Like many, Ella Whitaker Hoag’s introduction to Christian Science came about because of a need for healing. Born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, she studied piano and voice in New York after graduating high school. Some years later — married to Frank Hoag by this time and mother to seven-year-old Florence (a second daughter, Helen, would arrive several years later) — her health began to fail and she was unable to eat normally. After consulting physicians at home in Toledo, she traveled to New York to see specialists, but the help she sought wasn’t forthcoming. She returned to Ohio, feeling like a “physical wreck” and “heartsick over the perpetual thought of self that the most advanced systems of medicine and hygiene constantly imposed.”1
A friend convinced her to try Christian Science, which Ella did as a last resort in 1887. “Never shall I forget my first visit to the Christian Scientist,” she later wrote, “when I made the joyful discovery that there were people living on earth in this age, who believed that Jesus meant what he said; that his teachings were not largely abstractions, but were all practical truths….”2
Mrs. Hoag’s complete recovery under Christian Science treatment was swift. “In three weeks’ time I gained fifteen pounds and my whole body was renewed and strengthened… From that day to this I have been able to obey Paul’s injunction: ‘Whatever is set before you, eat, asking no questions for conscience sake [I Corinthians 10:27].”3
Ella, who had grown up in the Congregational church, immediately began studying Science and Health, wanting to know more about this religion that had healed her. Later, when she was a teacher of Christian Science, she told her students that she could scarcely put the book down.4 “I found old theological enigmas solved, old doubts dispelled, the Bible illuminated,” she wrote, “and ever since then the teachings of Christian Science have been my guide through every moment of my life.”5
Not only herself, but also her whole family benefited from what she was learning.
Medicine was immediately banished from our home, and neither my two children nor I have taken any since, although children’s diseases of severest types have presented themselves to be overcome.6
Just three months after her healing, Ella took Primary class instruction from Sarah J. Clark in Toledo, eager to gain more understanding. The following year, she made an appointment with Mary Baker Eddy to inquire about admission to the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston. Ella later described the scene when Mrs. Eddy entered the Columbus Avenue parlor for the interview: “[I]t seemed that the room filled with her presence. She appeared like a large person, although she was really dainty and small in stature. It was the sense of God’s presence, which was the substance of Mrs. Eddy’s consciousness, that filled the room.”7
After taking Primary class instruction from Mrs. Eddy in 1888,8 Ella Hoag devoted her life to the Cause of Christian Science. She became a practitioner, joined The Mother Church, and eventually taught classes of her own.9 All the while, she had not lost touch with her teacher. In October 1894, Mrs. Hoag sent roses to Mrs. Eddy, whose thank you letter reads in part:
I thank you for your kind thoughts of me and beautiful roses. Oh may the blossoms of sweet peace be as odorous and beautiful in your pathway as the kind memories of your Teacher are to her…. May the Love that clothes the lily wrap you in its garments of white and give you a gracious answer to all your prayers.10
Mrs. Eddy signed her letter “with much love.”
Mrs. Hoag’s devotion to her work made a deep impression on her family. Once, when they urged her to make more time for recreation, she replied, “Let me get my work done; I have all eternity to play in.”11 And many years later, family members would include among her characteristics “love, depth of perception, clear thinking, and forgiveness — a Christian woman capable of standing in the face of strong assault.”12
These qualities of thought and single-minded devotion to her work didn’t go unnoticed. In 1908, Mrs. Hoag was called to serve at Mrs. Eddy’s house in Chestnut Hill.
“I went with deepest reverence for her in my heart and with as exalted an estimate of her as I was capable of entertaining,” Ella would later recall. “To me, Mrs. Eddy was not alone the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, the revered Leader of the Christian Science movement, the author of the Christian Science textbook, but she was my teacher, my example, the one whose teachings I had been endeavoring to understand and whose life I had been endeavoring to follow for over twenty-one years.”13
Ella’s assignment in the home was as a metaphysical worker, one of a small group — including Laura Sargent, Irving Tomlinson, Adam Dickey, and William Rathvon — whose job it was to support Mrs. Eddy prayerfully.
“I was often with her from early morning until late at night,” Ella would write about her time with Mrs. Eddy. “Never was she other than the consistent Christian, the exquisite gentlewoman, the loving friend and counselor, the faithful, loyal practitioner of the faith she professed; in other words, the perfect Christian.”14
Ella served at Chestnut Hill off and on until 1910. After one of her departures, her colleague William Rathvon — who often sang with Mrs. Hoag in household gatherings — recorded in his diary that the household was “very sorry to lose Ella, who is beloved on all sides.”15
Ella, who called that time “a very great privilege,”16 also quietly acknowledged its challenges. Years later, when “a gushing Christian Scientist said to her … ‘How wonderful it must have been to live in our Leader’s home!’ Mrs. Hoag replied laconically with a quotation from Mrs. Eddy’s Christian Healing: ‘Heaven’s favors are formidable.’”17
Mrs. Hoag resumed her teaching and practice in Toledo, where she remained until 1918, when she was once again called to serve the Cause of Christian Science — first, when she was appointed to the Board of Lectureship, and then in 1919, when she was named Associate Editor of the Christian Science periodicals. That same year, she also taught the Normal class for the Board of Education. And then, in 1927, she was elected President of The Mother Church, the first woman ever to hold that office.
“I would never have sought any of these positions,” she wrote later. “However when they were presented, it was if a ladder had been put in front of me which I must climb, and this climbing has made me ever better equipped to serve the Cause and help others.”18
Humility was a virtue Ella obviously valued, and one she touched on in an address at the Annual Meeting of 1927:
As members of The Mother Church it is our undoubted right to fulfill all God’s wonderful promises for His own people. Protected and cared for by The Mother Church, nothing “shall be impossible” to us. Always on guard against that egotism which would cast us outside its walls, we can through humble obedience to Christian Science assuredly know that, as Jesus said, ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!’ Ever humbly loyal to the one Mind and His Christ, as Christian Science teaches us how to be, we shall prove, as Daniel declared, that “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”19
Ella Hoag lived up to her own high standards, and was active in the Christian Science movement for more than 40 years as a practitioner, teacher, lecturer, writer, and editor. After her passing in October 1928, her fellow editors wrote, “Hers was a labor of love, performed in a graciously Christian spirit; and it will never cease to fulfill its healing mission…. Her devotion to work, uniformly done in a spirit of joy, humility, and thanksgiving, has been a constant inspiration to all with whom she has been associated…. To us in her daily life she symbolized true Christianity.”20