Perhaps her prominence in the field of health is sometimes overlooked because of her historical association with a religion and the fact that medicine and medical research, in her day especially, were almost exclusively the purview of men.
In celebration of Women’s History Month the Huffington Post ran an article last month with pictures of “50 Women Who Shaped America’s Health“. Numerous comments were shared online noting that this list is incomplete.
The Huffington Post listened and added 5 more women taken from their readers’ input. That makes this list 50+5.
Certainly there are many more. But here’s one woman that surely should be included in the field of health – Mary Baker Eddy.
She was born in Bow, New Hampshire in 1821. It was her first 45 years of going from being a frail and sickly child to a frail and sickly adult that drove her into the field of health; that, and her interest in helping others who, like her, suffered. She studied different therapies for restoring health (her own and that of others) including diets, homeopathy, and what today are called placebos.
For example, writing about a case of Edema that came to her after being given up by the doctors through which she gained insight into the placebo effect, she writes,
“It then occurred to me to give her unmedicated pellets and watch the result. I did so, and she continued to gain. Finally she said that she would give up her medicine for one day, and risk the effects. After trying this, she informed me that she could get along two days without globules; but on the third day she again suffered, and was relieved by taking them. She went on in this way, taking the unmedicated pellets, — and receiving occasional visits from me, — but employing no other means, and she was cured.”¹
And in another example, using homeopathy, she writes,
“The author attenuated Natrum muriaticum (common table-salt) until there was not a single saline property left. The salt had ‘lost his savour;’ and yet, with one drop of that attenuation in a goblet of water, and a teaspoonful of the water administered at intervals of three hours, she has cured a patient sinking in the last stage of typhoid fever.”²
Eddy concluded from such experiments,
“Thus we learn that it is not the drug which expels the disease or changes one of the symptoms of disease.”³
There is today a resurgence of mind-body medicine, including the role spirituality can play in producing good health outcomes. Already this month, for example, I’ve seen a couple of articles noting this trend and exploring its ramifications: (1) More doctors are treating patients’ emotional, spiritual pain, and (2) The healing power of prayer: Can science prove it exists?
In light of these trends, history should not lose sight of key insights Eddy wrote about, over 100 years ago, concerning the effect of thought on health, such as:
“A … man possesses [his] body, and he makes it harmonious or discordant according to the images of thought impressed upon it.”4
“Health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind;…”5
As a deeply religious person, Eddy also read and explored the healing work of Jesus. And after a personal healing of life-threatening injuries from an accident – a return to health that resulted from turning to the Scriptures alone – she brought together her understanding of the effect of thought and spirituality on health into a healing system.
Employing this newfound method, Eddy healed a number of patients – often cases that had been given up by the allopathic doctors of her day. In one case, Eddy healed a woman of pneumonia in the presence of the woman’s physicians. One of those physicians – Dr. Davis – encouraged Eddy to write a book to share this method of healing.6
She wrote that book and entitled it, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Today it is available in 17 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Eddy felt that anyone could learn this healing method. To further this, she opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston and taught over 4,000 students there. She also set up a system that includes individual study and practice and public practice and teaching that continues to this day through a church ministry. Though, many people use the healing system without ever becoming members of the church. And today people throughout the world are using this healing system and finding it effective, affordable, and accessible.
The fact that her system of treating disease is mostly promulgated through a church is no reason for her role in the history of health to be overlooked, especially given the increased understanding today of the role spirituality plays in health.
For a list of women in the field of health, including Eddy’s name is a must! And this puts the list cited at the beginning at 50+5+1. Perhaps you know of another woman that made a significant contribution to the field of health. We’re at 56 and counting.