Mary Baker Eddy on Race and Slavery

Many people and institutions in the United States are going through serious self-examination on the question of race right now. Christian Scientists must look at the legacy of Mary Baker Eddy on the question of race and slavery. I grew up believing that Mary Baker Eddy was a brave abolitionist while living in the South, boldly standing up and defending equality and justice for all at great personal cost. These are the stories that she told about herself decades later. At one point I wanted to write a book about Mary Baker Eddy the brave abolitionist. In 2011, I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and while there I began to research Mrs. Eddy’s time in the Carolinas. The picture that emerges based upon further research is not consistent with the stories that she told about herself many decades later. In fact they reveal quite the opposite.

Decades after her time in the South, Mrs. Eddy spoke of herself as having been an outspoken abolitionist[1]. But there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact, all the evidence we have shows that in 1844 she enthusiastically campaigned against abolitionist and moderate candidates[2], literally comparing the moderate to demons[3], while supporting pro-slavery politicians[4]. She supported pro-slavery politicians even when the majority of North Carolina voted against her candidate. Decades later she claimed to have freed her husband’s slaves after his tragic death.[5] But there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact, there is no evidence that her husband ever owned slaves.[6] There is no evidence that she freed the slaves, which was illegal in South Carolina and would have required a special act of the North Carolina legislature.[7] Decades later she told stories of one of those slaves heroically rescuing her from thieves after her husband’s death.[8] But there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact she told mutually contradictory stories,[9] and in telling the stories she claimed that her father was a strong abolitionist[10] – when all evidence points to him hating Abraham Lincoln[11] and, like Mary’s brother Albert Baker[12], being a firm anti-abolitionist[13]. Decades later, Mrs. Eddy spoke of herself as having been outspoken in opposing her family on the question of abolition in the 1852 election.[14] But there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact, she opposed the abolitionist candidate for senate in 1852, which the majority of the state of New Hampshire supported, and campaigned for his opponent.[15] Had she been an abolitionist she wouldn’t have made a passing comment saying that she didn’t think much of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.[16] In story after story, she paints herself in heroic terms, living a grand, romanticized life. But the documentable facts don’t support any of her claims. In fact they point in the opposite direction.

Decades after the abolition of slavery, she compared Christian Science to the abolition movement in Science and Health. In 1891 she added to this statement a reference to the African slave being “on the lowest plane of life.”[17] She later revised this statement to merely refer to the slave as being “on the lowest plane of human life.”[18] In private conversation, decades after the Civil War she referred to “the negro” of that day as being on the lowest plane of human life, and she told a Christian Science teacher who was teaching African-Americans that they should stop teaching them[19], and shouldn’t teach African-Americans Christian Science until after half of the world had become Christian Scientists.[20] In Science and Health, she contrasted the “Red Men” with the “more enlightened races.”[21]

Though her defenders might say she was merely a woman of her times, she was out of step with the voters of New Hampshire and North Carolina as she campaigned for pro-slavery politicians, and she held to widely denounced and discredited racial teachings as well. In fact, Mary Baker Eddy followed a heretical teaching that claims that the “Anglo-Saxon race” were the real lost tribes of Israel, and that the English and white Americans were the chosen people of God. This Anglo-Israel theory was widely ridiculed and denounced by Christians and historians for decades before Mrs. Eddy publicly espoused it. This teaching is completely heretical, completely unbiblical and completely unfounded in history. Mary Baker Eddy wrote approvingly of an author (C.A.L Totten) who advocated for Anglo-Israel teaching in his many books including Our Race[22]. She supported and encouraged various of her students who held to this Anglo-Israel teaching.[23] She thought that if the Anglo-Israel connections could be shown, that it would prove some sort of spiritual authority and superiority for herself.[24] Some of her students who believed this teaching believed that Mrs. Eddy could be proven to be the heir of the throne of David and entitled to be Queen of England.[25] She referred, in private conversation, to Christian Science as an “Anglo-Saxon religion.”[26] As late as 1898, in a poem published in Boston newspapers, The Christian Science Journal, and Miscellany she referred to the people of England and the United States as “Anglo-Israel” and “Judah’s sceptered race.”[27]  Far from advocating universal equality, she clearly articulated in her published writings that the Anglo-Saxons are the chosen people of God.

Despite all of her claims, the evidence shows that she opposed abolition. Her stories about freeing the slaves were just stories, intended to paint her as a heroic figure – as all of her stories about herself did. In fact, she considered “the African slave” and “the negro” to be on the lowest plane of life. She held to an entirely heretical and completely ridiculous teaching that the Anglo-Saxon race were God’s chosen people. Far from being a heroic abolitionist and defender of equality, Mary Baker Eddy was a serial fabulist and an unrepentant advocate of indefensible teachings about the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.


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.


[1] Reverend Irving C. Tomlinson, M.A. C.S.B. Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy; Recollections and Experiences. (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1996.) 19

[2] Robert Peel Mary Baker Eddy: Years of Discovery. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.) 71

[3] Ernest Sutherland Bates and John V Dittemore. Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition. (New York: Knopf, 1932.) 33-35

[4] Gillian Gill Mary Baker Eddy. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books.) 66

[5] Lyman P. Powell. Mary Baker Eddy; A Life Size Portrait. (New York: Macmillan, 1930.) 81.

 81;

Julia Michael Johnston. Mary Baker Eddy: Her Mission and Triumph. (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society. 1998.) 15

[6] Gill 65

[7] Peel Years of Discovery, p. 323 note 2

[8] Tomlinson 30-31; Gill 64-65

[9] Gill 65

[10] Gill 64-65

[11] McClure’s Magazine January 1907. Volume XXVIII, No. 3. p. 229.

Gill 605, n. 58

[12] Gill 19; 65

[13] Peel Years of Discovery, p. 320 n. 93

[14] Sibyl Wilbur. The Life of Mary Baker Eddy. (New York: Concord Publishing Co., 1908.) 52-54.

[15] Peel vol 1, p. 326 n. 50

[16] Peel vol 1, p. 88 The letter was written January 1, 1853, but it is not quoted in Peel. Evidently it exists in the archives of The Mary Baker Eddy library.

[17] Science and Health 61st Edition, pp. 121-122 (1891)

[18] Science and Health 257th Edition, p. 225 (1902)

[19] Elizabeth Earl Jones Mrs. Eddy in North Carolina and Memoirs pp. 109-110

[20] (Bliss Knapp and Eloise M Knapp – Their Book 1953.) This is from a notebook maintained by Eloise Knapp, wife of Bliss Knapp. It is located in the Principia College archives.

[21] Science and Health 26th Edition, p. 357.

[22] Mary Baker Eddy and Biblical Prophecy p. 17

[23] Peel Years of Authority pp. 116-117

Richard Nenneman. Persistent Pilgrim: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy. Etna, New Hampshire: Nebbadoon Press. 1997. 250-251

[24] Robert Peel Mary Baker Eddy: Years of Authority. New York: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1977. 117

[25] Peel Years of Authority 116.

[26] Elizabeth Earl Jones  Mrs. Eddy in North Carolina and Memoirs. 109-110

[27] Boston Herald May 18, 1898

The Christian Science Journal June 1898

Miscellany 337:15-22

Calvin Frye & The Pie

By Tanner Johnsrud. Tanner was a journal listed practitioner for more than a decade before leaving Christian Science.

This week lots of people in the United States will be celebrating an important holiday. March 14 is 3.14 or, PI Day. So in honor of Pi(e) Day, I thought I would share a little bit of CS myth-busting.

Many Christian Scientists get their de facto ideas about what happens after death from an account claiming that Mary Baker Eddy raised her secretary Calvin Frye from the dead. (Actually, there are at least five distinct accounts of her “raising” Mr. Frye from the dead.) But the most famous one involves Calvin Frye going downstairs to get a piece of pie in the middle of the night:

“Miss Bartlett said that while Mrs. Eddy was living at 385 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Mr. Calvin Frye suddenly passed on, and Mrs. Eddy raised him from the dead. Some time elapsed from the moment he passed on until Mrs. Eddy restored him to life. One of the students who witnessed this demonstration asked Mr. Frye what his experience was during the time that, to them he seemed to be dead. He replied that he was in the pantry eating pie.” (Lottie Clark reminiscences, quoted in Mary Baker Eddy Christian Healer p. 269)

The story of Calvin Frye and the pie has been told again and again in Sunday Schools and Association meetings. And many Christian Scientists assume that what happens after death is that we go on exactly as we were before death, just as Calvin Frye supposedly went on and got a piece of pie. The de facto views of life after death for untold numbers of Christian Scientists are based heavily – not on the Bible, or real scientific evidence – but on the testimony of what people said that Julia Bartlett told them, referencing what Calvin Frye purportedly said about his experience. Many Christian Scientists logically assume, based upon their implicit trust in Mrs. Eddy and the details they know, that Calvin Frye died, and after his death he continued on to get pie, and was raised from the dead by Mrs. Eddy.

They are unaware, however, of important history regarding Calvin Frye. Mr. Frye became interested in CS after his mother was treated in CS for insanity by Clara Choate. He soon became the most devoted of Mrs. Eddy’s followers, he was her loyal secretary, not even taking a single day off for decades. However, Calvin Frye had a long history of cataleptic seizures. Catalepsy is characterized by rigid body and limbs, limbs staying in the same position when moved (waxy flexibility), no response (a decrease of sensation), loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing. In previous centuries people were buried alive who were mistaken for dead as a result of a cataleptic seizure.

Mr. Frye had a long history of these cataleptic seizures, which can be mistaken for death. On July 14, 1888, Mr. Frye wrote a letter about one such seizure, the onset of which he attributed to mental forces trying to attack Mrs. Eddy through him:

“About two years ago, I was having much to contend with from the attacks of malicious mesmerism, by which the attempt was made to demoralize me, and through me to afflict Mrs. Eddy. While under one of those attacks, my mind became almost a total blank. Mrs. Eddy was alone with me at the time, and, calling to me loudly without a response, she saw the necessity for prompt action, and lifted my head by the forelock, and called aloud to rouse me from the paralyzed state into which I had fallen. This had the desired effect, and I wakened to a sense of where I was, my mind wandering, but I saw the danger from which she had delivered me and which can never be produced again.” (Mary Baker Eddy Library L15943, quoted in Mary Baker Eddy Christian Healer Amplified Edition p. 571)

He said that he would never again have such a seizure. But in that, as in much else, Mr. Frye was tragically wrong. There are at least five distinct incidents recorded in authorized Christian Science literature, that tell of students of Mrs. Eddy seeing her rouse Calvin Frye from these cataleptic seizures. Calvin Frye kept a diary – there is no record of him ever saying that he died. These cataleptic seizures were assumed, by the students (who did not know of Calvin Frye’s history), to be incidents of raising him from the dead. In the above letter he spoke of his mind wandering during such an episode – is it possible that during the incident with the pie, his mind wandered and he merely imagined going on to get pie, rather than that being testimony as to a post death world that is exactly parallel with our own?

But for untold numbers of Christian Scientists, their beliefs about the nature of life after death are greatly shaped from what someone said that Julia Bartlett said that Calvin Frye told her about a mental wandering he may have had in connection with one of his recurring cataleptic seizures.

One of the hard things about getting our friends and loved ones to leave CS is that they believe this story. They think that people will just go on, just as they have, and so while death might be unfortunate, nothing really changed for that person, because death isn’t real. As a Christian, I follow what the Bible says about what happens when we die, but I fully understand that my atheist friends believe there is no such thing. Both the Christians and the atheists in this group recognize that the CS teaching that death isn’t real is a huge problem and a huge lie. We both recognize the tragic nature of death. And we want our CS friends and loved ones not to die unfortunate, painful, and early deaths. We both want the people we love to live life to the fullest. Maybe getting the truth out regarding Calvin Frye can help challenge the CS narrative which says that death isn’t real.

Have a happy PI Day.