Mary Baker Eddy
July 16, 1821, Baker Homestead in Bow Township, near present day Concord, New Hampshire
December 3, 1910 , 400 Beacon Street, Chestnut Hill, Newton, Massachusetts
Country of Origin/Citizenship
Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker
Founder of Christian Science
Avant-Garde Movements Associated With
Date & Places of Overlap with Loy
In his excoriating book on Christian Science, Mark Twain surprisingly paints its founder Mary Baker Eddy as “the most interesting woman that ever lived, and the most extraordinary” (102). In 1862, Eddy—a 40-year-old widow with various health concerns—consulted and studied with the popular mesmerist Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Although many critics claim that Eddy plagiarized Quimby’s ideas, she herself always dated her revelation of Christian Science to February 3, 1866, two weeks after Quimby’s death, when she miraculously arose unaided from her bed after a fall on the ice two days earlier, which had left her “unable to move, and . . . close to death” (Gill xxx). She began collecting students the following year and published the first edition of Science and Health, the essential book of her teachings, in 1875. “Theology and physics teach that both Spirit and matter are real and good,” writes Eddy in the preface, “whereas the fact is that Spirit is good and real, and matter is Spirit’s opposite” (viii). According to Eddy, once a Christian Scientist rejects the material world, “sin and disease lose their reality in human consciousness and disappear as naturally and as necessarily as darkness gives place to light and sin to reformation” (xi). The proof of the religion’s utility and goodness therefore inheres in its demonstration. Faith and prayer beget physical healing.
Christian Science did not sweep the world as Twain predicted it would, but the religion was very popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From 1903 to 1906, the religion saw “immense prosperity and growth” and “by June, 1906, Mary Baker Eddy had become a familiar figure in the national press. Her views on . . . assorted topics were sought and published by leading newspapers,” and this paired with her “philanthropic contributions to a variety of causes” (Peele 1977, 223-5). According to Lara Vetter, the religion’s assertion that “the material world is illusory and the spiritual realm the only true reality, had ready appeal to those at the turn of the century, like Loy, seeking Eastern and mystical sources of spiritual guidance…Eddy’s debt to the American transcendentalists and Swedenborgians…made the sect an easy fit for American writers and artists” (50).
Though she had likely encountered Christian Science at the Stein Family Salon prior to her daughter Joella’s birth in 1907, Mina Loy turned to Mrs. Morrison, a Christian Science practitioner with a following in the artistic community, to heal her daughter in 1909. The success of the prescription of prayer, “beef broth and donkey’s milk” convinced Loy that “practitioners produced miracles,” inspiring her to go “regularly to the Christian Science church, where [she] saw a number of artists and advanced thinkers” (Burke 117). Richard Cook sees Loy’s embrace of Christian Science as “part of a continuum of idealisms including Futurism and Bergsonism” (458), while Lara Vetter proposes that “it is the idealist philosophy behind Christian Science . . . that provides the theoretical basis for [Loy’s] meditations on race and evolution” (49). Indeed, Burke writes, “[i]t is hard not to conclude from a reading of Mina’s religious writings—where she often sounds like her own Mary Baker Eddy—that during the 1940s, believing herself one of the illuminati, she hoped to impart to others her formula—‘that Christ meant what he said’” (397).
Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.
Cook, Richard. “The ‘Infinitarian’ and her ‘Macro-Cosmic Presence’: The Question of Loy and Christian Science.” Mina Loy: Woman and Poet, edited by Maeera Shreiber and Keith Tuma, The National Poetry Foundation, 1998, pp.459-465.
Gill, Gillian. Mary Baker Eddy. Perseus Books, 1998.
Peel, Robert. Christian Science: Its Encounter with American Culture. Henry Holt and Company, 1958.
–. Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977.
Twain, Mark. Christian Science. 1907. Oxford UP, 1996.
Vetter, Lara. “Theories of Spiritual Evolution, Christian Science, and the ‘Cosmopolitan Jew’: Mina Loy and American Identity.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 31, no. 1, 2001, pp. 47-63. http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/article/228737. Accessed 18 Sept. 2018.