Women of History: Pearline Thompson

April 11, 2016

Pearline Thompson (Incoming President of The Mother Church) stands with John Lewis Selover (Chairman of the Christian Science Board of Directors) in June 1988.

Freedom for me is my sincere love for God and for His creation. —Pearline Thompson

Pearline B. Thompson was the first African American to serve as President of The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist). She was also one of the first African Americans authorized to teach Christian Science.

She was born Pearline Brown in Detroit, in 1917. She explained in an interview that she grew up “in an area where there were all nationalities…but they were quite concerned about the blacks mixing with the whites. The white people went to their own churches and the black went to their own church. When you went to high school you had to go within your own boundary,…we just had to stay in a restricted area all the time.”1

Because of her interest in religion, her brother shared with her the textbook of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, at a time of great turmoil. Thompson later recalled: “The startling thought for me was that in divine Science God is All and evil is unreal. This statement was contrary to everything I had been taught in my former religion…. I was certain that Christian Science was going to be my way of life.”2

Thompson became a member of The Mother Church in 1957. As she continued to study and practice Christian Science, she was permanently healed of chronic migraine headaches. Through her prayers unsightly scars disappeared, which she’d had since receiving severe burns in childhood.3

She was married to Theodore R. Thompson, whose career as a Mess Management Specialist in the United States Navy spanned World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. They were sometimes stationed overseas. Many of her victories during these years involved healing instances of racism through practicing her faith. On one such occasion, she was on a street in a European country where “a black woman was rarely seen, and I had been warned of hostility.” She later recounted how, when suddenly surrounded by an angry group of people whose breath she could feel on her face, she prayed to see them as God had made them. As a result they became friendly toward her in the space of minutes. This diffusion of a frightening and potentially violent situation was the beginning of a happy stay abroad for Thompson—she and her husband were met with hospitality and formed friendships “that proved we are truly brothers and sisters.”4

Thompson became a listed practitioner of Christian Science in 1964, while her husband was still on active duty, and continued this healing work in Washington, DC, for the rest of her life. She became a teacher of Christian Science in 1970 and was appointed President of The Mother Church in 1988. Her published accounts illustrate that one of her most significant accomplishments was to promote racial harmony and equality through prayer, both outside her church and within it.

Pearline Thompson died in 1994. She is buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

Pearline Thompson discusses her Christian Science healing practice in About My Father’s Business, a 1975 video produced by The Mother Church.

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  1. Sentinel Radio, “Freedom from restrictions,” January 27, 1989
  2. The Christian Science Journal, October 1968, 548
  3. Journal, October 1977, 564
  4. Journal, June 1975, 309