A Christian Scientist in Denver, Colorado received a telegram on a Saturday in June 1904. The Christian Science Board of Directors wanted to see her the following Tuesday. Eager to support her church in any way she could, Mrs. Ella Peck Sweet quickly arranged to leave her work and family responsibilities, and within three hours she boarded a train for Boston. As she later wrote in her reminiscences, the Directors were pleasantly surprised that she had been able to get there by the appointed time. Mrs. Sweet remembered William B. Johnson remarking that she must have had her shoes on her feet and her staff in her hand.1 She was instructed to catch the train for Concord, New Hampshire that afternoon for an interview with Mary Baker Eddy at her Pleasant View home.
It had been seventeen years since Mrs. Sweet had been taught by Mrs. Eddy, and she had seen her teacher only a few times during that period. Her time had been spent healing and teaching Christian Science in Colorado. During their interview, Mrs. Eddy questioned Mrs. Sweet about her work and family, and then asked her if she could come to live at Pleasant View for a while. After a short trip to Colorado to arrange her affairs, Mrs. Sweet took up residence in Mrs. Eddy’s household as one of six metaphysical workers.
A willingness to drop everything and move on to something better was characteristic of Ella Peck Sweet’s life from the very start. She came from a family of westward-moving pioneers. Her forebears had lived in Virginia and Maryland, but moved west to Ohio in the early 1800’s. Ella Peck was born in 1838 in Pickaway County, near Columbus, Ohio. She was a frail, sickly child and enjoyed a close relationship with her mother, who taught Ella to pray to God for guidance.
By the time she was seven, Ella’s parents decided to move west to Illinois. The family traveled by wagon to Pike County, near the Missouri border. Here Ella grew up, and taught two terms at a country district school. Her attendance at Berean College in Jacksonville, Illinois was cut short after a few months by her marriage. She and her husband settled in Barry, Illinois, where he was in the mercantile business. Despite continued ill health, Mrs. Sweet enjoyed church activities and belonged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1880 the Sweets moved still farther west to Colorado. They lived in the mountains at Buffalo Springs, a post office town south of Fairplay.2 A few miles away, a steady stream of supply wagons rolled across the flatlands and up over Weston Pass to Leadville. This was a time of extensive mining and railroad-building activity in the area. Mrs. Sweet was unhappy with her life in Buffalo Springs and later described her surroundings as “most uncongenial and cheerless to my thought.” Rather than benefiting from the mountain climate, as her family had hoped, Ella found that her various physical ailments became more troublesome.3 In October 1885 her condition was so critical that she went to Denver to live out her final days. At this point she heard of Christian Science.
In the mountains, Mrs. Sweet had come to know Mrs. Mary M. Hall, who lived on a ranch twenty miles out of Fairplay. Mrs. Hall had recently found Christian Science while seeking medical help in Chicago, accompanied by her two daughters, Minnie and Nettie. She had treatment from a Christian Science practitioner instead, and at the end of several months, she was completely healed of blindness and lameness.4 While still in Chicago, Mrs. Hall and Minnie had Primary class instruction from Bradford Sherman. They returned to Denver in September 1885 and were soon occupied with a healing practice that involved treating sometimes 100 patients each day.
It was Mrs. Hall’s daughter, Miss Minnie B. Hall, just twenty-two years old at the time, who introduced Ella Peck Sweet to Christianly scientific healing. She visited Mrs. Sweet in her Denver sickroom and asked if she might heal her in Christian Science. Mrs. Sweet consented and was astonished at the quick and complete healing that followed.5 In the ensuing weeks she thoroughly studied Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, and consequently found new understanding in reading her much-loved Bible.
Within a few months there was so much interest in Christian Science in Denver, due to the remarkable healing work going on, that Bradford Sherman was summoned from Chicago. He taught two classes in December 1885, in the Halls’ home , the first such teaching in Colorado. Mrs. Sweet was a member of the first class.
Upon her return to the mountains, Mrs. Sweet’s regenerated condition caused inevitable interest, and calls for treatment followed. Among her first cases were successful healings of inflammatory rheumatism, epilepsy, cancer and hemorrhage. In autumn 1886 Mrs. Eddy invited Mrs. Sweet to enter her next Normal class. However, because Mrs. Sweet had not been charging for her healing work, she did not have sufficient funds for such a venture. Mrs. Eddy told her to be ready for a class the following year.
Again, in October 1887 , the call came from Boston to join the upcoming Normal class, and this time Mrs. Sweet was ready, eagerly anticipating the two weeks of instruction. The class began on October 30, and included Mr. and Mrs. Edward P. Bates, Ruth B. Ewing and Alfred Farlow, among others. Mrs. Sweet later wrote of her teacher’s method of instruction in part as follows: “She held us in the utmost serious and earnest attention to the fundamentals of the great subject in hand, yet the moment she observed our thought growing heavy, her versatile mind found ready recourse to some incident or anecdote with which to lift and brighten us, while at the same time more deeply impressing some lesson of Truth.”6
When she returned to Colorado, Mrs. Sweet’s work of healing and sharing Christian Science with others greatly expanded. Using her Buffalo Springs home as a base from which to travel, she responded to calls for help in towns within a 100-mile radius, including Pueblo, Canon City, Salida, Buena Vista and Colorado Springs. Because of her pioneer healing and teaching activity, which she called her “missionary work,” Mrs. Sweet now found that life in the mountains brought her happiness and great satisfaction.
In the years that followed, Mrs. Sweet taught classes in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Canon City and Denver. She was listed in The Christian Science Journal for thirty years beginning in February 1889.7 Her daughter, Clara L. Sweet, was also a Christian Science practitioner for over twenty years, her first listing appearing in the December 1896 issue of the Journal.
Mrs. Eddy must have recognized Mrs. Sweet’s strength and dedication, for in 1893 she chose her as one of about forty students who were invited to contribute $1000 each to the building fund for The Mother Church.8 Mrs. Sweet later wrote of this experience: “It was only by entire reliance upon Divine Mind that I was enabled to reply to Mrs. Eddy that I would accept her invitation. Such a sum of money had never been in my hands. Infinite resources seemed at once opened to me, and at the appointed time the amount was mine to send, and my gratitude for this great proof of Love’s supply was unbounded.”
During her visits to Canon City and Colorado Springs, Mrs. Sweet helped gather into groups those interested in Christian Science. These groups later became active churches. In autumn 1891, Mrs. Sweet and her daughter moved to Colorado Springs at the invitation of the group there, to help more closely with the formation of a church. First Church of Christ, Scientist, Colorado Springs, was organized in March of the following year. In May 1892 the church members requested that Mrs. Sweet stay on permanently as their preacher, but soon after this Mr. Sweet finished his business in the mountains and decided that the family would live in Denver.
Although Denver became her home, Mrs. Sweet continued to work with the church in Colorado Springs for the next six years. She traveled seventy-five miles to Colorado Springs each Saturday afternoon, conducted the weekly testimony meeting Saturday evening, and preached at the Sunday service the next morning. Sometimes she even continued on to Canon City or Pueblo to preach again Sunday evening.9 In 1895, when preaching was replaced by reading of the Bible Lessons at Christian Science services, Mrs. Sweet was elected First Reader at the Colorado Springs church. Her selfless work in this capacity continued until the end of 1898, when Mrs. Eddy established Wednesday as the evening for testimony meetings in every Christian Science church. Rather than travel to Colorado Springs twice a week, Mrs. Sweet decided it was time to leave the work there to others and join the work going on in Denver.
In June 1904, a Colorado Springs newspaper reported Mrs. Sweet’s appointment to serve in Mrs. Eddy’s household: “Mrs. Ella Peck Sweet, formerly of Colorado Springs, but now of Denver, who has the distinction of being one of the pioneer Christian Science teachers in Colorado, has been called to Concord, New Hampshire, by Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy, head of the Christian Science Church, to assist in the work there. The honor is one of the greatest that can be conferred upon a member of that denomination.”
A Denver newspaper article explained further: “Those who are called by Mrs. Eddy leave their work wherever the summons finds them. To work side by side with the Founder of the Faith is the desire of all those who are active workers in the church. The close association with Mrs. Eddy gives new ideas, new power and spirit to carry on the work in that portion of the country where the worker comes from.”
Mrs. Sweet lived and worked at Pleasant View for about five months. As one of the metaphysical workers, her time was filled with prayerful work to protect the developing Christian Science movement. She said she gained particular inspiration from the hours she and the other workers spent in conference with Mrs. Eddy. Ella Peck Sweet returned to Denver at Thanksgiving time in 1904, looking back on her months at Pleasant View as “the most profitable of all my experience in Christian Science.” Her later years were “filled with continued activity in the joyous work of healing and teaching.”
Upon urging from Mrs. Mary Beecher Longyear (the founder of Longyear Historical Society), Mrs. Sweet dictated reminiscences of her life and experiences to her daughter during the winter of 1918-19.10 After her passing a few months later, several of her students expressed a desire for copies of the memoirs. Clara Sweet had them privately published so that each member of her mother’s association of pupils might have a copy. She wrote that her mother had left behind “in the hearts of all who knew her, treasured memories of a mother, a friend, a teacher, a woman of gracious, gentle presence, illumined with love.” Ella Peck Sweet’s life of quiet perseverance and unselfishness greatly helped the establishment of Christian Science in Colorado.