Mary Baker Eddy
Mary Baker Eddy (July 16, 1821 – December 3, 1910) was the founder of the Christian Science movement and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, founder of an international newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, and author of the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Poor and homeless (dwelling with various friends and relatives) for the first half of her life, by the end of her life, she had become wealthy and a property owner, and was one of the most controversial and powerful women of her time. More than two dozen biographies have been written about her life, beginning in 1907 (three years before her death), and including a new one as recently as 2014.
Mary Baker Eddy's personal life was, for her times, as unusual as her outer successes later in life. Her first husband moved her across the country and when he died, she was left with no money and six months pregnant. She managed to make the 1400-mile journey back to family in time for the birth, but lacking a home or money of her own, she relegated her young son to relatives and lived by moving among the households of various friends and relatives. She married for a second time, but this husband turned out to be a philanderer and disastrous at managing money, and she divorced him. She later married a third time, a happy union lasting only a few years until the death of her husband. In her later years, she became a healer and teacher, self-published an influential book, managed and guided a rapidly growing mega-church, accumulated personal wealth, and founded a newspaper that over the next century would win seven Pulitzer prizes. She bought land at a time when very few women had rights to land or house ownership. In her old age, she fought off multiple attempts by others to declare her incompetent and seize control of the church, or her personal finances.
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
Mary Baker Eddy first self-published Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875, and continued revising it for more than three decades until closely before her death. Many sources overlook the importance of this book in its finalized form, dating from around 1907. It is well known as the foundational guidance for the Church of Christ, Scientist, but it is far more than that. It is a work of deep philosophical significance, wrestling to express concepts of duality vs. union, as taught by Jesus Christ and (in striking ways) similar to concepts taught by the Buddha. Its claim that prior interpretations of scripture through history frequently misunderstood important concepts is bound to stir up wrath in circles that consider themselves entitled to weigh in on the meaning of Christian scripture. Furthermore, for a woman to found a church and maintain control over it by definition was against prevailing social norms. Eddy biographer Gillian Gill wrote:
"...my central, and unexpected, conclusion was that both Christian Science loyalists and their opponents have attacked and avoided the book because it is too radical. The real issue is the author's audacity, her daring to think that a woman like her, with her resources, could write, not the expected textbook on mental healing techniques, not the comfortable compendium of healing anecdotes, but a book that takes on the great questions of God and man, good and evil, and that rejects orthodox verities."