Missionaries for Christian Science: The Farlow Family

  • Barbara Palmer Rutkowski

In May 1889, Mary Baker Eddy concluded her final Normal class in Boston, and subsequently closed the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. During the 1880s, she had been teaching men and women from near and far in the practice of Christian Science healing. These students then set out as missionaries for Christian Science in their hometowns. Among them were four members of the large, lively, and musical Farlow family of Beatrice, Nebraska, led by Alfred and his younger brother Will. The young men took Mrs. Eddy’s Primary class twice, in 1887 and 1889. The Farlow boys marched off from Boston to heal and teach in the American Midwest, and they and their family formed a thriving branch church in Kansas City, Kansas. This 12-minute video tells their story, excerpted from Longyear’s one-hour documentary, The Onward and Upward Chain, which is available on DVD in our store.

The Farlow Family

William Farlow, a farmer and schoolteacher, and his wife, Paulina, both originally from Illinois, arrived with their eight children in Beatrice, Nebraska, sometime in the 1870s.

It was a time of severe financial difficulties for the family. To help out, the two oldest sons, Will and Alfred, started a broom-manufacturing business.

There was another family business as well: music. All eight sons and daughters joined together into a family band. They went on tour, performing widely around the Midwest during the 1880s. Each child showcased his or her individual talents. Alfred played the tuba and was the onstage comedian; Will played the cornet (now in Longyear’s collection), as well as the guitar and harmonica. Little Maggie played the drum and sold photographs of herself and the family during intermissions.

The Farlow Family Band, ca. 1885. From left to right, back row: Sarah, tenor horn; George, cornet; Stella, tenor horn; Mary, baritone horn; Emma, baritone horn. Front row: Will, cornet; Margaret (“Maggie”), drum; Alfred, tuba. Longyear Museum collection.

It wasn’t all music and jokes, though. The family faced some real challenges. Alfred was struggling with a life-threatening illness, and Will was addicted to tobacco. In response to these ailments, the brothers would eventually turn to Christian Science and find healing, but not until after a period of struggling on their own. Will, keen to break his addiction, had failed many times, and he later wrote of his difficulty:

I was a slave to tobacco, and as I was conscientious and ashamed of the habit, it became a torment to me. My sisters, brothers, and myself were musicians, and at that time did a great deal of public playing together. When away from home and stopping at hotels, they would rest in the parlors, and the most pleasant places, while I, because of my appetite for [tobacco], was compelled to remain in the smoking room with strangers. Thus I was shut out from good society, and away from friends, as well as the more pleasant surroundings. For this and other reasons, I was very desirous of overcoming the habit, but try as I would I could not succeed. I would cease using it at times, but could not get rid of my desire for it, and sooner or later would yield to its seeming power, indulging more than ever.1

Program and Concert ticket for the Farlow Family Concert Company. Longyear Museum collection.

One day, he and a coworker decided once again to quit, but the temptation later that same day was so strong that he was about to give in again. It was then that his mother handed him a copy of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. She said that a neighbor had been healed by reading it, and if he read it, he too might be helped. Though he was dubious that one could find health simply by reading a book, he was entirely free of the habit within a month. Alfred was also healed of his own serious ailments by reading Science and Health.

The entire Farlow family promptly began to study Science and Health, often while sitting around the dining room table together. The very next year, Alfred and three siblings enrolled in a Christian Science Primary class taught by Janet Colman. Alfred and Will soon closed their broom factory in 1887 and launched into the public practice of Christian Science healing. A year later, Alfred, Will, and two of their sisters attended Mary Baker Eddy’s Primary class in Boston.

Soon, the Farlow family was touring around the Midwest doing work of a very different kind. They moved to Topeka, Kansas, to start an institute for Christian Science instruction. Alfred and Will lectured extensively on Christian Science. Alfred taught classes in Christian Science and would become best known as the first Committee on Publication, helping to correct misstatements about Christian Science and defend it in the press and public.


  1. The Christian Science Journal, December 1897, Vol. 15, no. 9, p. 561-562.

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