Happy Birthday, to a Woman Who Used a Crisis to Benefit Humanity by Cheryl Petersen

Born two-hundred years ago in 1821, Mary Baker was raised by a doting mother and strict father. By the age of twenty-eight, she endured personal crises typical to privileged white girls. Lost lovers and unfulfilled dreams. Mary wed 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 dead 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 practitioner, Dr. Phineas Quimby, to request treatment for Mary’s periodic spinal and emotional challenges.

But the plan was interrupted by another crisis. The American Civil War (1861-1865).

Daniel traveled to Washington D.C. to volunteer for the Union. But he became a civilian casualty, captured by Confederates and taken to Libby Prison in Virginia.

Mary’s mental and physical health broke down about the time Daniel succumbed to illness within the confines of a disease festering prison. He was then taken to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.

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.

Mid-October, Daniel crossed the Alleghany Mountain range on his four-hundred-mile trek to safety over the Union line in West Virginia, while Mary asked her brother to take her to Portland, Maine, for mind-cure treatment from Dr. Quimby. Mary received physical relief like never before.

Mary and Daniel 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 on mind-science, in Maine.

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.

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

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

Early 1867, Mary taught a factory worker, Mr. Crafts, how to heal with mind-power. Turning her mission into money, she started a healing business with Crafts in Massachusetts. Daniel didn’t move with Mary. He moved to the quieter, rural Rumney, New Hampshire.

Mr. Crafts quit Mary but she didn’t quit experimenting with and teaching mind healing.

Summer of 1870, Mary made her next business attempt in Lynn, Massachusetts with the twenty-year-old Richard Kennedy.

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 organized The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.

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 and demonstrating the ever-unfolding truth.

But her Church Manual hasn’t been revised.

By time I was born in 1961, Mary Baker Eddy and her church were fading, while the power of mind and the idea of an infinite were gaining hold worldwide. We continue to discover an infinite cosmos and translate it into infinite possibilities.

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

That limitation unraveled after reading this sentence in Eddy’s Science and Health, “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.”

Revised, that sentence told me to rely on truth, not prayer, for healing.

I still pray.

Prayer helped me stay calm last August when closing my small business, a casualty of the Covid epidemic. I 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).


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

3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, to a Woman Who Used a Crisis to Benefit Humanity by Cheryl Petersen”

  1. Very interesting story. Yes, Happy birthday to Mary. The Quimby Manuscripts, edited by Horatio W. Dresser, were published in 1961. I read the book in the 1980s and learned quite a lot about the ideas Mary adopted.

    Bright blessings for good mental and physical health to all of us. Maybe in these days of spreading pandemic we need to pay more attention to our mental health and healing?


    1. Thanks for you comment, Barbara,
      I recently attended a virtual talk by Mitch Horowitz, sponsored by The Chopra Foundation, recently, on mental health and healing. You are right-on about us being able to pay attention to it. Be well.


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