Women of History: Lilian Whiting

September 2, 2017

Portrait of Lilian Whiting, circa 1893. Unknown photographer. Image from A Woman of the Century.

Lilian Whiting (1847–1942) was a journalist and author who covered women’s roles in the community and in the advancement of society. Perhaps not surprisingly her interest led her to Mary Baker Eddy, who was beginning to attract attention as the discoverer and founder of Christian Science. The two women developed a friendship that lasted over two decades. An associate of Eddy outside of her religious movement, Whiting expressed appreciation for her accomplishments and sought to illuminate them for readers.

She was born Emily Lilian Whiting near Niagara Falls, New York, daughter of Illinois senator Lorenzo D. Whiting and Lucretia Clement Whiting. Lilian began her journalistic career in 1876 and is credited as one of the first women to edit a newspaper, serving as editor-in-chief of The Boston Budget from 1890 to 1896, after having worked for other publications in Boston. She is also known for writing the first biography of Kate Field, a well-known journalist and actor of the day.1

Whiting requested an interview with Eddy in 1885, writing that she was “interested in your [Eddy’s] line of thought.”2 Their subsequent meeting at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College resulted in an article in Ohio’s Cleveland Leader; it was one of the first major pieces about Eddy and Christian Science to appear outside of New England. Their meeting confirmed Whiting’s appreciation for Eddy, which she expressed publicly. Whiting also mentioned receiving personal benefit from their first meeting, explaining that although she had felt tired on arrival, she left “skipping.”3

Through correspondence in the Mary Baker Eddy Collection, we can chart the growth of mutual respect between these women, evident in the exchange of pleasantries and the sharing of books. In 1888 Eddy sent Whiting an inscribed copy of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures4. Later Whiting wrote in thanks, “you have the one true philosophy of life,—that which begins and ends in God’s goodness.”5 In 1909 Whiting sent Eddy a copy of her volume From Dreamland Sent, inscribed “To the Reverend Mary Baker Eddy with the most grateful remembrance and the reverence and the love of Lilian Whiting Boston June days, 1909.”6

In her copy of Whiting’s publication The World Beautiful, Eddy made note of this paragraph:

Human love or friendship cannot give its gifts where they are unwelcome or unheeded. Your friend may long to pour out to you the treasures of his love, his care, his tenderness, his service; but unless you respond to them, he cannot give them. A gift presupposes two persons always,—not only one to give, but one, also to receive.

Eddy valued Whiting’s literary skill; in 1895 she included her “superbly sweet” poem “At the Window” on page 39 of her book Pulpit and Press, calling Whiting a “talented author” and “friend.”

Whiting attended Eddy’s communion address at The Mother Church in Boston on January 5, 1896. She wrote about the occasion in Chicago’s Daily Inter Ocean, including an assessment of Eddy: “In her home at Concord, where she is obliged to retire from the too pressing demands of city life, she conducts her immense correspondence, pursues her studies in the Bible and in other religions, and is in touch with all modern thought. A most remarkable figure in contemporary life is Mary Baker Eddy.”7 Again three years later, Whiting wrote in the same publication: “Personally, Mrs. Eddy is very winning, very magnetic. To those who do or do not class themselves as among her followers, she must yet be conceded to be a remarkable personality, one of the interesting figures of this century”8

In March 1906 Whiting offered to write a thorough biography of Eddy9, who replied: “Your request to write my biography is respectfully declined. I thank you for it and rejoice in your growth. At length the greatness and goodness of Christian Science have reached the heart of humanity with a touch of this truth — God is all.”10 The reasons for Eddy’s response are unknown; it is possible that she was aware of Whiting’s established interest in Theosophy, spiritualism, and New Thought, which Eddy considered inimical to Christian Science. There was at the time a growing interest in Eddy’s life; Georgine Milmine’s hostile series in McClure’s, as well as Sybil Wilbur’s more friendly series in Human Life, began within a year of Whiting’s request.

Correspondence between the two women trailed off after Whiting’s biography request, but she subsequently responded to several critiques of Eddy and continued to refer to her as an influential and significant woman.

Whiting did not become a Christian Scientist. Instead, her eclecticism led her to write for the New Thought journals Arena and Mind in Nature; to offer a sympathetic view of spiritualism in her biography of Kate Field; and to show an affinity for Theosophy in They Who Understand (1919). That book’s profiles included Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary A. Livermore, who Whiting said “contributed to the forces that make for the higher life of humanity.”11

The mutual regard of Eddy and Whiting was genuine, despite these differences. In 1919 Whiting recalled, “It was my happy fortune to know Mrs. Eddy personally.”12

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. See Lilian Whiting Papers, Syracuse University, Special Collections and Research Center. https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/w/whiting_l.htm
  2. Whiting to Eddy, 18 June 1885, IC587.60.001.
  3. Whiting, ”Boston Life,” Cleveland Leader and Morning Herald, 5 July 1885.
  4. Eddy to Whiting, July 1888, L18299.
  5. Whiting to Eddy, 15 July 1888, IC 587.60.005.
  6. Whiting to Eddy, June 1909, B00321.
  7. Whiting, “Life in Boston.” Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 11 January 1896.
  8. Whiting, “Can the Dead Write,” Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), 9 April 1899.
  9. Whiting to Eddy, 21 March 1906, IC587.60.016.
  10. Eddy to Whiting, 23 March 1906, L14087.
  11. Whiting, Women Who Have Ennobled Life, 5.
  12. Whiting, “Mrs. Eddy and Dr. Quimby,” The Occult Review, September 1919, 168–170.