Happy Birthday, to a Woman Who Used a Crisis to Benefit Humanity

Born two-hundred years ago in 1821, Mary Baker was raised by a doting mother and strict father. By the age of thirty, she had endured personal crises typical to privileged white girls. Lost lovers and unfulfilled dreams. Her mother died when Mary was twenty-eight. She married her second husband, Daniel Patterson, in 1853, fancying he would make things better. But in 1857, while ill in bed a few weeks, forlornly pining her mother, Mary noted in her scrapbook, “My dear dear…Mother waits for me in the far beyond and through the discipline, the darkness and the trials of life, I am walking unto her.”

In 1861, Daniel urged Mary to investigate mind-cure and wrote a letter to up-and-coming practitioner, Dr. Phineas Quimby, to make plans to travel from their home in Rumney, New Hampshire, to Portland, Maine, to get Mary treatment for her periodic spinal and emotional challenges.

But the plan was interrupted by another crisis that appeared to disillusion and transform Mary. The American Civil War (1861-1865).

Spring of 1862, President Lincoln called for volunteers to fight for the Union. Surely with Mary’s support, Daniel traveled to Washington D.C. for an assignment. But before getting the assignment, he became a civilian casualty, captured by Confederates and taken to Libby Prison in Virginia.

At the news of Daniel’s imprisonment, Mary’s mental and physical health broke down. Her executive sister, Abigail, checked her into Vail’s water-cure center where Mary languished for months. A far cry from her previous ten years of being the center of Daniel’s attention.

Historical records show that Daniel professed his love in a letter to Mary as the only woman he wanted to marry. Both were intelligent and educated. Mary had written for publications and Daniel was known as an honest, expert dentist.

That first summer of the Civil War, within the confines of a disease festering prison, echoing agonies of pain, Daniel succumbed to illness. He survived the sickness and was taken to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina, to suffer more hunger, lice, and probably guilt for not doing more.

End of September, in the dark of night during a thunderous downpour, Daniel escaped through a third story window and over a ten-foot fence. He began stumbling at night, hiding by day, and foraging or stealing food. He was dodging Confederate sympathizers.

Daniel crossed the Alleghany Mountain range on his four-hundred-mile trek to safety over the Union line in West Virginia, while mid-October, Mary asked her brother to take her to Portland, Maine, for mind-cure treatment from Dr. Quimby. Through Quimby’s mind-power therapy, Mary received physical relief like never before. The healing caused her immediately to place her faith in Dr. Quimby. 

Mary and Daniel were reunited in November of 1862 in New Hampshire. Daniel’s relief was probably clouded with post-traumatic syndrome disorder. Mary’s relief was probably spilling over with unrestrained excitement at her renewed health.

Next spring, the Pattersons settled in the busier town of Lynn, Massachusetts, closer to Dr. Quimby. Daniel resumed his dental business and supported Mary while she wrote and tested the waters of public speaking in Maine on subjects varying from mind-science to supporting the Union troops. Mary’s days were filled with new ambitions and frequent, lengthy absences from Daniel, while she also probed Quimby on mind-cure.

Records show that Daniel worked in Lynn, paid their bills, and dealt with poorer health due to deprivations in prison. July 1864, in extreme hundred-degree temperatures, Daniel contracted a bacterial infection. Mary was home, after being in Maine for more than two months that spring, and wrote Quimby on July 8, “My husband was seized 2 days ago with fever and what is called erysipelas… His face is a purple red and swelled horribly. I feel alarmed about him for fear it will reach the brain as he knows the M. D.’s opinions. I have watched and waited upon him till I am not a little out of tune, feel tired and it hurts me now to move. Can you not prevent my taking it and send relief to him?” Apparently, Mary traveled to Maine after July 9 and left Daniel alone to recuperate.

Mary returned to Daniel in October with greater confidence in what she was learning about mind-power and more experience at keeping the attention of an audience.

Quimby died in 1866 and Mary faltered. She literally slipped and fell on ice, becoming bedridden.

I can image that after losing everything during the Civil War, then discovering it with added hope and trust, only to lose it all again after the war ended, that Mary felt disillusioned. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, reeling with resentments and anxieties after forced losses and gains. After compulsory revisions to enslaved and enslaving lifestyles.

Mary’s written memories of her ice fall experience show contradictions, but her recovery indicates a scientific breakthrough or revelation. Something she could work with. Faith in herself, rather than faith in Quimby.

It seems Mary tested her faith in healing by using logic and discovery. What didn’t work to benefit mental and physical health was corrected by new ideas.

Early 1867, Mary taught a factory worker, Mr. Crafts, how to heal with mind-power. Ready to turn her mission into money and start a healing business, Crafts agreed to be the face of Mary’s business while paying her royalties for each patient healed, in his hometown of Taunton, Massachusetts. In April, Mary moved to live with Mr. and Mrs. Crafts while Mr. Crafts and Mary rented an office in town.

Daniel didn’t move with Mary. He permanently moved to the quieter, rural Rumney, New Hampshire and continued his successful dental business.

As for Mary’s business, it didn’t last half a year. People were healed but Mr. Crafts quit. The rest of 1867 is a blur of Mary living in different towns, but she didn’t give up fine-tuning her method of applying mental health to physical healing.

In 1868, she moved to Amesbury, Massachusetts and picked up a few more students. Including Richard Kennedy, a nineteen-year-old who worked at a box factory.

Summer of 1870, Mary made her next mind-cure business attempt in Lynn, Massachusetts with the young Richard Kennedy, who had learned from Mary how to massage patient’s heads and stomachs and think good thoughts to heal illnesses.

For two years, they rented a space to live and work in together. Documents show that Mary and Richard Kennedy developed a love-hate emotional affair that lasted fifteen years. Written manuscripts show Mary tenaciously blaming Richard or Mr. K_ for her problems. Undoubtedly, it was a terrible mental burden.

After physically separating from Richard and before divorcing Daniel in 1873, Mary stopped teaching and spent a reflective three years thinking, writing notes, and living in Lynn.

I believe that this is when Mary’s faith in her own mind lessened and faith in a greater reality, called infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, took hold.  

Compiling her notes, Mary published, Science and Health, in 1875, a book she revised constantly until her death.

Science and Health showed how to translate the emancipation of African American slaves to the emancipation of mental slavery.

Science and Health was originally intended for the general public, not for religion or church. Mary, using Christ as her model healer, pointedly wrote in the first edition, “Creeds and ritualism never enable us to follow Jesus’ example, and give the demonstration he gave of God.”

In 1877, Mary wed one of her students, Asa Eddy, ten years her junior. He served her dutifully until he died five years later. During this third marriage, Mary established the Massachusetts Metaphysical College and became nationally known. She helped thousands of regular people and Civil War veterans experience physical and mental health. She organized The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts. It would be another fifteen years before Science and Health was grafted to the church.

Curiously, the Church Manual that Mary left behind for members to follow, indicated a brief future under her control. The book of rules was written and revised in present tense, commanding her personal consent and approval for critical decisions. A task not possible when she was dead, making the Manual impossible to follow in the future.

Perhaps Mary wrote the Manual in present tense because revisions and scientific modifications are necessary to continue benefiting humanity.

By time I was born in 1961, Mary Baker Eddy and her church were fading. But the power of mind and the idea of an infinite were gaining hold. The discoveries of an infinite cosmos more easily translated into infinite possibilities.

Except, I grew up believing that reliance on prayer was the best healer, limiting my possibilities.  

Until, as a young adult, that belief unraveled after reading this sentence in Eddy’s Science and Health, “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.”

Prayer is a ritual, like getting vaccinations. In other words, prayer is not synonymous with the truth or truthfulness that sets us free.

Not that I quit praying.  

Prayer helped me stay calm and take on new daily rituals last August when closing my small business, a casualty of the Covid epidemic.

I also prayed while getting fully vaccinated against Covid.

My prayers and the vaccination won’t set me free from the troubles that come with the crises common the human beings, but using them to benefit the humane in humanity sure feels freeing.

Happy birthday, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910).

Bio: Cheryl Petersen received a scholarship from Religion Newswriters Association and studies Christian Science. She is author of, 21st Century Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: A revision of Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health. She lives in New York. Cheryl can be reached at www.HealingScienceToday.com and 4CherylWrites (at) gmail.com

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