Women of History: Nelvia Ritchie

September 23, 2015

Portrait of Nelvia Ritchie, seated at desk, circa 1934. P01516. Photo by Berkeley.

Nelvia Ritchie may be a lesser-known woman in the history of the Christian Science movement, but she made significant contributions as a practitioner, teacher, lecturer, and as the second woman to serve on the Christian Science Board of Directors.

She was born Nelvia Webb on February 24, 1879, in Harvey, Iowa, and  grew up in Kansas and Missouri. In 1905 she married Alva Bradley Ritchie, who went on to have a successful career as an executive for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Nelvia’s introduction to Christian Science occurred not long after her marriage. She later said this to audiences in her lecture “Christian Science: A Religion of Results”: “My first introduction to Christian Science came many years ago through attending a Wednesday evening service in a Christian Science church. The testimonies of healing which were given led me to investigate Christian Science and to study the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. As a result of this earnest study, I was healed of a disease, from which I had suffered from early childhood. Two members of my family were soon healed through the loving help of Christian Science practitioners, – one of a so-called incurable disease; the other of typhoid-pneumonia after physicians said there was no hope of recovery.”

The Ritchies joined The Mother Church in 1907 and became active in a Christian Science branch church in Kansas City, where they were living at the time.<

During the following decade, Nelvia deepened her commitment to Christian Science. She began her public healing practice in 1914 and later became a teacher of Christian Science in 1928. Between 1913 and 1920 she was a Field Representative of The Christian Science Publishing Society, travelling throughout the United States and internationally, building support for the Church’s magazines and for The Christian Science Monitor.

In 1925, Nelvia was appointed to lecture on Christian Science. Again, she travelled extensively around the US and abroad, including to Latin America.

During the 1929 Escobar Rebellion in northern Mexico, she was stranded in rebel-controlled territory while traveling from Mexico City back to the US on a lecture tour but managed to secure an airplane flight out of the country. In fact, she and her travelling companion were the first women to cross the US-Mexico border following the rebellion.1

Nelvia became the second woman to serve on the Christian Science Board of Directors, filling the position that was vacated by the retirement of  Annie Knott in 1934. She occupied that role for the next 14  years, participating in a period of intense activity for the Church, including the completion of the Christian Science Publishing House in 1935 and large-scale relief efforts during World War II. She died while still in office on May 7, 1948. The Directors published an editorial statement at the time, observing that “to those who had the privilege of knowing Mrs. Ritchie her loyalty to and love for the Cause of Christian Science, and her close adherence to the teachings of our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, were outstanding and an example to all.”2

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. This anecdote is found in the Library’s photo-biographical file on Ritchie.
  2. The Christian Science Board of Directors, “Nelvia E. Ritchie, C. S. B.,” Christian Science Sentinel, June 19, 1948, http://sentinel.christianscience.com/issues/1948/6/50-25/nelvia-e.-ritchie-c.s.b