Women of History: Margaret Matters

October 27, 2021

Margaret Matters

Portrait of Margaret Murney Glenn Matters, circa 1940. 
Photo by Bachrach Studios. Used with permission.

In 1943 Margaret Murney Glenn Matters (1887–1965) was lecturing on Christian Science. “There is a universal need,” she observed, “for health, supply, fellowship, righteous government, integrity, law, and order.” With the globe sunk in World War II, she pointed her audience in a different direction: “Neither personal leadership, sectarianism, nationalism, material sciences, material medicine, art, nor invention can meet this universal need—this yearning of the heart of humanity for that which inspires with enthusiasm and joy and which brings peace to all.”1 Some 25 years before—against the backdrop of the First World War—she had refocused her own life goals, devoting herself to the practice of spiritual healing as a Christian Science practitioner (someone who prays for others). Here was where she saw that “universal need” being met.

The eldest daughter of distinguished United States Army Major General Edwin F. Glenn (1857–1926) and Louise S. Smyth (1862–1942), she attended the esteemed Miss Porter’s School for Girls in Farmington, Connecticut.2 After living in Boston—where she performed as a vocalist in the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on at least one occasion,3—she moved to Berlin to study music. But then, perceiving a critical need for healing in Germany, she abandoned her musical career.4

Undaunted by the wars and the Great Depression, as well as internal strife and legal difficulties within the Christian Science movement,5 she went on to serve The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist) in a variety of roles, including as a lecturer6 and the first woman to chair the Christian Science Board of Lectureship.7 In 1920 she was appointed to a three-year term as Second Reader of The Mother Church, and in 1940 she was elected its President.8 9

Matters had first heard about Christian Science as a young girl, when her father’s military career had the family moving among various army posts in the United States and the Far East. Her study of the religion began in earnest when she was in her 20s and living in Boston. In 1909 she joined The Mother Church and attended instruction in Christian Science known as Primary class, in order to learn how to apply its teachings to all situations. In Berlin she served first as a vocal soloist, and by 1916 was the First Reader at First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berlin. She returned briefly to the US to become a teacher of Christian Science. After World War I she lived in the US permanently, eventually settling in the New York metropolitan area, though her lecturing continued to take her around the world for the next couple of decades.10 11

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, understood God as divine Principle, universal Love, the Father-Mother for all humanity. Perhaps because of her experiences traveling and living in other nations as a child, Matters seems to have felt a particular resonance with that concept. She shared this in a 1945 lecture:

When in human experience we seem to be facing opposing persons, nations, races, let us rise and go to the Father of us all, beholding God and man loving us. Let us not feed on the husks of the false beliefs that there are opposing races, nations, persons, and creeds, but let us know one God, one universe, one race, man in God’s likeness, lovely, loving, lovable, and greatly beloved of the Father.12

Her lectures drew from personal experiences—especially evident in the way she used a familiarity with the arts to convey ideas. Here is one example:

Whatever the human mind claims to create becomes separated from its origin and is outside of and apart from the individual who conceived and created it. Take, for instance, a work of art. It is conceived mentally by the artist, but it is brought forth materially and immediately becomes something outside of and apart from the artist. The same is true of the creations of an architect, a composer, a writer, or a human parent. This is the material concept or misconception of God’s creation. But we find given in the first chapter of Genesis the true statement of spiritual creation, which shows that the idea, creation, or the “seed is in itself,” is forever in the divine Mind which created and conceived it, for this Mind is its eternal selfhood.13

She also discussed the global and political import of the metaphysical concepts she presented:

Jesus said of the times when there would be “distress of nations,” that men’s hearts would be “failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” And he added, “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” If we keep our gaze and thought fixed on the things which are happening on earth, we are not going to be able to look up to Truth, or to what is happening in heaven, and behold its demonstration on earth.14

Certainly her early travels and experiences living abroad would have prepared her for the decades of lecturing around the world. It was still unusual for a woman to travel alone and speak in public. Matters demonstrated courage and dedication to her work. She served as a member of the Board of Lectureship almost continuously from 1923 until 1946, with only a couple of brief pauses of a year or two, to focus on her own healing practice—and for one initially unexplained break for “special literary work” for The Mother Church.15

Though her earlier musical career was long since abandoned, it was not forgotten. And her background in music was particularly useful for the “special literary work” to which Matters was assigned in 1930—the revision of the Christian Science Hymnal.16 In a career such as hers, pointing to one role or project as the defining moment can be difficult. But the publication of this 1932 Hymnal just might be that moment, showcasing her talents as a poetry writer,17 as well as a musician, a thinker, and a project manager. In addition to chairing the Final Hymnal Committee, she also contributed the texts for two new hymns in the 1932 edition, Number 221 (“O Jesus, our dear Master”) and Number 232 (“O Love, our Mother, ever near”).

In this work, Matters reported directly to the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society and to the Christian Science Board of Directors, advising them on everything from hymn selection to the format for referencing living authors. She often had the final say in decisions,18 and even sang new hymns for the Directors to review.19 Even after the Committee officially disbanded, she continued corresponding with its members on unfinished business after she had returned to the lecture circuit. At one point, while lecturing in California, she had to rent a piano in order to review potential compositions.20

Matters played a key role in the final selection of all of the hymns for the 1932 edition. This included handling matters of copyright21 and overseeing the revision of some words, in order to bring hymns into accord with Christian Science theology.22 She also took care that important words were introduced on the strong beats of the measures.23 Another goal she sought was to give maximum poetic expression to the thoughts the hymns contained.24 25

The previous iteration of the Hymnal, published in December 1909, had only been in use for a couple of decades,26 but for a relatively young religion that was long enough for church members to be reluctant in parting with it. In fact, the Board of Directors felt the need to call special attention to testimonies from people who had overcome their reluctance to accept the new version. Nevertheless Christian Scientists quickly began to love the new Hymnal.27 It is still in use today, its longevity speaking to the power and the quality of that revision. Not until 2008 was a separate supplement produced.

For nearly 90 years, this hymnal has been used multiple times each week in services around the world, as well as by individuals seeking solace or joy, as what Professor Leo Rich Lewis described in a Monitor article as the “‘official’ compendium of music for Christian Science Churches.”28 He went on to explain that “Christian Scientists, perhaps more than any other religious group, lay stress on congregational singing,” and that “the congregation is the chief singer everywhere,” making the hymnal that much more important to adherents of the faith. Lewis was Matters’s close associate on the Final Hymnal Committee and wrote that article in part to help Christian Scientists better understand what the Committee felt to be the most important changes in this new edition. Besides including two additional poems by Mary Baker Eddy—“Satisfied” and “Love”29—the new hymnal also included a Supplement, providing a place for hymns that were more familiar and beloved but lacking the complexity and universality desired for the main body of the hymnal.

Here was also a place for tunes that would be more familiar to congregants from outside of the US.30 In her work, Matters helped the 1932 Hymnal to acknowledge the worldwide nature of Christian Science, incorporating music from numerous nations including Armenia, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy.31

In 1938, at the age of 51, Margaret Murney Glenn appended a new last name to her signature, when she married fellow Christian Scientist Thomas Harold Matters, of Great Neck, New York. This was a second marriage for the widowed Mr. Matters—and in it the new Mrs. Matters gained three stepchildren. It seems only natural that someone who could write a hymn that begins “O, Love, our Mother, ever near” would herself experience motherhood.

Soon after her marriage, the city of Berlin—the birthplace of her healing practice—was once again embroiled in war. Matters had just been elected President of The Mother Church, and her address at the 1940 Annual Meeting spoke to that conflict. She reassured the assembly that Christian Science enables one to “overcome the belief war can be of permanent advantage, or that it is to be feared,” but that it also “destroys the desire for an unrighteous, unjust, and enslaving peace.”32

Matters retired from the Board of Lectureship permanently in 1946. She continued to work as a healer and teacher, and remained active in the church, which included writing for the Christian Science periodicals. She passed away in 1965, after a long and fruitful career that testified to profound metaphysical observations such as this:

All true beauty, whether it be expressed through science, art, or character, is based on law and order, on Principle. In fact, there is no such thing as unprincipled beauty.… Sometimes people believe that beauty is not a necessity, and that it can be dispensed with when times of depression, limitations, or lack appear, whereas beauty is as necessary a part of man’s being as is honesty or purity or intelligence….33

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. “Lecture on Christian Science by Margaret Matters, C.S.B.,” The Christian Science Monitor, 02 February 1943, 13.
  2. “Margaret Glenn Matters,” Hymnary.org: a comprehensive index of hymns and hymnals, accessed 06 October 2021, https://hymnary.org/person/Matters_MG.
  3. “A Berlioz Program,” The Boston Globe, 15 Mar 1908, 38.
  4. “New President of The Mother Church,” Christian Science Sentinel, 22 June 1940, 851.
  5. See “The ‘Great Litigation,’” The Mary Baker Eddy Library website, 30 March 2012, last accessed 07 October 2021, https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/research/the-great-litigation/
  6. “Christian Science Lecturers Elected,” Monitor, 5 June 1923, 1.
  7. “The Christian Science Board of Lectureship Historical Record”, n.d., Subject File, “The First Church of Christ, Scientist — Lectures and Board of Lectureship — Historical Record,” 33-33a. For her report as Chairman, see “Annual Meeting of The Mother Church,” July 1936, Journal, 184-185.
  8. “Annual Meeting of The Mother Church,” Sentinel, 19 June 1920, 823.
  9. “Mrs. Matters Elected Head of Mother Church, Scientist,” The Boston Globe, 3 June 1940, 5.
  10. “New President of The Mother Church,” Sentinel, 22 June 1940, 851.
  11. Der Herold der Christian Science, March 1917, v.
  12. “Lecture on Christian Science by Margaret Matters, C.S.B.” Monitor, 4 December 1945, 9.
  13. “Lecture on Christian Science by Margaret Matters, C.S.B.” Monitor, 4 December 1945, 9.
  14. “A Lecture on Christian Science Entitled The New Heaven and the New Earth as Revealed by Christian Science by Margaret Matters, C.S.B. of New York City,” Evening Star-News (Culver City, California), 6 January 1945, 2.
  15. “Notice,” Sentinel, 28 June 1930, 852.
  16. “New President of The Mother Church,” Sentinel, 22 June 1940, 851.
  17. See, for example, these poems: “A Prayerful Thought,” Journal, April 1952, 206 and “Tennessee in Autumn,” Monitor, 18 March 1929, 11.
  18. “Christian Science Hymnal History of 1932 Edition,” n.d., Church Archives, Box 4790, Folder Folder 201350116, 91.
  19. “Christian Science Hymnal History of 1932 Edition,” n.d., Church Archives, Box 4790, Folder Folder 201350116, 45.
  20. “Christian Science Hymnal History of 1932 Edition,” n.d., Church Archives, Box 4790, Folder Folder 201350116, 50.
  21. “Christian Science Hymnal History of 1932 Edition,” n.d., Church Archives, Box 4790, Folder Folder 201350116, 56.
  22. See, for example, Hymn 265; the second verse was changed from “By the thorn road and none other” to “By the Christ road and none other.”
  23. See, for example, Hymn 201; the line “Star of our hope” was changed to “Blest star of hope.”
  24. In some cases, this involved reverting to the original poem; see, for example, Hymn 171, with words by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The second line, which says, “When the bird waketh,” was restored to the hymn.
  25. “Christian Science Hymnal History of 1932 Edition,” n.d., Church Archives, Box 4790, Folder Folder 201350116, 43. Large portions of this letter were also published in “Items of Interest,” Sentinel, 20 February 1932, 491-492.
  26. “Items of Interest,” Sentinel, 24 September 1932, 71–72.
  27. “Items of Interest,” Sentinel, 21 January 1933, 412.
  28. Leo Rich Lewis, “New Christian Science Hymnal Shows Discriminating Choice,” Monitor, 29 August 1932, 6.
  29. “New as Hymns,” Sentinel, 19 March 1932, 570.
  30. Lewis, “New Christian Science Hymnal Shows Discriminating Choice,” Monitor, 29 August 1932, 6.
  31. “Items of Interest,” Sentinel, 20 February 1932, 491-492.
  32. “Christian Scientists Name Mother Church President,” Minneapolis Star Journal, 03 June 1940, 10.
  33. “Lecture on Christian Science by Margaret Matters, C.S.B.,” Monitor, 02 February 1943, 13.