Mary Eddy – Part 1

Pt 1 – Early Life to Ice Incident

Welcome to Exploring Spirit, where we take a close look at various spiritual concepts and organizations. Today we’ll be taking a look at Mary Baker G. Eddy, the founder and creator of the Church of Christ, Scientist, also known as Christian Science. Buckle up because this will be a two part series on just Mary. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get exploring!

The account of Mary’s life I’m about to present comes from two major sources; The Christian Scientists and The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy. One is church approved, one is not. It is difficult to get an accurate picture of Mary’s life as the church is known for suppressing information that counters Mary’s autobiography, which is available to read on Internet Archive for anyone curious.

I’m attempting to piece together a full description, both positive and negative, of Mary’s character to present the most complete narrative possible. I’ll be including links to both books, as well as Mary’s official autobiography and other supplemental reading. All are available for free with an Internet Archive account.

Mary was born in 1821 to Mark and Abigail Baker of Bow, New Hampshire.

Her father was a Puritan, very conservative, and Mary describes him as abusive towards her. She was much closer to her older siblings and mother, who she usually describes as being very warm and loving. He was described as being rather isolated even as a child in some accounts. Incurious, domineering, and rigid in belief. Many people had arguments with him, including his own brother, which resulted in a familial split over a business matter. While he seemed to be tolerated in the communities he was a part of, there were not a lot of kind words spoken about Mark Baker.

Side-note: It’s said that Mark was extremely pro-slavery for a Northerner, even being a member of the Copperheads – a group of Democrats during the Civil War that wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. He absolutely despised Lincoln and was very vocal about how glad he was when he was assassinated. Unsurprisingly, he also paid the lowest wages he could to any workers he did hire. I mention this not to continue painting him in a negative light, but to juxtapose his beliefs with those of Mary who arrived at completely different conclusions.

In describing her mother, The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy has this to say: “As the wife of Mark Baker she is remembered for her patience and industry. She devoted all her energies to the care of her family, and was faithful in attendance at church. And this simple record, like that of many another heroic New England housewife, is all that is known of Mrs. Eddy’s mother.”

It was said that when Mary was born, she was already the most difficult child to care for. She often had what were called “convulsive attacks of a hysterical nature.” Most accounts discuss how the household changed dramatically in order to keep her happy and avoid her “nervous fits.” It’s unclear exactly what she was suffering from, since psychology was barely beginning at the time. This is a recurring theme in Mary’s life as most of what she suffered through were complications from too much stress.

"These attacks, which continued until very late in Mrs. Eddy's life, have been described to the writer by many eye-witnesses, some of whom have watched by her bedside and treated her in Christian Science for her affliction. At times the attack resembled convulsions. Mary fell headlong to the floor, writing and screaming in apparent agony. Again she dropped as if lifeless, and lay limp and motionless, until restored. At other times she became rigid like a cataleptic, and continued for a time in a state of suspended animation." From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy

Because of this temperament, Mary did not attend school and was often treated very differently from the other children at home. Since Mary was often sick and since they were a house of limited means, Mary was put on to a variety of regimes thought to improve her health. She would try the Graham Diet – named for the same guy who invented Graham crackers — and many other homeopathic cures.

Mary claims that she did get a thorough education from her brother Albert, who she says taught her Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It’s important to note that Albert began studying at Dartmouth when she was 9 and officially left home when she was 13, meaning that if he had taught her those subjects he would’ve done so in that 4 year span.

In her official biography, she goes on to say that her father believed that her brain was too big for her body, and that at a young age she was already a precocious writer. She claims that she also studied natural philosophy, logic, and moral science from a young age. And, most grand of all, she claims that once she discovered Christian Science, all other learning paled in comparison and only served God.

"Mrs. Eddy's schoolmates are not able to reconcile her story with their recollections. They declare frankly that they do not believe Albert Baker taught her Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He entered college when Mary was nine, and left home when she was thirteen. There were ,they say, no graduations from Dyer H. Sanborn's Academy, for the girls and boys left school when they were old enough to go to work of to marry. They insist that Mary's education was finished when she reached long division in the district school." From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy

Her brother, Albert, dying was a hard blow on her. He had been a very promising future politician, but he died suddenly in 1841 before he could be elected as a Representative. Given that Mary credits Albert with her education, it’s understandable that his sudden death was very difficult for her to make sense of. Once again, her health seemed to suffer because of it.

She and her father would often argue over religious topics, specifically predestination; the idea that only some people are destined to be saved by God. Unlike her father’s Puritanical beliefs, Mary had a difficult time believing that a loving God would only allow a certain group of people live in Heaven eternally. When the family moved and joined a different Congregational church, the minister there insisted that Mary profess that she also believed in predestination. Apparently she fell ill after this encounter before ultimately agreeing to join.

Mary is the source for the following story: she claims that she refused to believe in predestination and prayed on the matter. She then went back to the church to be interviewed about doctrine. During that session, she rebuked the notion of predestination with – as the internet kids say, facts and logic – and the pastor was so moved he had to let her in. This would’ve happened, according to her, when she was twelve. The official church record has her being baptized at 17, however.

There was some speculation about her character being attention seeking. In interviews with people who more casually knew Mary, they didn’t always hold the best opinion of her; often finding her vain, attention seeking, and ostentatious. This is in stark contrast to the way the church and Mary describe her. I offer this more as something to consider rather than stating one is more true than the other. Both things can equally be true about a person.

Mary had two husbands before she married Asa Eddy. The first, George Glover, died suddenly of yellow fever after they had been married for six months. She was pregnant at the time he died, and she gave birth to his son and her only child, George Glover II.

Mary and the church maintain that she was down on her luck when George died, that it was difficult for her to get home after her husband’s death as they had moved to South Carolina. No doubt that she didn’t have a lot of friends in the area or a lot of money. However, records indicate that it was not the hardship she paints it to be. Her husband was a Freemason and the order he was a part of paid for George’s funeral, as well as Mary’s train tickets back to New England.

After her first husband died, she spent a significant amount of time in bed, especially after their son was born. It largely left her unable to care for him. Without anything to cure her, she eventually attended a phrenology lecture that suggested to her that physical and mental health were related. Mary would have a moment of self-awareness and realize that her conditions also seemed to be affected by the circumstances in her life.

Still, her ill health persisted. Eventually her father wanted her to give her son up to the “woman who had actually raised him.” Shortly after George II was gone, Mary’s mother died. Her father remarried within a year, Mary moved in with her sister Abigail, and then she would become very sick with what she thought was a “spinal illness”.

Mary’s son was a huge point of contention in the family. Mary spent her time bouncing between her parents and sister’s houses, often leaving George II with her parents. If not there, then there were two other village women who would take care of him – a Mrs Varney and Mahala Sanborn, who had helped with the delivery. Sanborn would be who George II would ultimately end up living with. Overall, it was noted by many that Mary rarely, if ever, spent time with her son and didn’t seem to want to be around children in general.

"In 1851 Mrs. Glover had given her son, George, to Mahala Sanborn. The boy, having reached the age of seven, was growing too large to be sent about from one house to another to be looked after. Mrs. Glover's mother had died of typhoid fever in November, 1849, and Mrs. Tilton was growing each year more impatient and weary of Mrs. Glover's conduct. So when Mahala Sanborn married Russel Cheney and was preparing to move away from Tilton, Mrs. Glover begged her to take George to live with her permanently. Mrs. Cheney, who was attached to the boy, at last consented to do so, and George accompanies her and her husband to their new home in North Groton, and was called by their name." From The Life of Mry Baker G Eddy

In 1853, she would remarry to a dentist named Daniel Patterson. On their wedding day, she was so ill that she had to be carried down the stairs by one of her brothers just to attend. After this, she once again fell into a prolonged period of ill health and increasingly sought out homeopathic and alternative medicine cures. After going for a “water cure” – we call this hydrotherapy today, but at the time likely would’ve involved a cold water bath meant to draw out impurities and purify the body – Mary would give up the alternative therapies and search instead for a spiritual cure.

This is when Phineas Quimby would enter the picture. Some accounts say that Patterson wrote to Quimby to have him help, some suggest that Mary traveled to Portland, Maine herself to seek his help, and some say that she had been in correspondence with Quimby for a long time before actually meeting him. Either way, she began mental treatments with Quimby and saw some success in her healing. She apparently stayed in Portland for three months to receive treatments and even went so far as to defend him from people calling him a Spiritualist.

All of this was taking place as the Civil War was breaking out. Mary was notably anti-slavery, going so far as to say that both the North and the South “suffer from the continuance of slavery and its spread to other states.” Patterson went to be an army surgeon for the Union where he got too close to Confederate lines and was taken captive to a Southern prison. At the time that Mary began working with Quimby, Patterson would have been imprisoned. He would escape from prison and collect her from Portland…but this would only make Mary’s headaches come back and she would head back to Portland soon after.

In The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy, it was noted that Mary had frequent mesmerism sessions with various doctors through her life. Context to consider here is that even before Quimby, mesmerism was already a hot trend in New England. Her earliest physician, Dr. Ladd, had also used mesmeric techniques on her to cure her fits. Additional information on the nature of her fits paints them more as hysterics to get her way than any actual physical ailment, likely that’s why mesmerism seemed to “cure” them.

Mary did travel in the Lynn, MA Spiritualist circles, but would later claim that she never believed in what they taught. In 1864, it was recorded that while visiting a zealous Spiritualist friend, Mary entered into two trances where she channeled her dead brother Albert – the one she was closest with. She later claimed that she had faked these two trances to show that non-Spiritualists could reproduce said states. A rather convenient story.

"It is this part of her career that Mrs. Eddy has sought to blot out of existence. She makes no reference to it in her autobiography, and in another place has said that no special account is to be made of the years between 1844 and 1866. These twenty-two lost years -- between her twenty-third and forty-sixth birthdays -- were, as has been shown, spent in fretful ill-health and discontent. It was a hard life, sordid in many of its experiences, petty in its details, and narrow in its limitations. Yet there is nothing to show that Mrs. Eddy made an effort to improve her hard situation, or to make herself useful to others; and at forty she was known only for her eccentricities." From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy

Then in 1866, Quimby, who she had been spending considerable time with, would also pass. While she was well enough to teach Quimbyism on occasion, overall it seemed her life was just never destined to turn around. Until that winter when she would take a fall on the ice and she would discover Christian Science.

There’s some inconsistencies with Mary’s “discovery” of this “science”. Largely, Mary and the Church have tried to distance themselves from Quimby. Quimbists, as they were called, did try to correct the record but without a formal organization to do so long term, the Church’s record of things has largely gone unchallenged in recent memory.

"...their position is this: that Mrs. Eddy obtained the radical principle of her Science, -- the cure of disease by the power of Divine mind, -- from Quimby; that she left Portland with manuscripts which formed the basis of her book, Science and Health; that she publicly figured for several years after Quimby's death as the teacher and practitioner of his system; that she had, herself, before 1875, repeatedly acknowledged her obligations to him; and that since the publication of the first edition of Science and Health, in her determined efforts to disprove this obligation, she has not hesitated to bring discredit upon her former teacher. They do not maintain that Quimby is, in any sense, the founder of the present Christian Science organization; they do declare, however, that has Mrs. Eddy never visited Quimby, never listened to his ideas or studied his writing, such an organization would probably not now exist." From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy

The Ice Story

The official Christian Scientist version: she slipped on the ice on a winter evening in 1866. She had gone out because she seemingly felt better that day. She hit her head on the ice and for two days she was laid up, thinking she was close to death. This is when she grabs the Bible and turns to the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 8) where she experiences an instantaneous healing event. She claims to also have been shown a vision of the spiritual world. Additional embellishments include: she was “running an errand of mercy”, all the doctors had declared her situation hopeless and given her three days to live, and that her recovery was truly miraculous and complete once she read Matthew.

The Christian Scientists version: Mary had been on her way to a temperance meeting – a meeting that promoted abstinence from alcohol. She took a spill on the ice, hit her head, and was bedridden again. This is when she would turn to the Bible and the Gospel of Matthew. She would have a vision that allowed her to see all beings as spiritual beings, and from that moment on would trust herself completely to God’s care instead of relying on doctors for healing. Instead of claiming that the healing of her injury was miraculous, she instead claimed that this was a teachable and natural part of God’s spiritual world.

The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy version: According to this account, she did indeed slip on the ice on her way back from a “Good Templar” meeting, or temperance movement meeting as Mary claims. However, in a letter to Julius Dresser — another student of Quimby’s — Mary does not recount a miraculous recovery. Essentially, she says that she hurt her back on the ice, was told that she wouldn’t walk again, and then in two days declares that she got out of bed and could walk.

No mention of reading Matthew or God. Instead, she asks Julius to use Quimby’s methods to heal her. This letter was dated two weeks after her fall and supposed divine revelation.

Further, a letter from the doctor she was seen by gives the following account: Mary had slipped on the ice outside of a shoe makers shop. She was taken to the apartment above the shop by the shop owner and the doctor was called. When the doctor saw her, she was hysterical and was very distraught over a pain in her head and neck.

He gave her some sort of homeopathic medicine to calm her down, which he gave her every 15 minutes until she had settled. Then they continued to give it to her in half hour increments until she slept. When she woke the next day, she declared she was going home, and the doctor not only got a sleigh together for her but also gave her a small amount of morphine to dull any pain in the process of leaving – as she had been complaining of severe pain still.

Mary took the morphine, passed out, and had to be carried to the sleigh and up her stairs to her bed. He continued to visit six more times to give her medicine. In his account, he never discusses a prognosis and instead says that he never said she wouldn’t make a recovery or that she had a limited number of days left.

"While the doctor [Dr Patterson] was away in Franklin, attending to his practice, Mrs. Patterson fell into a state of depression which ended in hysterics. A neighbour was sent for, and Mrs. Patterson declared she was dying, and that her husband must be brought home at once. To her own family this situation would not have seemed the desperate affair it was to Mrs. Patterson's neighbour. Moved by the entreaties of the dying wife, he set out tat night on the thirty-mile drive to Franklin, over roads that were almost impassable from heavy snowdrifts. His horses became exhausted and he stopped at Bristol only long enough to change them for a fresh pair. Arriving at Franklin the next morning he made haste to inform Dr. Patterson of his wife's dying condition. To his astonishment the dentist looked up and remarked, "I think she will live until I finish this job at least," and went on with this work. When they reached North Groton late that day, they found Mrs. Patterson sitting in her chair, serene and cheerful, having apparently forgotten her indisposition of the night before." The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy

Shortly after this, in spring, is when Dr Patterson would leave Mary. Mary claims that he eloped with a wealthy married woman, but actual evidence of this seems scarce. Instead, the record shows that he wandered around for awhile before settling back into his hometown in Maine, where he became a hermit until he died in 1896. According to her family, Dr Patterson had told them what he was planning before he left and made arrangements to continue supporting her afterwards.

The accounts from Mary’s early life paint a picture of a difficult and attention seeking woman. While I didn’t get into the worst accounts of her actions, there were plenty in the more critical books. It’s unfortunate that the church has so tightly controlled the narrative around Mary as they tend to gloss over large chunks of her life.

In Part 2 we’ll pick up where we left off and work our way through to Mary’s death. We’ll discuss the founding of the church, her growing paranoia of malicious animal magnetism, and the seemingly endless series of lawsuits she and the church found themselves in. Guaranteed this next episode has lots of juicy drama to get into!

As always, stay safe and sane! See you next time!


  1. Williams, J. K. (1997). The Christian Scientists. Franklin Watts New York.
  2. Cater, W. (1993). The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. University of Nebraska Press.
  3. Gill, G. (1998). Mary Baker Eddy. Perseus Books.
  4. Eddy, M. B. (2002) Mary Baker Eddy: Speaking for Herself. Writings of Mary Baker Eddy.


Leave a Reply

Only people in my network can comment.