Christian Scientists


Mary Baker Eddy, the founder and discoverer of Christian Science, published her landmark book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, in 1875.[1] Four years later, Eddy founded the Mother Church in Boston, and within five years, Christian Scientists began practicing their Christian healing faith in Milwaukee.[2] The Milwaukee Christian Science community is one of the oldest in the nation.[3] While it is against Christian Science to count the religion’s adherents, historically the church has had a strong local presence. In 2017, the greater Milwaukee region was home to eight churches, three religious societies, and ten reading rooms.[4] Moreover, several practitioners of Christian Science healing and Christian Science nurses have served the area.[5] Christian Scientists have been influential in affirming legal rights to religious medical practice in the Milwaukee area and have left a lasting mark on local architecture.

In 1883, Green Bay-area resident Hugh McDonald brought his ill wife, Emma, to Milwaukee for Christian Science treatment. After being healed, Emma McDonald became one of the founders of the Oconto Christian Science community, which in 1886 constructed the world’s first Christian Science church building.[6] Around the same time that the McDonalds learned of Christian Science, Milwaukee residents Dr. Silas Sawyer and his wife Jennie returned to the city as graduates of Mary Baker Eddy’s Massachusetts Metaphysical College.[7] As Christian Science practitioners, the Sawyers founded the Wisconsin Metaphysical Institute, began treating patients, and held religious meetings in their Grand Avenue home and downtown offices.[8] In 1889, the First Church of Christ, Scientist was incorporated in Milwaukee. Three years later the congregation built its first church on Van Buren Street.[9] When the independently founded Second Church merged with First Church in 1905, the combined congregation overwhelmed the small building. Services were subsequently held in rented locations, including the Pabst Theater and Plymouth Congregation Church, until the dedication of a new First Church of Christ, Scientist on Prospect Avenue in 1909.[10]

Along with churches, reading rooms and Christian Science practitioners have been the most visible components of the Church of Christ, Scientist. In addition to church building locations, there has long been a stand-alone reading room on Wisconsin Avenue in the Downtown.[11] Early Milwaukee reading rooms, originally called dispensaries, were bases for Christian Science practitioners.[12] From the dispensaries, practitioners (who were primarily women) ministered to local patients, including the poor and immigrants.[13]

The services of Christian Science practitioners drew contempt from the medical and judicial communities. In 1900, two Milwaukee practitioners were charged with practicing medicine without a license.[14] Brought to trial, the local women were initially convicted for illegally treating a young, dying girl. An appeals court overturned the conviction. By concluding that Christian Science was prayer and not government-regulated medical practice, the court opened the path for the free practice of Christian Science healing in Milwaukee.[15]

While several architecturally important churches were built during the early twentieth-century growth of Milwaukee Christian Science, many large and costly structures were sold by the Church in the 1980s and 1990s.[16] Many are municipally or nationally recognized historic sites.[17]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Stephen Gottschalk, “Christian Science and Harmonialism,” in Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience: Studies of Traditions and Movements, ed. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988), 901.
  2. ^ Gottschalk, “Christian Science and Harmonialism,” 901; Kellogg Patton, “History of Christian Science in Wisconsin,” 2, Small Collection 2289, Wisconsin Historical Society.
  3. ^Historic Designation Study Report: Second Church of Christ, Scientist,” 1998, accessed May 19, 2017, 3.
  4. ^Attend a Church Service,” Christian Science website, accessed May 16, 2017; “Visit a Reading Room,” Christian Science website, accessed May 16, 2017.
  5. ^Find a Christian Science Practitioner,” Christian Science website, accessed May 19, 2017.
  6. ^ Patton, “History of Christian Science in Wisconsin,” 1; Paul Eli Ivey, Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1894-1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 31; “First Church of Christ, Scientist,” Oconto County Historical Society, accessed May 16, 2017.
  7. ^ James M. Johnston, “Creeds of the Few: Christian Science Uses Prayers to Heal,” Milwaukee Sentinel, March 13, 1965.
  8. ^ Paul Ivey, “Christian Science and New Thought,” in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, ed. Andrew R.L. Cayton, Richard Sisson, and Chris Zacher (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), 737; “Historic Designation Study Report: Second Church of Christ, Scientist,” 4; Patton, “History of Christian Science in Wisconsin,” 2-3; Jerome Anthony Watrous, ed. Memoirs of Milwaukee County from the Earliest Historical Times Down to the Present, vol. 1 (Madison, WI: Western Historical Association, 1909), Archives Unbound, accessed April 10, 2017, 374.
  9. ^ Howard Louis Conard, ed., History of Milwaukee County from Its First Settlement to the Year 1895, vol. 2 (Chicago, IL: American Biographical Publishing Co., [1895?]), 294; Watrous, 374.
  10. ^ Conard, History of Milwaukee County from Its First Settlement to the Year 1895; “Progress of Christian Science,” Christian Science Journal 30, no. 4 (1912).
  11. ^ Johnston, “Creeds of the Few.”
  12. ^ Patton, “History of Christian Science in Wisconsin,” 12-13.
  13. ^ Elizabeth Barnaby Keeney, Susan Eyrich Lederer, and Edmond P. Minihan, “Sectarians and Scientists: Alternatives to Orthodox Medicine,” in Wisconsin Medicine: Historical Perspectives, ed. Ronald L. Numbers and Judith Walzer Leavitt (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), 59; Patton, “History of Christian Science in Wisconsin,” 12-13; A.C. Umbreit, ed., Christian Science and the Practice of Medicine: State of Wisconsin vs. Crecentia Arries and Emma Nichols (Milwaukee: Edw. Keogh Press, 1900), 57.
  14. ^ Kenney, Lederer, and Minihan, “Sectarians and Scientists,” 60.
  15. ^ For full transcripts of the trial, see Umbreit, Christian Science.
  16. ^ Ivey, Prayers in Stone, 172, 206n4; “Historic Designation Study Report: Second Church of Christ, Scientist;” “Historic Designation Study Report: Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist,” 1996, accessed May 19, 2017; Marie Rohde, “Christian Science Churches Are Sold,” Milwaukee Journal, November 9, 1985.
  17. ^Historic Properties and Districts,” Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, accessed May 19, 2017; “First Church of Christ, Scientist,” National Register of Historic Places, accessed May 19, 2017; “Second Church of Christ Scientist,” National Register of Historic Places, accessed May 19, 2017; “Sixth Church of Christ, Scientist,” National Register of Historic Places, accessed May 19, 2017.

For Further Reading

Ivey, Paul Eli. Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1894-1930. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Keeney, Elizabeth Barnaby, Susan Eyrich Lederer, and Edmond P. Minihan. “Sectarians and Scientists: Alternatives to Orthodox Medicine.” In Wisconsin Medicine: Historical Perspectives, edited by Ronald L. Numbers and Judith Walzer Leavitt, 47-74. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.

Umbreit, A.C., ed. Christian Science and the Practice of Medicine: State of Wisconsin vs. Crecentia Arries and Emma Nichols. Milwaukee: Edw. Keogh Press, 1900.

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