Christian Science Censorship

John Francis Coffey

(Investigator 60, 1998 May)

Although Christian Science seldom makes the headlines today, there was a time in the early years of this century when Christian Science and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, were front-page news on both sides of the Atlantic. Mrs. Eddy died in 1910, and that final decade of her long life was marked by increasing outside scrutiny of all the details of her private life and her teachings. People who had known her in easier years were being sought out for interviews in an effort to shed more light on this enigmatic woman.

By this time, Mrs. Eddy had withdrawn almost completely from the public eye, and had taken steps to prevent many of the details of her past life from becoming common knowledge. She herself had written a brief autobiography in which she carefully concealed so much of her former years as to make it virtually useless in trying to determine the person who was Mrs. Eddy.

Then there were the bans placed on all loyal Christian Scientists from reading any writings that were in any way detrimental to Mrs. Eddy. She set up the Committee on Publication to "correct in a Christian manner impositions on the public in regard to Christian Science injustices done Mrs. Eddy or members of this Church by the daily press, by periodicals or circulated literature of any sort." (Church Manual, Article 33).

It became the Committee's duty to prevent or suppress all unfavorable material about Mrs. Eddy and her church, and to attain this end, another body, the Business Committee was to bring pressure to bear on advertisers to have publications withdraw or retract offending material.

It was this form of censorship that had lasting effects on the sales and success of scores of books and articles that began to appear from the early 1900s onwards.

I became interested in Christian Science in a round about way back in the early 1960s. I was involved in a study of Jehovah's Witnesses at the time, and after reading Walter Martin's famous book, Jehovah of the Watchtower, I began to look for other books by the same author. One of these was The Christian Science Myth. I became intrigued when Walter Martin related how certain works on Mary Baker Eddy which were published without Church approval, had a habit of disappearing from publication, never to be heard of again.

The most notable of these was the biography, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science, by Georgine Milmine, the wife of a Rochester, New York, newspaper man. The book first saw the light of day in serial form in McClure's magazine between 1907-1908. It created quite a stir at the time and was the subject of intense and sometimes bitter correspondence between the followers of Christian Science and members of the more established churches. Purely by chance, I happened to pick up a copy of this very rare book in a second-hand store shortly after reading Walter Martin's work, and from then on, I became hooked on the whole history of Mrs. Eddy and Christian Science.

Following the publication in serial form of Mrs. Eddy's life in McClure's magazine, the biography was revised, new material was added, and the publishing house of Doubleday brought it out in book form. Being the first major study on Mrs. Eddy and her Church, the Doubleday edition enjoyed good sales. It was widely quoted as authoritative, and found its way into all the leading libraries. Then something happened. At the height of its successful launch, it disappeared. Bookstores announced that they were unable to fill any further orders; libraries found that their copies had mysteriously vanished from their shelves, and what was thought to be a best seller was suddenly out of print.

A certain Boston lawyer, Frederick Peabody, who had earlier written a pamphlet called A complete Exposure of Eddyism or Christian Science (1901), and had been interviewed by Georgine Milmine when she was researching her articles, related how a friend of his, anxious to keep Miss Milmine's book before the public, approached the publishers and asked if they would sell him the plates.  He was informed that the plates had been destroyed, "melted down," and that the book would no longer be published. Peabody suggested to his friend that since the publishers no longer had any use for the copyright, they might sell it to him. Doubleday replied that the copyright was not for sale.

"Isn't that a singular business situation?" Peabody wrote, "A business firm, not doing business for its health or pleasure, will not sell at any price a property that will not otherwise yield it a dollar." (The Faith, the Falsity and the Failure of Christian Science, p. 217)

The Milmine book was the but the first in a long line of books that suffered the same fate. Even the famous Mark Twain could not escape the Publication Committee's influence. He had written a series of articles on Mrs. Eddy and her Church back in 1902-1903, and after making revisions and adding new material to bring it to book length, he published Christian Science in 1907. Mrs. Eddy had a formidable opponent in Mark Twain, and the humorist was at his most hilarious and caustic best in sending up Christian Science and its founder. However, Mrs. Eddy had the last laugh. She outlived Mark Twain by nearly seven months. He died in April 1910, and Mrs. Eddy followed him the following December.

Two of the most influential Directors of the Christian Science Mother Church, both of whom had been appointed to this all-powerful position by Mrs. Eddy herself, wrote biographies of Mrs. Eddy in their later years. Adam Dickey's little biography hardly saw the light of day before it vanished into oblivion. He did not live to finish the memoirs, but his widow, Lillian Dickey published the 141 pages in book form in 1927, the year after he died. Even before the book got into general circulation, a directive went out from the Mother Church requesting that every copy, sold or unsold, be returned. The response was such that almost every copy of the book was returned and destroyed, and for fifty years it was the rarest and most sought after book on Christian Science.

Edwin Franden Dakin, whose own biography was to run the full gauntlet of attempts to suppress it, believed that only two copies of Dickey's book escaped destruction, and these were the copies lodged to obtain copyright. I obtained a photocopy of the book in the mid-1970s, just ten years before the copyright ran out and the book was republished in 1985.

John V. Dittemore wrote the other biography. He became a Director in 1909, just 18 months before Mrs. Eddy's death. His book, Mary Baker Eddy, was written with the collaboration of E.S.Bates, and was published in 1933. It, too, succumbed to the influence of the Christian Science Mother Church, when its publishers, Alfred A. Knopf caved in to the relentless pressure and threats of boycott that few businesses of the time could afford to ignore.

Edwin Dakin's book Mrs. Eddy, first saw the light of day in 1926. It was reprinted twice in 1929, and an enlarged popular edition was published the following year. Although this was in the middle of the Depression years, it was one of the few success stories. His publishers, Charles Scribner's, withstood every attempt to have the book suppressed, and even published a small pamphlet called The Blight That Failed, which detailed some of the methods used to coerce bookstores into blacklisting the Dakin biography.

 I corresponded with Mr. Dakin during the late 1960s, shortly before he suffered a paralytic stroke, and he never tired of expressing his appreciation for the remarkable courage of Scribner's, and the gentle courtesy they accorded him even when they were under enormous pressure to suppress his book.

The list goes on and on. Fleta Campbell Springer's, According to the Flesh; Altman Swihart's Since Mrs. Eddy; and Michael Meehan's Mrs. Eddy and the Late Suit in Equity, are just a few of the books that suddenly vanished from circulation when their publishers and bookstores gave in to the threats of boycott.

Even magazine articles can incur the wrath of the Publication Committee. In December, 1970, I had an article on Mrs. Eddy published in a popular magazine. Within weeks, I had a letter from the Publication Committee pointing out the numerous errors in the article. I was urged to exercise more care in choosing my sources, and to place more reliance on official publications.

The resultant rarity of these suppressed works is that they have become very difficult, and expensive, to obtain. I was buying, selling and exchanging all the above books, and many others, over a period of 25 years, so I can testify to their rarity and the inflated prices. More than 30 years ago the asking price of some of these books was already upwards of (US) $500. I have been fortunate in obtaining nearly all the books I needed to give me the collection I was seeking, and I now have almost 100 titles. Most of these are of the “obnoxious” variety which Christian Scientists have been trying to suppress for years.

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