God's perfect child : living and dying in the Christian Science Church /
Caroline Fraser.
1st ed.
New York : Metropolitan Books, 1999.
xii, 561 p., [16] p. of plates : ill.
0805044302 (hb : alk. paper)
More Details
New York : Metropolitan Books, 1999.
0805044302 (hb : alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

Part I

Mary Baker Eddy:

"Mere Historic Incidents"

"Wickedness or not," said the traveller with the twisted staff, "I have a very general acquaintance here in New England."

--Nathaniel Hawthorne,

"Young Goodman Brown"

1. "A Very General Acquaintance"

The "traveller with the twisted staff" in Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale "Young Goodman Brown" is Satan. Goodman Brown, a newly married Puritan, encounters the Devil on an evening walk through the wild gloom of a New England forest. Tempted, he follows the Devil to a meeting in the heart of the woods where he watches as all of his pious, God-fearing, do-gooding neighbors and friends--even, to his despair, his young bride--perform a Black Mass and worship evil. After he returns to his village, not knowing if the fantastical night and its terrifying visions were real or a dream, Goodman Brown lives out the rest of his life in a state of deep and ominous suspicion, despising the hypocrisy of everyone he sees. "A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream," Hawthorne writes.

    "Young Goodman Brown" is a parable not about the power of Satan but about the power of the belief in Satan. "Wickedness or not," the story seems to say, an overwhelming conviction of the evil of others can ruin human life. It is a parable about the perils of self-righteousness, something Hawthorne here, as in The Scarlet Letter , takes as a given of human nature and religious zealotry.

    Mary Baker Eddy dreamt the same fearful waking dream as Goodman Brown. For her, the world was peopled by beings governed by dark compulsions, wielding a terrible power that she later identified as "malicious animal magnetism." Nothing and no one was safe. Her creation of Christian Science was an attempt to protect herself from the terror around her and within her. But, although she became successful beyond her imagining in all the worldly ways, acquiring wealth and power, she never found refuge from those demons; she distrusted her own followers and even her own Church. So she stamped her people and the generations born after them with her peculiar paranoia, bequeathing her fears to an entire religious movement: fear of weakness, of powerlessness, of the needs and frailties of the human body, of sexuality, of death.

    "Young Goodman Brown" is set in the New England of the 1600s, but Hawthorne wrote it in 1835. He knew who his neighbors were. He knew that beneath the placid surface of New England life beat a Puritan heart that yearned for perfection and punished its absence. He wrote it when another New England native, the girl Mary Baker, was fourteen years old.

2. "Mere Historic Incidents"

Mary Morse Baker was born in Bow, a rural township five miles from Concord, New Hampshire, the state capital of the first colony to declare its independence from Great Britain. She was delivered into this world on July 16, 1821, the sixth and last child of Mark and Abigail Baker. Those are among the few undisputed facts in the life of the woman who came to be known as Mary Baker Eddy. Just as she would be a compulsive revisionist of her own writings--issuing 432 editions of her textbook, Science and Health , and revising it until the month before she died--she was also an unapologetic revisionist of her own history. She asserted her right to do as she pleased with the facts of her life in her highly idiosyncratic and much revised autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection: "Mere historic incidents and personal events are frivolous and of no moment.... The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged."

    Since her death, the Christian Science Church has followed her lead, revising and expunging, reshaping and elaborating the mythology she wove around herself, preferring that the world see Eddy as a religious genius and leader, divinely inspired. But the trajectory of her life as she progressed from humble farm girl to one of the wealthiest, most powerful women of her day tells a different story.

* * *

Mary Baker Eddy grew up on a farm. The Baker family had been in New England for seven generations, since the first Baker had emigrated from England, and the land Mary Baker grew up on had been cleared by her father's father. The Bakers were strict Congregationalists. The family home, two and a half stories with a sloping roof, on a hill above the Merrimack River, housed nine people: Mark and Abigail Baker; their six children--Samuel, George, Albert, Abigail, Martha, and Mary--and Mark's mother, Maryann Baker. It was a modest farm. Outside the house were two barns, a garden, and an orchard surrounded by a stone wall three feet thick. The house faced east and overlooked the Londonderry Turnpike, the road to Boston. At the time, Bow consisted of several farms, schools, and a meetinghouse.

    Mark Baker, a tall, thin man, was apparently an adequate farmer; he kept oxen, cows, horses, pigs, sheep, and chickens and raised hay, wheat, corn, and other crops. To supplement his income, he also took on legal work for neighbors, drawing up wills and other documents, and he was the county coroner for Bow. He was notably pious, an active, even obstreperous member of the Congregational church in Bow. Shortly after his daughter Mary was born, he became clerk of the church, and his complaints about the "backsliding" of fellow members are still to be found in the church records. The family prayed together morning and evening, seated on benches before him, while he read from the Bible and extemporized on the Scriptures, sometimes at great length. As a young child, Mary found her father's sermonizing tedious and once claimed to have stuck him in the behind with a pin during a particularly protracted session.

    Baker's neighbors remembered him as an inconsistent disciplinarian, thundering with righteous indignation one minute, relenting the next. He could hold a grudge and was estranged for years from one of his brothers, who lived on a neighboring farm. Baker's apparent rigidity may have derived at least in part from his religion; he was known for his orthodoxy, his "view that the vast majority of mankind must and would be damned for the glory of God."

    According to neighborhood legend, Mark Baker once lost track of the day and worked on the Sabbath, upbraiding his neighbors for their godlessness on his walk to church the next day. He was horrified when he learned that he had profaned the Lord's Day and prayed for forgiveness with his pastor. But on his way home, his outraged feelings got the better of him:

A tame crow, a pet of the children of the neighbourhood, hopped on a bush in front of him, cawing loudly. In his perturbed condition, the sight of the bird made Mark angrier than ever, and raising his stick, he struck the crow dead. "Take that," he said in a passion, "for hoppin' about on the Sabbath," and he stormed on up the hill. At home he kept the day strictly as Sunday to atone for his worldliness of the previous day.

    Robert Peel, a Christian Scientist and the author of a three-volume biography of Eddy, noted that Mark Baker's farmhands and relatives considered him "kind-hearted," and other recent biographers have suggested that his portrayal as an unyielding parent and rigid religionist has been exaggerated. The source of that image, however, was his youngest daughter. There is little doubt that Mark and Mary Baker had a fraught relationship. The only description he earns in Eddy's autobiography is a terse one: "My father possessed a strong intellect and an iron will." This is one of several hints in Eddy's writings and other sources that she remembered her father with a certain coldness, even contempt; she once said of him, "Father kept the family in the tightest harness I have ever known." There is only one extant photograph of him, a tintype revealing a lean, stern face with a penetrating gaze strikingly similar to his daughter's.

    As a child, Mary sporadically attended a one-room schoolhouse with her older sisters, Abby and Martha, when illness did not keep her at home; Eddy later attributed her frequent absences to her father who, she said, "was taught to believe that my brain was too large for my body and so kept me much out of school." Late in life, she reported to her students a recollection of her first day at school, when she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Most girls would probably have replied, "A mother" or something similar, assuming the question would have been asked at all. But Eddy described her four-year-old self as replying, "I want to write a book!"

    Apocryphal or not, the anecdote contains at least a grain of truth: the young Mary Baker developed a deep respect for the written word and began writing and publishing at a young age. Mainly verse, her compositions are collages of flowery Victorian language and imagery. In "Alphabet and Bayonet," an example of her "girlhood productions" that she chose to reproduce in her autobiography, there is a hint of preoccupations to come:

Forth from this fount the streamlets flow,

That widen in their course.

Hero and sage arise to show

Science the mighty source.

    Eddy's mother may well have been the inspiration behind her early love of reading and moral instruction. Remembered by her daughter with great tenderness and affection, Abigail Baker, of whom no photograph or other likeness exists, was said to have read to her youngest often from the Bible, and family letters and reminiscences show that Mary and her mother were particularly close. Shortly after her daughter left home, Abigail Baker wrote to her, "Dear Child your memory is dearer to me than gold every thing reminds me of you.... sometimes I fear I worship mary instead of the great jehovah."

    Many of Eddy's other recollections of her childhood and her relationship to her mother significantly focus not on the work of daily life--milking, cooking, cleaning, weaving, sewing--but on extreme moral scrupulosity and higher pursuits. One anecdote that she was fond of telling was of a time when she brought home a pitch-pine knot she'd found on a neighbor's property; it was a popular children's pastime to throw these highly flammable knots of wood on the fire to see them flare. Discovering that the pine knot did not come from their own property, her mother reprimanded her for stealing it, a violation of the Ten Commandments, and made her return it.

    Another story Eddy told about herself and her mother--told years after her mother's death, to students whose own feelings about Eddy were worshipful--emphasizes the mother's idealization of her daughter. In that story, Eddy claimed that her mother experienced a divine visitation when she was pregnant with her youngest child. Eddy's student Clara Shannon recorded her teacher's account in her unpublished memoir, "Golden Memories":

One day, about four and a half months before [Mary's] birth, her mother, Mrs. Baker, went into the attic to get some wool in order to spin yarn for knitting.... Collecting her wool together, suddenly she was overwhelmed by the thought that she was filled with the Holy Ghost and had dominion over the whole earth. At that moment she felt the quickening of the babe.

Eddy went on to say that her mother felt intense guilt for thinking such a thing. Adam Dickey, Eddy's secretary at the end of her life, relates a similar story:

[Mrs. Baker] could not keep her thought away from the strong conviction that this child was holy and consecrated and set apart for wonderful achievements, even before her birth. She said, "I know these are sinful thoughts for me to entertain, but I cannot shake them off."

    According to Eddy, this was just one of the signs that she was destined for a sacred, scriptural mission. In her autobiography, she included a chapter entitled "Voices Not Our Own," which tells of one of "many peculiar circumstances and events connected with my childhood." When she was eight years old, Eddy wrote, she repeatedly heard a voice calling her name three times in a row. When she went to her mother to ask what she wanted, her mother told her that she had not called. Alarmed, she read to her daughter the biblical story of the prophet Samuel, who was called three times by the Lord. Her mother told her to reply to the mysterious voice as Samuel did, by saying," `Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.'" Finally, Mary replied to the voice in this manner, and it ceased to trouble her. Many years later, Eddy told a more dramatic version of the tale to Dickey, who wrote in his memoir:

[Eddy] then related in a voice filled with awe, that when she made the reply, a most unusual phenomenon took place. Her body was lifted entirely from the bed, on which she lay, to a height, it seemed to her, of about one foot. Then it was laid gently back on the bed. This was repeated three times. As a child she was afraid to tell the circumstance to anybody, but she pondered it deeply in her heart and thought of it many years afterward, when she was demonstrating the nothingness of matter and that the claim of the human body was a myth.

    The question of whether Eddy believed that these events actually happened or consciously invented them seems less important, finally, than what the stories themselves suggest about Eddy's image of herself, the image she wanted her followers to hold dear. The stories prophesy her mission. Acceptance of these signs as literal truth separates many believers in Christian Science from nonbelievers, just as an acceptance that Joseph Smith received golden tablets from the angel Moroni separates believers in Mormonism from nonbelievers. In the first, simpler version of Eddy's story, God spoke to the child, Mary. The elaborated version introducing the element of levitation enlarges Mary's role and makes its point more literal. God picked her up. He picked her.

    Although these annunciations were embraced by many true believers in Eddy's day, some modern-day Scientists have attempted to distance themselves from the supernatural elements of Eddy's self-mythologizing. Robert Peel does not recount these tales. Robert David Thomas, a scholar and non-Scientist who had access to the Church's archives while writing his psychological biography of her, reports: "The Baker family correspondence in fact fails to offer any corroborating evidence that both her mother and God had marked her as a chosen one."

    Eddy also mythologized another incident in her autobiography in a way that seems designed to offer a parallel between herself and Jesus. In the chapter "Theological Reminiscence," Eddy claims that "at the age of twelve I was admitted to the Congregational (Trinitarian) Church." She goes on to describe the dramatic occasion. Unable to accept "my father's relentless theology" and the doctrine of predestination, Mary came down with a fever. Her mother joined her in prayer; her fever lifted; and "the 'horrible decree' of predestination ... forever lost its power over me." Queried about her belief in this harsh doctrine during a church meeting devoted to the interrogation of prospective members, Mary refused to accept it, wept, and cited a psalm; the church members wept with her. Even the hard-hearted pastor who put the cruel question to her was moved, and welcomed her into the church.

    Records at the Bakers' church, however, show that Mary joined that church at age seventeen, not twelve. Jesus, of course, was twelve when he entered the temple in Jerusalem and dazzled the rabbis with his wisdom, proclaiming "I must be about my Father's business." Eddy's story about her precocity at age twelve, questioning the doctrine of predestination, seems designed to parallel the New Testament story, and, indeed, that is how many Scientists have interpreted it. Eddy later acknowledged that "a mistake may have occurred" in her recollection of the event. But, although a note was inserted in the autobiography referring readers to Eddy's acknowledgment, she never, in subsequent editions, took the opportunity to correct her original statement.

    In 1834, at the age of twelve, Eddy attended a revival in Concord, New Hampshire--a "protracted meeting," as they were called--that lasted seven days. Waves of revivals were then sweeping through the state, and after one of Mary's early revival experiences, she enthused about leaving the Congregationalist for the Methodist church, but was discouraged by her father.

    Mary was born at a moment of intense revivalist and schismatic activity in American Christianity. Her birthplace, Bow, was less than a hundred miles from Sharon, Vermont, where Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder, was born in 1805. Smith would spend some part of his childhood in Lebanon, New Hampshire, even closer to Bow. The period of religious revivalism known as the Second Great Awakening ran from 1820, the year before Eddy's birth, to 1860, when she was thirty-nine, just a few years before she would experience her own great awakening.

    The Second Great Awakening made it possible for practically anyone to found a new religion. Men and women who had never had a day of formal religious instruction, and members of social classes who previously would never have dreamed of partaking of a religious revolution, were awakened to the possibilities by evangelists. One such preacher, Charles Grandison Finney, told his audience of merchants and craftsmen in 1830 that "if Christians united and dedicated their lives to the task, they could convert the world and bring on the millennium in three months." The news of this "shopkeeper's millennium" was galvanizing: "Scores of people rose from their seats, many of them weeping, and pledged their lives to Jesus. With that act they left the imperfect and confining world that God had made for corrupt man, and entered a world where men worked ceaselessly to make themselves and others perfect."

    Mary may also have sensed the excitement over the Millerite movement, born when William Miller, a farmer from New York and one of the founders of what became Seventh-Day Adventism, predicted that Christ would return and the world end between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. When the world placidly prevailed on March 22, 1844, Miller was forced to recalculate his date for the millennium, suggesting that it would come the following October. Faced with considerable evidence to the contrary, his adherents ultimately felt their so-called Great Disappointment. Seventh-Day Adventism was subsequently reorganized under the leadership of Ellen Gould White, and the Adventists swore off predicting the exact date of the end of the world.

    And Mary could hardly have been unaware of the growing notoriety of Joseph Smith and his sect. The Book of Mormon was published in 1830, and by 1839 the entire country was following the news of how the Mormons had been driven out of Missouri and were building a new sanctuary in Nauvoo, Illinois, where their movement would grow to thirty thousand strong. A new Mormon newspaper published eyewitness accounts of their persecution. Eddy may have heard of the "spectacular healings" Smith was said to have brought about during an epidemic of typhoid or malaria among his people, and of Smith's murder and martyrdom at the hands of a mob in 1844.

    Revivals brought enormous excitement and spectacle to the dull and difficult lives of New England farmers, such as Smith's and Eddy's parents, and were often accompanied by news of mainline Protestant movements dividing into faction upon faction. One historian writes, "The Methodists split four ways between 1814 and 1830. The Baptists split into Reformed Baptists, Hard-Shell Baptists, Free-Will Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, Footwashers, and other sects. Unfettered religious liberty began spawning a host of new religions.... Faith healers and circuit-rider evangelists ... stirred their audiences to paroxysms of religious frenzy. One day, Mary would make her own split.

Even as these stirring spiritual events were occurring, life for the Baker family continued on a more worldly plane. Albert, Mary's favorite brother, graduated from Dartmouth College, the first Baker to achieve such an advanced education. Judging by the letters between Mary and her brother, she developed a taste for social recognition and intellectual sophistication through Albert's example. His future seemed bright. He studied law and began to be active in New Hampshire state politics. After being admitted to the bar, he was elected to the state legislature, and until his sister gained her notoriety as the founder of a new religion, his accomplishments would represent the pinnacle of the family's social success. Later, Mary would claim that Albert taught her "the ancient tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin," but that "after my discovery of Christian Science, most of the knowledge I had gleaned from schoolbooks vanished like a dream." There is no evidence, however, that Eddy ever knew these languages. Over her lifetime, she would display a talent for religious leadership, but languages and literature, for all her aspirations to be a writer, were not among her gifts. Neither formally educated nor a true autodidact, she would never develop any skill for narrative or clarity in writing.

    Mary's health preoccupied the Baker family for many years. She suffered from a variety of ill-defined ailments, the nature of which has excited much speculation among her biographers. The first critical biography of Eddy described her frequent childhood "attacks" as a form of tantrum, citing the family doctor's diagnosis as "hysteria mingled with bad temper":

At times the attack resembled convulsions. Mary fell headlong to the floor, writhing 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. At home the family worked over her, and the doctor was sent for, and Mary invariably recovered rapidly after a few hours; but year after year her relatives fully expected that she would die in one of these spasms. Nothing had the power of exciting Mark Baker like one of Mary's "fits," as they were called. His neighbors in Tilton remember him as he went to fetch Dr. Ladd, how he lashed his horses down the hill, standing upright in his wagon and shouting in his tremendous voice, "Mary is dying!"

    The complaints that frequently kept Mary home from school and waited on by her parents and older siblings are now recognized as classic nineteenth-century manifestations of psychosomatic illnesses. In From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era , the historian Edward Shorter argues that "the symptom pool"--a group of complaints associated with a specific historical period--changed as advances were made in medical knowledge and as fads and fashions in medicine, influenced both by the wider culture and by physicians themselves, came and went. In the eighteenth century, hysterical paralysis and catatonia were common, and in the nineteenth, neurasthenia, or nervous exhaustion, became a catch-all diagnosis. The young Mary Baker was diagnosed on various occasions as suffering from spinal irritation, neuralgia, dyspepsia, stomach cankers, and ulcers, all symptoms that were eventually to come under the umbrella of neurasthenia. The diagnosis became ever more popular, sparing families the far more painful, distressing labels associated with mental illness.

    Most biographers, historians, and critics who are not affiliated with the Christian Science Church have recognized Eddy's illnesses as psychosomatic. In Harold Bloom's memorable description, she was "a monumental hysteric of classic dimensions, indeed a kind of anthology of nineteenth-century nervous ailments." Even Robert Peel, an apologist for Eddy's more eccentric characteristics, hints at the likelihood that at least some of her childhood pain was psychogenic:

There is no reliable evidence of the exact form Mary Baker's ill health took during the first fourteen years of her life. Whether it included the acute "spells" that occurred in the later years of her girlhood we do not know. What is certain is that it kept her out of school a good deal of the time.

Peel attempts to explain the psychosomatic nature of Eddy's illnesses by suggesting that her symptoms physically manifested her "existential concerns," but he also acknowledges that "it is necessary ... to distinguish between the genuine suffering that darkened her life in those years and the romantic melancholy she shared as a literary fashion with the age." He grants that she was "the chief sufferer" in the family and that she was particularly attracted to fad diets and cures, experimenting as an adolescent with a diet of bread and water developed by Sylvester Graham, the Presbyterian minister and nutritional evangelist who invented graham flour.

    It is impossible to determine exactly what inspired Mary's various symptoms, but her own and other family members' letters suggest that her suffering may have been a combination of hypochondria, conscious histrionics and malingering, and unconscious rebellion against her father. Early in her life, Mary established a pattern of claiming to be gravely ill and then dramatically recovering; she seems to have discovered that such behavior unfailingly attracted the attention, sympathy, and concern of her family and friends.

    Mary herself seemed relatively unconcerned by the grim prospect of suffering and death that she dangled before her loved ones. As a teenager, she wrote to a friend that she was suffering "an agreeable variety of pain," and her physical ills rarely seem to have kept her from the activities she enjoyed: writing poetry and letters, reading, and visiting friends. It seems implausible that the illnesses of her youth were ever organic or potentially serious. Indeed, Eddy's complaints of ill health evaporated in middle age, immediately following her discovery of Christian Science. Eddy survived to the age of eighty-nine, outliving all the other members of her immediate family. Christian Scientists, of course, interpret her long life and relatively good health after her discovery of Christian Science as the inevitable result of her healing method.

In 1836, when Mary was fourteen, the Baker family moved from Bow to a farm near Sanbornton Bridge, New Hampshire, a town twenty-odd miles away. The move was agreeable to the three Baker girls; their proximity to the village gave them greater social opportunities, and soon, Mary's eldest sister was engaged to be married. In 1837, her brother Albert took over the law practice of his mentor Franklin Pierce, who had been elected to the U.S. Senate. (Thirteen years later, Pierce would become president of the United States.) And in 1839, Albert himself entered political life, elected to the New Hampshire statehouse.

    But Albert's promising career soon came to an abrupt end. In 1841, he died of a kidney infection, and his sister Mary, twenty years old, suffering the first tragic loss of her young life, wrote a great deal of verse exploring the metaphysical ramifications of death. After hearing that her brother had been impugned by his political rivals, she also wrote a verse defense of his honor, entitled "Lines on reading an attack upon the political career of the late Albert Baker Esqr." During her later life, Eddy was preoccupied with defending herself from "attack"; this may be an early indication of that proclivity.

    In 1843, two years after Albert's death, Mary married George Washington Glover, her thirty-three-year-old brother-in-law. She was twenty-two. George Glover's sister had married Mary's eldest brother, Samuel, in 1831, and legend has it that when George Glover met the young Mary at his sister's wedding, he took her on his lap and told her he'd come back to marry her when she grew up. Glover was from Concord, New Hampshire, but was making a career for himself as a builder in Charleston, South Carolina. He took his bride south with him, first to Charleston, then to Wilmington, North Carolina, and was preparing to take her with him to Haiti, where he had contracted to build a cathedral, when, in a disastrous financial setback, his building supplies were destroyed by fire or stolen. In June 1844, George Glover contracted a virulent illness, possibly yellow fever, and died within a matter of days, on June 27. The couple had been married less than seven months. Mary Glover was forced to return to her parents' home in Sanbornton Bridge, penniless and pregnant.

    This was a brief, sad chapter in Eddy's life, but--characteristically--she would later embellish it. One of the most specious elements of the Eddy mythology has been the recurrent claim kept alive by her church that she was a vocal opponent of slavery who wrote articles criticizing the institution. No such articles have ever been found. She claimed to have freed her husband's slaves, but it is doubtful that he had any; she also told several colorful and patently false stories about a slave named Bill, whom she claimed to have freed and who, in gratitude, was supposed to have rescued her from bandits. In a 1902 message that Eddy delivered to her church, nearly sixty years after her first marriage, she informed her congregation that "my husband, Colonel Glover, of Charleston, South Carolina, was considered wealthy, but much of his property was in slaves, and I declined to sell them at his decease in 1844, for I could never believe that a human being was my property."

    Glover was apparently not wealthy; in fact, Peel found an entry in the records of the Masonic lodge to which Glover belonged which described him at the time of his death as "in indigent circumstances." All in all, Eddy's gratuitous embroidering on the reality of her first marriage casts her narration of her life into lasting question.

4. Mother Mary

Eddy's only biological child, George Washington Glover II, was born on September 12, 1844. On his birth, Mrs. Glover lapsed into the state of chronic invalidism she had exhibited throughout her youth, and proved incapable of caring for her son. The baby was nursed by a local woman who had recently lost one of her twins, while his mother was cared for by a household servant, Mahala Sanborn. In one of his more implausible attempts at rationalizing Eddy's behavior, Peel blames the baby for his own abandonment, suggesting that he was far more demanding than most infants: "He wailed in protest long beyond the time that is held proper for babies to cry." The suggestion originated with Eddy herself.

    Two years later, Mary had recovered enough to conduct a short-lived "infant school," a kind of kindergarten attended by local children, which, despite its failure, indicates her desire for some kind of station or occupation in life. But she continued to suffer, as one of her sisters described it, from "dispepsia, liver-complaint and nervous disease." During this period, she became known throughout the neighborhood for her predilection for the family's porch swing, which was said to ease her discomfort. Eventually the family outfitted a sofa with rockers and employed small boys to rock her in it, a pastime that became known locally as "swinging Mrs. Glover."

    There are references in the family's letters to the rambunctiousness of young George Glover II and to the inability of his mother to mind him, but his uncle George, Mary's brother, provided something of a father figure until 1849, when he married and left home. That same year, Mary's mother died. By 1850, Mark Baker was planning to remarry and made it clear to his youngest daughter that her son would not be welcome to live with him and his future wife. She wrote an angry, defiant letter to her brother George, revealing the tension she felt between herself and her father:

Last year ... I went into that cold damp house with Father, helped cleanse and set it in order and lived alone with a little girl and him all winter; in the spring he told me if George was not sent away he would send him to the Poor House (after abusing him as he did through the winter). Now he comes to me to help arrange the things of his bride; but I will see them in the bottomless pit before doing it.

    Mary herself was not turned out of her father's house but was unwilling to continue there without her son; her sister Martha, however, recently widowed, continued to live there with her two daughters after her father's marriage. Mary sent young George on a series of visits to relatives and moved in with her other sister, Abigail Tilton, who had a son of her own to care for and who was also, according to Peel, not hospitable to George.

    The fate of Mary's son has been a source of never-ending controversy, a troublesome blot on Eddy's character that she and sympathetic biographers have struggled to erase. In 1851, his round of visits at an end, six-year-old George was sent to North Groton, New Hampshire, forty miles away from his mother, to live with the former servant, Mahala, who had married a farmer, Russell Cheney. Again, Peel blames the boy, who, he suggests, may have deserved his fate, being insufficiently sensitive for his mother's delicate nature: "In temperament he might almost have been the child of Mahala, who was good-hearted and coarse-grained, not particular about niceties of behavior and totally without `nerves.'" Eddy herself was only too eager to acquit herself of responsibility for the act of giving up the child, and never ceased blaming her family for his removal from her life.

    In 1853, Mary married her dentist of seven months, Daniel Patterson, the groom carrying the bride down the stairs of her father's house for the ceremony and then carrying her back up to bed again. Mary's father had warned Patterson about his prospective bride's invalidism, but the groom was undaunted. Although the couple lived near the Cheneys in North Groton in 1855, George Glover's adopted family took the boy with them when they moved to Minnesota in 1856. George Glover did not see his mother again for twenty-three years.

    In the final edition of her autobiography, Eddy hints darkly that all these events were beyond her control:

My dominant thought in marrying again was to get back my child, but after our marriage his stepfather was not willing he should have a home with me. A plot was consummated for keeping us apart. The family to whose care he was committed very soon removed to what was then regarded as the Far West.

After his removal a letter was read to my little son, informing him that his mother was dead and buried. Without my knowledge a guardian was appointed him, and I was then informed that my son was lost. Every means within my power was employed to find him, but without success.

In the earlier 1891 edition of this same work, Eddy complained that her son's removal "depriv[ed] me of the opportunity of having my son classically educated," revealing a preoccupation with her son's illiteracy that would surface again when they became reacquainted, years later. But to date no evidence has been found to support the sympathetic assumption that Mary Glover yearned to regain custody of her son.

    In 1983, Jewel Spangler Smaus, a Christian Scientist and the author of a children's biography of Eddy's early life that was published by the Church, tried to offer such evidence, writing a series of articles about Eddy's son for the quarterly newsletter of the Longyear Museum and Historical Society, published by the Longyear Foundation, a private group of Christian Scientists that maintains many of the historical sites in New England dedicated to preserving Eddy's memory. Smaus's discoveries, which were also touted by the Church in the Christian Science Journal as "An Important Historical Discovery," were thought to document, finally, Eddy's claim that her child was taken from her by means of a "plot." Smaus claimed to have discovered documents signed by Eddy, her father, and Daniel Patterson, which set in motion the process by which Patterson would have become George Glover's legal guardian, a procedure which, Smaus wrote, Patterson never legally completed, thus voiding the documents. Other documents, however, she acknowledged, suggested that Patterson was indeed the boy's legal guardian. Yet another paper, signed by the boy's eventual guardian, Russell Cheney, claims that Mary Glover had given him her son when the boy was five.

    Taken together, the various sets of documents raise far more questions than they answer. If Patterson was plotting to remove young George from his bride's life, why did he sign the guardianship papers, and why did the newlyweds move to North Croton, where the boy was living? If Patterson was never George's legal guardian, why did Mary's father--noted for his parsimony--pay a bond in 1860 for the then enormous sum of $200 that Cheney, the boy's guardian, claimed Patterson owed him as the former guardian? And, of course, how did these machinations go on without Mary's knowledge? Smaus conjures up a plot whereby Mark Baker and Daniel Patterson schemed to remove George from his mother's life; she does, however, admit in the Journal article that the confusion surrounding the documents "leaves the issue somewhat clouded." All the evidence suggests that Mary's long-suffering family lavished time, effort, and money attending to her needs; their letters show that they often believed her to be at death's door. The simplest explanation for the fate of her son remains that she was not well enough or not willing enough to care for him. There is no documentary evidence that Mary's family had any malicious intent toward her; there is no evidence of a plot; and there is no evidence that George was told that his mother was dead. Nor has any evidence come to light confirming Eddy's claim that she employed "every means" to locate her son.

    There is no doubt, however, that Mary expressed affection for her son and distress over his absence. In a letter written to George's aunt and uncle when he was staying with them, she wrote of sending him to live with the Cheneys:

Oh! how I miss him already! There seems nothing left me now to enjoy.... I want very much to know how you have succeeded with him and if he has been a good boy (some naughty things of course). There is no child whom we expect mature in every respect, but take Georgy with the aggregate, is he not a pretty good and very dear boy?

Her concern for her son, however, is often surmounted by her concern for herself ("There seems nothing left me now to enjoy") and by her concern for appearances. Her emotions were also expressed in melodramatic form in "Written on the 9th day of May on parting with my babe":

Go little voyager, o'er life's rough sea--

Born in a tempest! choose thy pilot God.

    Later in life, her encouragement of those followers who called her "Mother" and her repetitive, even obsessive, use of the mother-and-child metaphor in her writings suggest that her feelings of loss, guilt, or failure concerning her son remained alive and unresolved. For some time, she even stipulated that no one else in the Christian Science movement could bear the title "Mother." One of the seven hymns by Eddy is entitled "Mother's Evening Prayer." The room set aside for her sole use in the Mother Church in Boston was named Mother's Room. And in Retrospection and Introspection , she wrote, without apparent recognition of the irony, "The true mother never willingly neglects her children in their early and sacred hours, consigning them to the care of nurse or stranger. Who can feel and comprehend the needs of her babe like the ardent mother?"

Copyright © 1999 Caroline Fraser. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-06-14:
Freelance writer Fraser spent her childhood practicing the teachings of Christian Science. She was told that she was "God's Perfect Child" and that any errors she made, including being carsick every Sunday as she and her family traveled to her grandparents' house, were due to her "Mortal Mind." Although she left the church before she entered college, Fraser acknowledges that Christian Science is "profoundly complex" and "worth understanding in its own right." She sets out in this scintillating religious history to show the good, but especially the harm, that Christian Science has done. She opens with a brief biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, whose Science and Health is studied reverentially by church members. She reveals Baker Eddy's fear of the material world and the ways in which she fashioned this fear into a religion that resists the advances of the scientific age. Fraser traces the development of Christian Science from a small sect to today's large political and religious organization that attracts numerous followers eager to embrace its messages of human perfectibility and self-reliance. In the course of her history, the author also briefly examines the lives of some famous Christian ScientistsÄDoris Day, Carol Channing and Mr. Ed's Alan YoungÄand their contributions to the church. But, Fraser's history is also a rousing expos‚. Not only does she reveal what she sees as Mary Baker Eddy's neuroses, but she also delves into what she calls the church's "pernicious" teachings that illness is not real (it's only the "Mortal Mind" obscuring the "Divine Mind") and that people can heal themselves without the benefit of medical help. Fraser combines episodes from her own experience with an evenhanded historical analysis in this first-rate social and religious history. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review Quotes
"Eye-opening . . . the most powerful and persuasive attack on Christian Science to have been written in this century."(Martin Gardner, Los Angeles Times Book Review) "A work of impassioned rationality . . . important and profoundly disturbing." (Susan Jacoby, Newsday) "New ... Startling ... Fraser has an eye and ear for the kind of detail that can help readers make up their own minds about an always-controversial American religious expression." (Martin Marty, The Boston Globe) "Splid."(The New York Times)
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, June 1999
Publishers Weekly, June 1999
Booklist, August 1999
Los Angeles Times, August 1999
New York Times Book Review, August 1999
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Main Description
From a former Christian Scientist, the first unvarnished account of one of America's most controversial and little-understood religious movements. Millions of americans-from Lady Astor to Ginger Rogers to Watergate conspirator H. R. Haldeman-have been touched by the Church of Christ, Scientist. Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Christian Science was based on a belief that intense contemplation of the perfection of God can heal all ills-an extreme expression of the American faith in self-reliance. In this unflinching investigation, Caroline Fraser, herself raised in a Scientist household, shows how the Church transformed itself from asmall, eccentric sect into a politically powerful and socially respectable religion, and explores the human cost of Christian Science's remarkable rise. Fraser examines the strange life and psychology of Mary Baker Eddy, who lived in dread of a kind of witchcraft she called Malicious Animal Magnetism. She takes us into the closed world of Eddy's followers, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of illness and death and reject modern medicine, even at the cost of their children's lives. She reveals just how Christian Science managed to gain extraordinary legal and Congressional sanction for its dubious practices and tracks its enormous influence on new-age beliefs and other modern healing cults. A passionate exposé of zealotry, God's Perfect Child tells one of the most dramatic and little-known stories in American religious history.
Main Description
Poet and journalist Fraser discusses how the Christian Science Church has transformed itself from a small, eccentric sect into a politically powerful and socially respectable religion.
Main Description
From a former Christian Scientist, the first unvarnished account of one of America's most controversial and little-understood religious movements. Millions of americans-from Lady Astor to Ginger Rogers to Watergate conspirator H. R. Haldeman-have been touched by the Church of Christ, Scientist. Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Christian Science was based on a belief that intense contemplation of the perfection of God can heal all ills-an extreme expression of the American faith in self-reliance. In this unflinching investigation, Caroline Fraser, herself raised in a Scientist household, shows how the Church transformed itself from a small, eccentric sect into a politically powerful and socially respectable religion, and explores the human cost of Christian Science's remarkable rise. Fraser examines the strange life and psychology of Mary Baker Eddy, who lived in dread of a kind of witchcraft she called Malicious Animal Magnetism. She takes us into the closed world of Eddy's followers, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of illness and death and reject modern medicine, even at the cost of their children's lives. She reveals just how Christian Science managed to gain extraordinary legal and Congressional sanction for its dubious practices and tracks its enormous influence on new-age beliefs and other modern healing cults. A passionate exposeacute; of zealotry, God's Perfect Child tells one of the most dramatic and little-known stories in American religious history.
Main Description
From a former Christian Scientist, the first unvarnished account of one of America's most controversial and little-understood religious movements. Millions of americans-from Lady Astor to Ginger Rogers to Watergate conspirator H. R. Haldeman-have been touched by the Church of Christ, Scientist. Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Christian Science was based on a belief that intense contemplation of the perfection of God can heal all ills-an extreme expression of the American faith in self-reliance. In this unflinching investigation, Caroline Fraser, herself raised in a Scientist household, shows how the Church transformed itself from a small, eccentric sect into a politically powerful and socially respectable religion, and explores the human cost of Christian Science's remarkable rise. Fraser examines the strange life and psychology of Mary Baker Eddy, who lived in dread of a kind of witchcraft she called Malicious Animal Magnetism. She takes us into the closed world of Eddy's followers, who refuse to acknowledge the existence of illness and death and reject modern medicine, even at the cost of their children's lives. She reveals just how Christian Science managed to gain extraordinary legal and Congressional sanction for its dubious practices and tracks its enormous influence on new-age beliefs and other modern healing cults. A passionate expos of zealotry, God's Perfect Child tells one of the most dramatic and little-known stories in American religious history.
Table of Contents
Preface: God's Perfect Childp. 3
Mary Baker Eddy: "Mere Historic Incidents"p. 23
"You Will Have to Learn to Love Me More": Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empirep. 81
"Nothing Has Gone Right Since 1910": Christian Science After Deathp. 169
"God's Law": Christian Science Goes to Courtp. 259
"God's Requirement": Christian Science on the Airp. 341
"God Will Do the Rest": Resurrecting Christian Sciencep. 397
Glossaryp. 449
Notesp. 459
Selected and Annotated Bibliographyp. 531
Indexp. 539
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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