Women of History: Sue Ella Bradshaw
Sue Ella Bradshaw, undated. PA00007.17, Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
In 1887 Mary Baker Eddy wrote to one of her students in California who was seeking help through prayer. She told the person not to be afraid but to rely on God and to get acquainted with Sue Ella Bradshaw of San Francisco, adding parenthetically, “she’s good.”1
Bradshaw was born in 1860 on a farm in western Illinois. Both her father and older brother died when she was about seven. After her mother remarried in 1871, she moved to San Jose, California.
At age 23 she travelled to Philadelphia, where she learned about Christian Science through a relative. She obtained Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and read it three times in just two weeks. That summer she took Primary class instruction from Caroline D. Noyes, one of Eddy’s students in Chicago. Back home in California, Bradshaw began taking patients as a Christian Science practitioner, healing her stepfather of cancer and restoring a relative’s sightless eye.2
To enhance her practice of Christian Science, Bradshaw attended three classes with Eddy at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston. Following the first class in 1885, Eddy asked Bradshaw to teach her own classes in Christian Science healing.3 After the second class in 1886, she requested that several students, including Bradshaw, open institutes around the country to expand Christian Science class teaching.4 Bradshaw was the first student to form an institute; her advertisement for the California Metaphysical College appeared in the The Christian Science Journal dated July 1886. (In the August issue the name was changed to “The California Metaphysical Institute.” In 1905, institutes were discontinued; teachers then indicated their status in their practitioner listings where prospective students could find contact information.) She was the first Christian Science practitioner on the West Coast, as well as the first Christian Science teacher on the West Coast, to advertise in the Journal.
In early 1887 Bradshaw wrote to Eddy, hinting that she might move from San Jose to San Francisco, about 50 miles away. She said that she was no longer afraid of working in the city and felt she could accomplish more there.5 Eddy replied, “Go to San Francisco,” assuring Bradshaw that her practice could not be hindered “if it tells for itself.”6 Bradshaw wrote again just 19 days later with her new San Francisco address.7 The city became her home and field of labor for practicing and teaching over the next 38 years.
The first year was difficult, and Bradshaw wrote a letter, printed in the Journal, describing some of the opposition she faced in establishing Christian Science in San Francisco: “The contest appears to be a very uneven one, so few against a multitude.… The mental condition of those who have been dabbling in mortal mind-cure so long is really pitiful. I have no compromise to make, nor will I turn hypocrite, even if I can not succeed honestly. We do not intend to have our voice or work stopped, and you will hear from us again.”8 But her grit was balanced with sweetness. One of her students, who had lived with her, later recalled: “She was always kind and very generous, both in thought and deed. She never complained, never criticized adversely, and it comes back to me how tireless were Miss Bradshaw’s efforts, and how lovingly she worked. In those early days I have known her to be out night after night, long after midnight, answering the call of someone in need, but never speaking of it.”9
In 1888 Bradshaw took her third and final class with Eddy. The following year she began holding Christian Science church services in San Francisco, first in Covenant Hall and later in her home.10 During these years Eddy encouraged her with reminders that she was growing and could rest in God. “Keep on healing and teaching,” she advised, “and He not you will take care of you.”11 In 1893 Eddy affectionately called Bradshaw one of her “old brave armour bearers, alias, the students of years ago who have stood the storm when seas were rough.”12
First Church of Christ, Scientist, San Francisco, undated. Box 530753, Folder 221955, Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library.
As interest in those church services grew, the parlors of Bradshaw’s home began to fill. First Church of Christ, Scientist, San Francisco, organized as a branch of The Mother Church in 1895, with the members electing Bradshaw as both a director and the First Reader.13 In 1901 Bradshaw wrote this in the Christian Science Sentinel: “As I look upon this earnest congregation I realize how beautifully God has prospered His work here, in spite of the long years since it was first begun, for the workers were few and the obstacles many.”14 The current edifice of First Church, San Francisco, was completed and dedicated in 1913, at the corner of California and Franklin Streets.15
Bradshaw continued her healing ministry in San Francisco until the time of her passing in 1925. Summarizing her accomplishments, members of her students’ association recalled:
Our teacher’s one aim was to live and accomplish the work she set out to do, and her unselfish devotion to this purpose, together with her calm reliance on Principle and her unfaltering persistence in the right, brought her success. For forty years she labored tirelessly, and achieved mighty results. She had healed all manner of disease, and she looked with happy pride at the growth and success of the [branch] church which she had started and for which she had labored so devotedly…. One of her students says, I think of her love as that which was universal, tender, and unselfed, a love for Principle and perfection.16
Interested in learning more? Read how Sue Ella Bradshaw and other Christian Scientists responded to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake here.
- Mary Baker Eddy to Julia A. D. Adams, 30 April 1887, V01003.
- A Biographical Sketch of Sue Ella Bradshaw (San Francisco: California Students’ Christian Scientist Association, 1929), 1-5.
- Eddy to Bradshaw, 5 February 1886, L04632.
- Eddy to Bradshaw, 26 May 1886, L04634; Eddy to Bradshaw, 1 June 1886, L04635.
- Bradshaw to Eddy, 31 January 1887, IC183.31.014.
- Eddy to Bradshaw, 10 February 1887, L04639.
- Bradshaw to Eddy, 1 March 1887, 183.31.015.
- “Letters,” The Christian Science Journal, August 1887, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/2kt8l3v3148?s=t.
- A Biographical Sketch of Sue Ella Bradshaw, 12.
- Ibid., 17, 18.
- Eddy to Bradshaw, 12 May 1891, L04644.
- Eddy to Bradshaw, 20 December, 1893, L04646.
- A Biographical Sketch of Sue Ella Bradshaw, 19.
- “The Work in San Francisco, Cal.,” Christian Science Sentinel, 13 June 1901, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/98j253ycyy?s=t.
- “Among the Churches,” Sentinel, 3 January 1914, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/2purh2atlq6?s=t.
- A Biographical Sketch of Sue Ella Bradshaw, 25-26.