Everyone in the year 2020 has experience living through a global pandemic. We have all seen first hand how the corona virus and the fear of covid-19 have dominated the news and reshaped our lives. Our personal experiences living in the age of the corona virus might help us to put into context a long accepted claim by Mary Baker Eddy that her husband died as a result of a yellow fever epidemic.
Young Mary had only been married six months and was pregnant with their son when her husband George Glover died. In later years Mary Baker Eddy would refer to her first husband as Major Glover or, later on, as Colonel Glover. He died June 27, 1844, just days after Mary Baker Glover wrote toasts demonizing the moderate Whigs and praising pro-slavery southern Democrats. Most biographies of Mrs. Eddy repeat her assertion that her first husband died of yellow fever. Sibyl Wilbur, who worked with Mary Baker Eddy in writing the first positive biography, breathlessly describes the scene: “In Wilmington they [George and Mary] found yellow fever raging and the city in a panic. Mr. Glover endeavored to forward his business for a speedy departure; but he was himself suddenly stricken with the fever and survived but nine days.” Early Christian Science historian William Lyman Johnson describes “the harrowing scenes of suffering she witnessed during this epidemic.” Former Christian Science Monitor editor Richard Nenneman claims, more soberly, in his biography, “Wilmington was having an epidemic of yellow fever, and George became ill with the disease.” Even some of the most critical biographies of the Leader of Christian Science accept the claim that her first husband, Mr. Glover, died of yellow fever in Wilmington, North Carolina in June 1844. But they haven’t necessarily done the checking.
When I lived in North Carolina I had the opportunity to do a little research on this period in Mrs. Eddy’s life and North Carolina history. There was an outbreak of yellow fever in Wilmington in 1821, and then not another outbreak of yellow fever until the outbreak in 1862 that lasted for several months and killed hundreds of people in a city of less than 10,000. If there was a raging epidemic of yellow fever in 1844 which panicked the city, it did not produce enough of a panic to make it into the newspapers and histories of Wilmington. You don’t have to go to the libraries, historical societies, and museums of North Carolina and spend hours researching the subject. A simple Google search of yellow fever in Wilmington will bring up a number of articles about the devastating outbreak of 1862. If you refine the Google search to include a search for yellow fever in Wilmington in 1844 you will either be taken to articles referencing the 1862 outbreak (with 1844 omitted) or you will be taken to stories about the death of George Glover. Perhaps there was a raging epidemic of yellow fever causing widespread scenes of great suffering and the only record we have of the epidemic is the account of George Glover’s death (perhaps he was the sole victim) as recounted by Mary Baker Eddy decades later.
Yellow fever was certainly a highly feared disease at the time, and so the claim that her husband died of yellow fever amidst a panic-inducing outbreak was certainly a far more sensationalized story than the cause of death given for George Glover in all the newspapers at the time, bilious fever. Bilious fever is associated with excessive bile in the blood stream, leading to jaundice, or a yellow skin tone. The claim that her husband died amidst a highly feared epidemic is far more sensational than the idea that he died from bile entering his blood stream.
The critical Bates-Dittemore biography treats the issue well.
“In the early part of June, Glover was suddenly overcome by a severe attack of bilious fever. He struggled gallantly against it for eleven or twelve days but succumbed on June 27.
“Mrs. Eddy always insisted that her first husband died, more dramatically, during an epidemic of yellow fever. But there was no epidemic of yellow fever recorded in Wilmington that year. Had there been such an epidemic, the public funeral which Glover received would hardly have been permitted. The Wilmington Chronicle, the New Hampshire Patriot, and the Masonic Magazine all attributed his death to billious fever.
“Accepting the yellow-fever myth, Miss Wilbur consistently elaborated it by the statement: ‘During his illness his young wife was excluded by his brother Masons from the perilous task of nursing him’ (p. 39). This is contradicted by Mrs. Glover’s letter to George Sullivan Baker, January 22, 1848. [In that letter, she says ‘day and night I watched alone by the couch of death.’]
“In her ‘Reply to McClure’s Magazine,’ Miscellany, page 312, Mrs. Eddy gave ‘about nine days’ as the duration of Glover’s illness; the obituaries gave twelve, corrected in Mrs. Eddy’s scrapbook to eleven. The last is most probably correct.”
According to Robert Peel: “The contemporary accounts all describe the disease as ‘bilious fever.’ Mrs. Eddy’s explanation was that the authorities wished to cover up the fact that the dreaded yellow fever had appeared.” Perhaps this cover-up was so thorough that although the city was allegedly in a panic due to the alleged raging yellow fever epidemic and consequent harrowing scenes of death and suffering, those covering it up were able to suppress all newspaper accounts and historical records of the outbreak. This claim of a conspiracy is a consistent pattern throughout Mrs. Eddy’s life. While it is certainly possible that George Glover died of yellow fever, and it is certainly possible (though quite implausible) that there was a conspiracy to cover up a yellow fever epidemic, if so then this would be one of a very long line of conspiracies connected to what must arguably be the most conspired-against woman in history.
It may be that Mary Baker Eddy’s claims of a yellow fever epidemic and a subsequent massive cover-up of an unheard of scale are true. But for all of us who have lived through the corona virus pandemic of 2020, we know how it has shaped our lives and how it has been a central part of the news for months. The idea that there was a massive coverup that was able to suppress all news and historical accounts of an epidemic in 1844 (but not in 1821 or 1862) strains credulity. Or perhaps it is possible that George Glover died due to bilious fever, as all the contemporary accounts confirm, and yet in the retelling many decades later Mary Baker Eddy felt the need to attribute his already tragic death to a vastly more sensational yellow fever epidemic, of which there is no evidence beyond her own statements.
Tanner Johnsrud was a fifth generation Christian Scientist and a Journal-listed practitioner for over a decade. He and his wife left Christian Science in 2017 and became Christians. He is currently working on a book on the development of Mary Baker Eddy’s teaching and claims about herself.
 Whether or not he ever earned the title of Colonel, or whether Mrs. Eddy later referred to him as Colonel Glover is another matter.
 Sibyl Wilbur, p. 41
 William Lyman Johnson History of Christian Science Volume 3. p. 304
Johnson, the son of the Clerk of The Mother Church writes “[Mary] was married to George Washington Glover, December 12, 1843. Six months later, her husband passed away in Wilmington, Delaware [sic]. Mrs. Glover returned to her father’s home in Tilton, New Hampshire, and in the following September a son was born, whom she named after his father. The shock of her husband’s illness and death from yellow fever, the harrowing scenes of suffering she witnessed during this epidemic, ant eh coming of a fatherless child, brought about an illness which for a time looked very serious. She was not able to nurse her son, and he was nursed by a Mrs. Morrison, who had given birth to twins a few days previous to the birth of this boy.” pp. 304-305
 Nenneman, p. 43
 Mary Baker Eddy Library Accession F00035. Quoted in In My True Light and Life, p. 54.
The Truth and the Tradition – Bates Dittemore biography, p. 36
 Peel, Vol. 1 p. 322 n. 138
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