Friday, January 31, 2020

Christian Science and the Mary Baker Eddy Library

Mary Baker Eddy discovered Christian Science and founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, which came into national and international prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She also established The Christian Science Publishing Society (CSPS) and The Christian Science Monitor during a period of unprecedented growth in American mass media.

The Mary Baker Eddy Library (MBEL) houses the organizational records of the church, as well as materials that document the work of CSPS. These include an extensive collection of pamphlets, periodicals, articles, and related materials from a vast assortment of publishers and sources. These comprise the Non-CSPS Publications and Serials Collection.

The majority of the materials in the Non-CSPS Collection directly reference and relate to Christian Science and Eddy. Some materials written by Christian Scientists involve theological and metaphysical writings intended primarily for a Christian Scientist audience but published outside the official church publications of the CSPS. Most items written by Christian Scientists had the aim of presenting the Christian Scientist viewpoint to a lay audience, often in response to outside criticism.

In addition to those writings by church members, numerous items in the Non-CSPS Collection, both supportive and critical, were written by and for people who were not Christian Scientists. Prominent supportive articles present in the collection include those written by the Progressive Era editor and journalist B. O. Flower and published in his magazines The Arena and Twentieth Century Magazine. Critical publications include the entire run of a McClure’s Magazine serial biography titled “Mary Baker G. Eddy: The Story of Her Life, and the History of Christian Science,” attributed to Georgine Milmine. Also present are numerous theological tracts and articles arguing against Christian Science from an orthodox Christian viewpoint.

Additional items in the collection include diverse cultural investigations of Christian Science, such as an article in the November 1950 issue of Ebony magazine about Christian Science in African-American communities, as well as architectural accounts of Christian Science churches. Materials on Eddy include traditional profiles of her role as a prominent woman in American history, as well as more eclectic materials such as a page featuring her in a book of paper dolls, by artist Tom Tierney, that highlights “Famous American Women.”

Materials not directly related to Christian Science cover themes that include general religious topics, social issues, current events, and history. These often give context to Eddy’s life and the historical context of Christian Science. For example, legal publications on religion in schools, the operation of parochial schools, and legislation affecting medical freedom would all have been of potential interest to Christian Scientists without necessarily applying directly to their individual situations. While the relevance of these materials to prior custodians of historical materials at the church has been lost, their presence in a collection that has been maintained throughout the twentieth century nevertheless helps to establish connections with areas of study relevant to the MBEL’s collecting criteria.

The bulk of the materials in the Non-CSPS Collection date from 1880 to 2000 and are published in English. Some exist in other languages, particularly French and German, and represent the growing international presence of a religion first established in America. Materials were largely published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The collection developed largely out of materials sent to regional church representatives, such as Christian Science Committees on Publication, or bodies created to respond to public misconceptions of Christian Science. It represents a collaborative collecting project intended to develop an understanding of a complex cultural institution.

For a movement and institution that has been so prominently in the public eye as Christian Science, it is necessary to understand public perception and media response to the church movement as a whole. The Non-CSPS Collection is a vital resource that can help researchers gain a multifaceted understanding of Christian Science and its place in the wider contexts of religious and social history, as well as the role of media in American life.

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