March is Women’s History Month, celebrating this year’s theme of “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” Nineteenth and twentieth century women are conspicuous in weaving a fabric of human freedom—a freedom that continues to lead human progress today. Lucretia Mott helped end the slavery of African Americans. Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony laid groundwork for women’s right to vote. We could not imagine continuing social progress today without their accomplishments.
Their contemporary, Mary Baker Eddy, pioneered a different freedom—freedom from mental slavery. Slavery, that is, to human beliefs about health. Her 19th century work as an author, healer, teacher, and pastor presented the connection between consciousness and health that is increasingly studied and recognized in various forms of medical practice today.
Eddy herself was chronically ill well into mid-life. Conventional medical treatments had failed. Alone and widowed by her first husband and deserted by her second, she persistently sought her health through other cures. Diets, hydropathy, homeopathy, placebo treatments—Eddy tried them all, experiencing limited success that was followed by relapse.
Emerging from all of her experimentation, though, was growing evidence that one’s beliefs—especially how one viewed the Divine—had a direct effect on one’s healing results. Her concept of what constituted health was beginning to take on a change of base.
A near fatal fall in 1866 placed her squarely on that new base. Not expected by the attending physician to survive, Eddy resorted to her life-long love of the Bible and revisited accounts of Jesus’ healing. She wrote later that she was freshly inspired by the thought that her life had a spiritual, not a material, source.
She got up, dressed, and ate normally. After a few days of continuing study and inspiration, her injuries were permanently healed without the use of medication her physician had recommended.
Although the event seemed utterly non-miraculous to Eddy, it sparked a driving curiosity. She wasn’t sure just what had happened, but she felt she had discovered a health principle that could be repeatedly applied to heal one’s self and others.
She described the next phase of her life this way: “For three years after my discovery, I sought the solution of this problem of Mind-healing, searched the Scriptures and read little else, kept aloof from society, and devoted time and energies to discovering a positive rule. I knew the Principle of all harmonious Mind-action to be God, and that cures were produced in primitive Christian healing by holy, uplifting faith; but I must know the Science of this healing, and I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, page 109).
Throughout this period and several years after, Eddy tested her conclusions. The chronic ills she had been suffering for years gradually dropped away, and soon she found she could help others. The many documented instances of these healings often included cases abandoned by physicians as hopeless: hip disease, pneumonia, enteritis, consumption of the lungs, deformed structure and joints, and many others. Eddy found her “positive rule” through this healing practice, and named her discovery Christian Science.
Eddy explains the method of her healing in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, published in 17 languages and named by the Women’s National Book Association as “One of the 75 books by women whose words have changed the world.” Over ten million copies have been sold, and the book continues to be a leading source on the subject of consciousness, spirituality and health.
Increasingly today, medical institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, and university medical schools such as Harvard, Duke, and George Washington are re-thinking the allopathic-only model of medicine and exploring the relationship between consciousness and bodily health. Prominent individual practitioners such as Harvard professor Dr. Ellen Langer (Counterclockwise) and neurosurgeon Dr. Eban Alexander (Proof of Heaven) are publishing findings from their own research that indicate a direct link between consciousness and health.
Pioneers in any field, writes Daniel J. Boorstin in his book, The Discoverers, “…had to battle against the current ‘facts’ and dogmas of the learned.” Mary Baker Eddy acknowledged that very struggle as she challenged mainstream health care assumptions: “Legally to abolish unpaid servitude in the United States was hard; but the abolition of mental slavery [of human beliefs about health] is a more difficult task”. (Science and Health, page 225). The pioneering work of this 19th century woman as author, healer, teacher, and leader has made this task less difficult today for both individuals and health care practitioners, as they search for a more consistent foundation for health.