A Gift for Giving

By
  • Elle Miller
-

On June 28, 1900, a letter was delivered to Maurine Campbell. “The three ‘Busy Bees’ of Concord are anxious to send you a picture,” it read in part. “I hope it will reach you in good condition.”1

It did, and Miss Campbell kept both the letter and the picture as treasured mementos.

Who were the “Busy Bees” and why was this young trio — Wendell, Edith, and Milan Piper — from New Hampshire’s capitol city so anxious to send along this photograph? Was there something special about the pair of beautiful white swans it pictured gliding across the surface of the water?

Circa 1900 image of two swans Mrs. Eddy gave to the city of Concord, New Hampshire. Photograph, P3102-1, Longyear Museum collection.

Yes, there was!

The birds were a gift from Mary Baker Eddy to her adopted hometown for the pond in White Park.2

Growing up in Concord, young Wendell, Edith, and Milan would have been familiar with Mary Baker Eddy, the woman who discovered Christian Science. They were students in the local Christian Science Sunday School. They may have visited Pleasant View, her home on the outskirts of the city. And they may have seen her ride by in her carriage on one of her daily drives. Perhaps she’d even tossed them some of the candy and treats she liked to share with children on those rides!

A few years earlier, the three Piper children had joined the Busy Bees, a group of Christian Science Sunday School students from around the world who banded together to help contribute to the building of Mrs. Eddy’s church in Boston.3 Organized by Miss Campbell, the young philanthropists came up with many creative ways to earn money for their donations. Mrs. Eddy hinted at some of them in a letter of thanks she wrote to all the busy bees, whom she called her “dear little friends”:

Only think that sometime I may go into this Church — look at its massive walls, and try to think how many doll dresses, how many paper bags of popcorn, how much candy it took, how much shoveling of snow, carrying up wood, yea, how many loving, tireless tasks the dear children cheerfully performed to help build the first Church for Christian Science in Massachusetts.4

Mary Baker Eddy gave this paper doll, which was made by one of the Busy Bees, to her young neighbor Helen Dadmun. It is now in the Longyear Museum collection.

The Piper children’s generosity no doubt grew out of their gratitude for Christian Science. It may also have been inspired in part by Mrs. Eddy’s own example. She loved to give! Her philanthropy was well-known in Concord, and her present of the graceful swans was just one of many contributions that she made to her hometown and its citizens.

Childhood of giving

Mrs. Eddy’s gift for giving stretched all the way back to her own childhood. In the 19th-century farming family in which she was raised, generosity and good deeds were a part of everyday life. Friends and neighbors supported one another through tough times, doing what they could to help. Like most other New Englanders at the time, the Bakers were earnest Christians who loved their Bible and tried their best to follow its teachings. Young Mary would have grown up taking to heart such familiar verses as “God loveth a cheerful giver,” and Jesus’ counsels “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and “Freely ye have received, freely give.”5

Mary Baker Eddy’s Birthplace at Bow, New Hampshire. Oil on canvas painting by artist Max Bohm, 1920, AW0369, Longyear Museum collection.

She also had her own parents as an example.

“My childhood’s home I remember as one with the open hand,” Mary would later write. “The needy were ever welcome….”6

Her mother Abigail was always ready to help a sick neighbor,7 and her father Mark was equally generous, even making shoes for the children of a poor local family.8 At Christmas time, he filled their farm wagon with food to give away. “Every present was nicely done up and there was something for every needy neighbor,” Mary recalled.9

So it was natural for Mary to follow in her parents’ footsteps — sometimes to their exasperation, as when she repeatedly gave away items of clothing — hat, mittens, and even her coat — to less fortunate students at school.10

Mary was well known in her family for her kindness and generosity. In fact, her father even teased her sometimes, knowing how much she loved giving to others. When the Baker children went gathering nuts on the property, for instance, he’d say “Now, who pities father?” when they returned home — and tender-hearted Mary would always turn over her entire basket to him.11

Swans, shoes, and more

Throughout her girlhood and as a young woman, Mary struggled with illness. Her search for health eventually resulted in a healing, through prayer alone, of the after-effects of a serious accident. This led to her discovery of Christian Science, which she shared with the world through her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She used the laws of God she discovered to teach others to heal as Jesus did, and eventually founded a church.

Mary Baker Eddy circa 1870. Colorized photograph by W. T. Bowers, P0007, Longyear Museum collection.

Many years later, Mrs. Eddy moved back to New Hampshire. She settled in Concord, close to where she’d grown up in Bow. Over the nearly 20 years that she lived in the city, she earned a reputation for her philanthropy. She supported local businesses and local events, including Old Home Week and the Concord State Fair. She gave money to the Y.M.C.A.12 She donated flowers from her garden at Pleasant View to the Daughters of Veterans to use on Memorial Day,13 provided fresh fruit and a fish dinner for soldiers,14 and saw to it that a holiday dinner was sent over to neighbors who had been out of town and returned too late to cook their own.15 Her gifts were both large and small, public and private, and they touched the hearts of her neighbors and fellow citizens.

One of Mrs. Eddy’s causes were the roads in Concord, which were unpaved and in terrible condition when she first moved there. One spring, a wagon carrying a load of lumber got stuck in the mud right in front of Pleasant View. That was the last straw!16 Mrs. Eddy gave money to Concord to help pave the roads, a loving gesture that earned her the city’s gratitude.

Mary Baker Eddy circa 1899. Pastel portrait by artist William Baxter Closson, AW0313, Longyear Museum collection.

When Mrs. Eddy visited the Concord State Fair in 1901, the Governor of New Hampshire gave a speech to the crowd praising her for her generous support of the fair and her gift of shoes to the city’s needy children — a gesture perhaps inspired by memories of her own father’s gift to the poor family in Bow.

“The noble, good woman who has done so much to beautify these grounds and buildings, and who is to be with us to-day,” Governor Chester B. Jordan said proudly, “has given another evidence of her generosity in giving to the children of your city over two hundred pairs of shoes.”17

Eventually, Mrs. Eddy left Concord and moved back to Boston to be closer to her church headquarters. The city was sad to see her leave. Official letters were sent expressing regret at her leaving and appreciation for her generosity over the years. One local newspaper reported, “Mrs. Eddy’s removal from Concord to Brookline, Mass., is a distinct loss for Concord, and for that matter, for the State.”18

For the rest of her life, Mary Baker Eddy would continue to give generously to causes that needed her help. Meanwhile, back in Concord, the swans would remain on White Pond for everyone to enjoy — including Wendell, Edith, and Milan Piper — as a visible reminder of the “cheerful giver” who loved helping others.

Vintage postcard showing Mrs. Eddy’s swans on the pond at White Park. Postcard, 2015.126, Longyear Museum collection.

Notes


  1. Wendell, Edith, and Milan Piper to Maurine Campbell, June 28, 1900, Longyear Museum collection.
  2. Mrs. Eddy donated the swans in the summer of 1893. Mary Baker Eddy to Ebenezer J. Foster Eddy, June 22, 1893, L01847, and Mary Baker Eddy to W. D. Fisk, July 10, 1893, F00553, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as MBEL).
  3. You can read more about the Busy Bees in A World More Bright: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy by Isabel Ferguson and Heather Vogel Frederick (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 146-149.
  4. Mary Baker Eddy to the Sabbath School Children, April 16, 1891, quoted in Maurine Campbell’s The Story of the Busy Bees: An Account of Pioneer Experiences in Christian Science, 26, MBEL. The Busy Bees began their work in March 1891 with just 12 students from the Christian Science Sunday School in Boston, but by the end had grown to a bustling group of some 2,600 children from all over the world. Together, they managed to raise over $5,500 ($155,000 in 2016 dollars) to help build the Mother’s Room for Mrs. Eddy in the Original Mother Church. In return, Mrs. Eddy dedicated her book Pulpit and Press to them, and in it she thanked the Busy Bees gratefully for their efforts: “Sweet society, precious children, your loving hearts and deft fingers distilled the nectar and painted the finest flowers in the fabric of this history, — even its centre-piece, — Mother’s Room in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.” Pulpit and Press, 8-9.
  5. II Corinthians 9:7; Acts 20:35; Matthew 10:8.
  6. Retrospection and Introspection, 6.
  7. “Mother was a great hand to visit the sick of the neighborhood,” Mary told her friend Irving Tomlinson. “She was always thinking of ways that she could help an ailing friend or neighbor.” Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy, Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1996), 16.
  8. Jewel Spangler Smaus, Mary Baker Eddy: The Golden Days (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1966), 38.
  9. Tomlinson, Twelve Years, 14.
  10. Years later, Mrs. Eddy recalled being gently scolded by her mother for these acts of generosity: “My child, you must not give away your clothes today. Mother has not time to make others for you, and you have given away so much it is not right to ask father to do more for you.” Ibid., 5.
  11. Smaus, Golden Days, 47.
  12. Charitable Activities of Mary Baker Eddy, MBEL.
  13. Almira E. Critchett, “Letters to Our Leader,” Christian Science Sentinel 10 (May 18, 1908): 811.
  14. The soldiers were volunteers for the Spanish-American War who were training near Concord. Charitable Activities of Mary Baker Eddy, MBEL.
  15. Charles A. Blake, “Reminiscences,” MBEL, 16.
  16. Minnie B. Weygandt, “Reminiscences of Miss Minnie Bell Weygandt and of Miss Mary Ellen Weygandt,” 74, MBEL.
  17. “The Concord Fair,” Christian Science Sentinel 4 (Sept 5, 1901): 8. Mrs. Eddy donated shoes to Concord’s needy children from 1900 through 1910. Charitable Activities of Mary Baker Eddy, MBEL.
  18. “What Mrs. Eddy’s Residence Meant to Concord and to New Hampshire,” Concord, N.H., Daily Patriot, quoted in the Christian Science Sentinel 10 (Feb 8, 1908): 443.
Longyear summer intern Elle Miller contributed to the research and writing of this article.

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