Finding This Paper's Founder

New Mary Baker Eddy Library puts ideas to work

It's not every day that a newspaper gets to rummage through the personal writings of its founder.

So please indulge Monitor editors as they celebrate this weekend's opening of archives containing papers by and about Mary Baker Eddy, who started this newspaper 94 years ago.

A rich collection of writings will be accessible in the new Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, located next to the Monitor. (See story, page 12.)

Eddy's published writings alone are already a rich resource – including her guidance that this newspaper bless humanity. But a new window is being opened on an extraordinary life through this access to half a million well-preserved documents.

Now anyone, not just select biographers, can dive into these papers and discover how Eddy brought revolutionary ideas into word and action. The inner structures of her lifework will be visible, including all the twists and turns of her long journey, like the see-all architecture of the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Eddy's life deserves more attention today than her own modesty allowed a century ago. She asked for an understanding of her story in its true "light and life." With the detachment of time, those in charge of the library have put honesty above modesty by making public the documents of this paper's founder, who also founded The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, headquarters of the Christian Science movement.

One practical reason for the new library is that the church will be able to hold the copyright on the papers until 2047 because they are being made accessible, or "published." But another incentive is to further share the work of one of the most famous American women of her day, a pioneer in publishing, theology, and healing.

Historians and students, in the same spirit of inquiry that marked her work, will be able to comb and synthesize the minutiae of her life. They can search for connections between Eddy's work and 19th-century America, framing her in the trends she experienced, much as geologists look for roadcuts that expose different strata. They can also seek patterns that renew her authenticity for today.

To take the full measure of her life requires acknowledging one's own units of measure. Some biographers have tried to give her halos, others horns. Some tried both. Honest seekers can now freely read the raw material without filters, bringing a modern sensibility and an individual eye.

Future generations, too, will be able to fit different aspects of her life into their times. The reality of her work won't change but the uses of her story will. Today, for instance, leaders in women's issues and alternative medicine see her as a model for breaking many barriers they've encountered.

Some historians have claimed Eddy was "like" someone else or that her ideas derive from something other than what she discovered in the Bible. In this sort of history, she supposedly swam similar strokes as other theologians, reformers, healers, and publishers of her day. But she was an original, and serves more as a prototype than a type. The proof is how her newspaper and followers sustain a practical adaptability of her ideas.

Eddy's full impact remains open-ended. As China's Zhou En-lai said of ultimate meaning of the French Revolution: "It's too soon to tell." In fact, the library will be a forum to explore the power of not only her ideas but how ideas in general shape the world.

This newspaper's origin lies in her idea (proposed at the height of yellow journalism in America) that media need not rely on personal attacks or sensationalism to win audience, and that they can play a vital role framing issues with civic and moral spirit. She also asked the Monitor to chronicle humanity's progress, such as the Wright brothers' flight that took place in the same year the paper started.

Her private writings are now available in that same spirit of furthering the progress that Eddy's work made possible. They shouldn't be a face to the past, but a step into the future, enhancing ideas that are time-tested.

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