Women of History: Marietta Webb
Marietta Thomas Webb (1864–1951) was one of the first African Americans listed in The Christian Science Journal as a practitioner of healing through prayer. For over a century, her own testimony has been part of the chapter titled “Fruitage” in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.
Webb was born in Petersburg, Virginia, to Randall and Georgiana Jones. While it is unclear whether she was born into slavery or as the daughter of free blacks, we do know that within a few years the Jones family had moved north, to Boston, Massachusetts.1 There she married Hiram Webb in 1892. They had a son, Hiram Orlando, the following year.2
By age four, young Orlando suffered from a variety of debilitating ailments. Webb recounted in 1906:
… It was while he was in what seemed to be his greatest agony, and when I was in the darkest despair, that I first heard of Christian Science. The bearer of the joyful tidings could only tell me to come and hear of the wonderful things that Christian Science was doing. I accepted the invitation, for I was willing to try anything to save my child, and the following Friday evening I attended my first meeting, which was in The Mother Church of Christ, Scientist….3
Unable to find a practitioner to pray for her child, she decided instead to turn to Science and Health in that time of great need:
I read it silently and audibly, day and night, in my home, and although I could not seem to understand it, yet the healing commenced to take place at once. The little mouth which had been twisted by spasms grew natural and the child was soon able to be up, playing and romping about the house as any child should….4
Webb’s testimony was selected for inclusion in “Fruitage,” the final chapter of Science and Health, and republished in the book in 1907, with the title “A Remarkable Case.”5
Following this healing Webb became an eager student of Christian Science in Los Angeles, California, where the family had moved not long after her son’s healing.6 She joined The First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church) in June 1899. Her article “The Protecting Power of Truth” appeared in the November 23, 1899, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel. It concluded by noting the racial challenges facing black Americans, an indication of the discrimination she encountered daily.
When her husband died in 1904, Webb had to confront the stark economics of widowhood in the early twentieth century. She continued working as a dressmaker until about 1911, when she became a Journal-listed Christian Science practitioner.
Sadly the Christian Science movement was not devoid of racial discrimination. In 1922 the designation colored was introduced for the Journal’s listing of black Christian Science practitioners, Christian Science nurses, and branch churches of The Mother Church. Apparently Webb was successful in evading this for a while, with the explanation that she was not black but Native American.7 But this refusal to be marked as a “colored” practitioner resulted in her ouster from a group that she had herself formed in 1933, bringing together black Christian Scientists who held church services. In an article in the Atlanta World, she explained that she saw her identity “as ‘Child of God’ and not a colored ‘Child of God.’”8 At length, however, she was forced to give in and accept the designation as a part of her Journal listing, which she retained for the rest of her life.
In 1950 Webb was included in an Ebony magazine article on black Christian Scientists. An accompanying photograph shows her still reading without glasses, confirming a healing of vision difficulties she had recounted in her 1906 Journal testimony.9 She passed away in 1951, having spent 40 years in the public practice of healing. Five years later, the Journal ended its practice of requiring the designation colored.
Marietta Webb maintained a hope-filled perspective on racial issues. The conclusion of her article “The Protecting Power of Truth” sums this up:
O, glorious Truth that makes us free; that guides us into all the avenues and through all the vicissitudes of life; that is a healing balm for all human complaints; and that protects us from all evil; and which I verily believe is to be the only salvation of my race, the Afro-American, and that it will abolish the prejudice which exists throughout these United States; for, go where we will, we are made to feel our color.
But with the wide and rapid spread of Christian Science man is not only learning what the true love of God is, by loving all mankind; but he is getting out of his old prejudiced self, into the spiritual sense of man’s union with God.10
For more discussion about Marietta Webb, listen to a related Seekers and Scholars podcast episode, “Research on geography and religion in Boston, and African American history.”
- “1870 United States Census,” s.v. “Randle Jones,” Ancestry.com.
- “1900 United States Census,” s.v. “Hiram Webb,” Ancestry.com.
- Marietta T. Webb, testimony, The Christian Science Journal, August 1906, 299, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/wqyvskf874?s=t.
- Webb, testimony, 300.
- “Fruitage” first became a part of Science and Health in 1902, and consists of testimonials by men and women who have been helped and healed through the study of the book. A major revision of Science and Health took place in 1906 and was published in 1907. At that time all but one of the testimonies in “Fruitage” were replaced.
- Webb, testimony, 300.
- “Founder of Church Refuses to Have ‘Col.’ Placed After Her Name; She is Ousted,” Atlanta World, 21 January 1934, Church Archives, Box 531634, Folder 253791, item number 1934:100.
- “Christian Science: Despite lack of emotionalism, church makes long strides in enlisting Negroes,” Ebony, November 1950, 83.
- Webb, “The Protecting Power of Truth,” Christian Science Sentinel, 23 November 1899, 196, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/2kxizrx4ate?s=t.