Mary Baker Eddy’s sexuality: what an oxymoran

Salem witch trial. Child throwing fit on floor is an accuser that many in the town were witches. I call it grownups bowing to a child’s fit. And some claim That Eddy had fits as a child -as a teen, indeed, throughout her life.

Back in March when I first came to this blog with Christian Science as its subject, I mentioned sexuality in a couple of the earliest posts, because Eddy was often thought of as being a “hysteric”, which of course is caused by repressed sexuality 99% of the time, in women. When I read Gill recently , I found she dismissed the thought that Eddy may have been a hysteric, by claiming hysteria was not a disease of children. But I beg to differ. The Puritan Calvinist lines were especially susceptible to hysteria in adults, but it was not unknown among pre-teens. I have mentioned the Salem Witch Trials at least twice before in discussions of hysteria. I never thought I would be correcting Gill, but there you have it. And not only that, Gill does not mention sexuality any more than Eddy did herself. She never even speculated about Mary Baker Eddy‘s sexuality in terms of her milieu. Or what kind of effects it has on women to live under that onerous dissociation of sexuality.
19th Century classy whore

Sexuality in a woman made her a harlot, a slut, because harlots and sluts were the only women allowed to enjoy sex and to experiment with positions, etc. Be it noted that not all prostitutes were informed women, many common whores took money and gave only the missionary position,in shame and the men took it in shame, too. The better class of sluts looked and behaved like sexy women, and for many men, these women taught them all they knew about sex. They often worked in very nice quality homes being used as brothels- and some could dress for the opera, or become a professional mistress of many accomplishments. These high class sluts were not at all  likely to be from Puritan or Calvinist backgrounds, or if they were, they could be cast out for their sexuality..

Calvinism was extremely sexually repressive for women. Their teachings on marriage said that “it” was good in marriage  for procreation and hinted, “it” was good for the affections of both husband and wife. However, of the perhaps 20% of women who can achieve an orgasm in the missionary position (the only one allowed), most men would have been put off if their wives enjoyed sex as much as they (the men) did. It was obvious that men must achieve orgasm and marriage gave them a safe corral in which to “do it”. Even if orgasm did confer pleasure to the men every time, it was not appropriate to acknowledge that fact to themselves, let alone to anyone else. If their wives experienced orgasm too, it could be considered as unseemly.  Pleasure itself was a sin. Pleasure was obviously distasteful to Eddy, in any form. Not many people ever heard her laugh, either. She was about as serious a woman as it could get.

So we know why there are barely two lines about sex in Science and Health. She probably would have had the vapors if she actually had to mention a word for “it” out loud. Just as food was only to sustain life, sex was only to create it. If a feast were set with wine for every course and many choices of platters, even if no one overindulged in alcohol, or dessert, or ever got fat, in the Puritan’s eyes this was gluttony to the max. Very, very, sinful. One was not meant to enjoy food any more than sex, which is probably why they choked down so many New England boiled beef dinners. That is not a dish meant for the eye, or the pallet, it is only meant to supply unadorned nutrition. beef, water and salt, boiled until dead, served with a potato. That is Eddy’s expectation for food. She had dyspepsia since she was a child, and no doubt that boiled grease on the dinner was too much for her dyspepsia, as by the time she was a teen, she mentioned she was subsisting on Graham crackers.(They had a lot less sugar back then).

Young, Lonely, and Very skinny, her cheekbones show.
Mary Baker Eddy
Young, lonely, and very skinny, her cheekbones show.

I doubt she ever threw a dinner party in her life. It just wasn’t her style. It was mentioned throughout her authorized biographies, that she preferred to take her graham biscuit and water alone, and was not known to sit at dining tables often. I am sure she also ate small portions of boiled veggies and boiled fruits with her potato, but no additives except salt (and never too much). Some thought her taller than average, some smaller, but either way, she was anorexic* (quite thin) most of her life because she just couldn’t eat much or she paid for it in dyspepsia.

(*as distinguished from “having anorexia” or not eating for the sole purpose of making yourself more thin).

So here we have a sexually repressed woman who couldn’t enjoy eating because it upset her stomach, so she controlled her food intake almost as much as she controlled her sexuality.  (She was never as good at controlling her temper, as she was at denying to herself that she had one .)

This is a woman who never was in touch with her body, she was extremely accomplished at dissociating from it and its desires, and barely acknowledged its needs. Therefore her pretense that her body was not there at all, was close to complete. No wonder she made not having a material body a tenant of her faith. She taught that our bodies are not made of matter, they are projections of mortal mind, a mere belief in matter.  And of course, she herself was almost over the belief of having a material body at all.

Whew! I am just thinking about what a burden menstruation must have been to Mary. When she first got it, but perhaps was aware of her older sisters during their periods. She must have been menstruating when she was married to Wash Glover, because she promptly got pregnant. I doubt she agreed to sex after she realized she was pregnant. This attitude was expected,  in order to preserve the sanctity of the womb. So then, Wash died while she was pregnant. She went home and had her son there a few months later. The realities of childbirth must have been fairly horrible. She was not even able to nurse, which of course, is a very animalistic act. I can’t imagine Mary even trying to nurse. She was probably pretty thin  after Wash’s death and ate so little, not much effort was made to have Georgie jr. nurse from Mary. They were able to find a wet nurse, so Mary and Georgie jr, never really bonded on a physical mother/child level.

Frankly, I doubt Mary ever had her period again, she was so thin, after Wash died, her body would not engage in that bloody behavior. Even when she remarried ten years later, she was carried hither and yon, even at the Wedding. I bet she was so skinny, she could not get pregnant. She was so sick and weak, that I wonder if Daniel Patterson, her lusty young second husband, was ever able to do much more than consummate the marriage. I doubt it.

very thin Angelina Jolie
very thin Angelina Jolie

However, being so anorectic had its good points for Mary; not only did she not get her period- probably for the rest of her life- When she was living in that series of boarding houses, she barely ate at all, so not having money wasn’t really a problem. All it took to keep her going was some broth and graham crackers, with a touch of this or that, so landladies didn’t usually mind she didn’t eat with the rest of the boarders and family and took her little bits of food on the side. And Mary, no doubt felt virtuous at denying herself food. It would be holy behavior, were she Catholic.

I think there is enough material in her biographies to support this view of her sex and food life, and that photo on the cover of Gill’s book is the picture of a woman so skinny, her sunken eyes dominate the face. It looks like she has defined cheekbones, but in the pictures of her after menopause, she was still slender, but her cheekbones are gone. So she only revealed those cheekbones when she was very, very thin. The melancholic look in her eye adds to the picture of a woman starved, not only of food, but of affection.

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