“Your Beautiful Souvenir”

  • Heather Vogel Frederick

In 1895, Mary Armstrong hand painted a cocoa pot, tray, and matching cups as a gift for Mary Baker Eddy, who enjoyed hot chocolate and drank it often. Mrs. Armstrong was part of a wave of interest in china decorating that rippled across the United States in the last quarter of the 19th century, prompting one art historian of the era to quip that enthusiasm for the craft had caused “the loveliest and purest maidens in the land to smell of turpentine.”1

Mrs. Armstrong had good reason to be grateful to Mrs. Eddy. When she’d first heard of Christian Science in 1886, she was living in Irving, Kansas, with her husband, Joseph, enjoying a comfortable life. Mr. Armstrong was a successful businessman, and the family had been blessed with two little boys. Mrs. Armstrong, however, was grieving the loss of her mother and suffering from a chronic illness that physicians had been unable to cure. It was at this point that she received a letter telling of a cousin’s healing through Christian Science.

Her own quick healing soon followed. Impressed, her husband took up the study of Christian Science as well, and later that year the couple enrolled in a class with
Mrs. Eddy’s student Janet Colman. The following year, 1887, they traveled to Boston for Primary class instruction with Mrs. Eddy herself, returning for Normal class in 1889.

The Armstrongs were instrumental in helping establish Christian Science in Kansas and Ohio, and moved to Boston in 1893 so Joseph could serve as manager of The Christian Science Publishing Society.2 Mary worked for the movement as well, and for Mrs. Eddy personally—entertaining visitors for her in Boston, for example, and helping shop for her clothing and food. She also dropped everything and went to Pleasant View one blistering August when there was an urgent need for domestic help.

“[A] hot kitchen to cook in was terrible, and I thought I would melt,” she later wrote, “but I stood it knowing God would help me to do what our dear Leader needed.”3

Mrs. Eddy praised Mrs. Armstrong’s culinary skill and knack for domestic details, telling her at one point, “You are an artist.”4

That artistry also shone through in Mrs. Armstrong’s hand-painted gift. Mrs. Eddy was delighted with it and wrote to her, “How can I tell you how much I value your beautiful souvenir and Christmas gift. It is too pretty for me to comment on. I took my first drink out of one of its beautiful cups on Christmas…. Mother holds you near and dear.”5

“This chocolate set … is still in the home at Chestnut Hill,” Mrs. Armstrong later noted.6 And it will remain in the home! Now part of Longyear’s collection, this lovely set will be on display when 400 Beacon Street reopens to visitors.

Heather Vogel Frederick is Longyear’s director of research and publications. This article originally appeared in the spring/summer 2022 issue of Longyear Review, a publication for Museum members. If you would like to become a Longyear member, please click here.


  1. Edward Strahan, A Book of the Tile Club (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886), 5.
  2. He would later serve on the Christian Science Board of Directors and as publisher of Mrs. Eddy’s works.
  3. Mary Armstrong reminiscences, “History of Mary F. Eastaman,” Longyear Museum Collection (hereafter LMC).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Mary Baker Eddy to Mary Armstrong, Dec. 27, 1895, 1926.004.0008, LMC.
  6. Mary Armstrong reminiscences, LMC.