibilities, her landlord assumed that she was subsidized by a foreign missionary organization, like some others in Ghana. In fact, Christian Science practitioners and teachers are not employees of the Christian Science church but are paid by their patients and pupils. The landlord substantially raised her rent, to the point that Dove feared she would be forced to leave the city and find a secular job in order to survive. This was a threat not just to her but also to the modest beginnings of Christian Science teaching in West Africa.12 

The Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy were able to offer a solution. This body provides needed assistance to churches and individuals. Under its auspices, The Mother Church bought Dove’s house from her landlord and arranged for her to then purchase it from the church, through monthly mortgage payments that equaled her former rent. This arrangement was satisfactory, and Dove was able to increase the amount of her payments after a few years.

Jeannie Dove was listed as a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science until 1999, serving for 30 years. She contributed several articles to her church’s magazines. In a 1987 radio program, she looked back on her early experiences:

I’d always been searching for the truth. I’d looked through the Bible. I knew what I wanted in the Bible–I hadn’t found it. Later on I said, when I come across the truth, I will know it…. When I opened [Science and Health, page vii] and I read that sentence, “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, to-day is big with blessings,” I felt more the power of God. This was the truth I’d been searching for.13 

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  1. First History and Report of Christian Science Society, Accra, from June 1960 to October 1963. (Accra: Lona Press) n.d., 1–2, Church Archives. Further development resulted in recognition as First Church of Christ, Scientist, Accra, in 1976.
  2. “Resume, Miss Jeannie Dove, Accra, Ghana, n.d., Church Archives.
  3. Jeannie Dove, “Casting away the garment,” Christian Science Sentinel, 6 September 1975, 1551.
  4. Dove, “A Glimpse of Soul and Body,” The Christian Science Journal, September 1976, 500–501.
  5. Dove, Testimony, The Christian Science Journal, October 1972, 595.
  6. “But what can I do?” Church Archives, F258172, 1970.
  7. Dove had previously lived in England after World War II and was married there. She explained that her husband’s “cruel attitude” after his hospitalization for “a nervous breakdown” made life unbearable. They were divorced in 1957. She wrote, “Soon after the divorce I found Science which has brought me much joy and happiness.” Dove to the Department of Branches and Practitioners, 21 January 1969, Church Archives.
  8. “But what can I do?” 1970
  9. “Resume,” n.d., Church Archives.
  10. Clara Georgina Simpson, “Testimony of Healing,” n.d., Church Archives. In subsequent correspondence Simpson dated the healing to 1967.
  11. African American Georgia L. Newton was in the same Normal class; decades earlier, Lulu M. Knight had become the first person of color to teach Christian Science. Others have followed in the United States, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
  12. “Summary of background on the purchase of Jeannie Dove’s house,” Lloyd G. Marts to The Christian Science Board of Directors, 6 April 1981, Church Archives.
  13. “Breaking free from feeling trapped,” Sentinel Radio Edition, 28 November 1987, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/sentinel-audio/sentinel-radio-edition/1987/breaking-free-from-feeling-trapped