Mary Baker Eddy, hymn writer?

Recently, as I was looking through the book section of a local thrift shop, I came across something entitled “Christian Science Hymnal” published originally in 1898, then revised and enlarged having the most recent copyright of 1960.  Curiosity compelled me to see if the founder of Christian Science may have had any hymns of her own.  Other founders wrote hymns for their budding denominations.  Charles Wesley wrote for the Methodists.  Eliza Snow wrote for the Mormons and Emma Smith compiled the hymnbook for the Mormons.  Perhaps Mary Baker Eddy had something in the Christian Science Hymnbook.  Indeed, she did.  With the variations in melody, her works made up 34 of the 429 hymns in the compilation. The poems/hymns she wrote in the hymnal were written at various times in her life.  The 1898 edition of the hymnal only had five of her poems, but later editions added two more.  One of the seven hymns is sung each Sunday in Christian Science churches throughout the 76 countries in the world where the Church exists as specified in the Church Manual written by Eddy.  I found it odd that though it contained many women-written hymns, it had absolutely no hymns by her contemporary, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). Crosby’s hymns were frequently published by other denominations and she was the most popular hymn writer of her day.  I cannot explain this omission. So who is this poet/hymn writer, Mary Baker Eddy?


Mary Morse Baker was born in 1821 in New Hampshire to devout Congregationalist parents.  Her stern and disputatious father firmly believed in the final judgment, predestination and eternal damnation.  She and her siblings apparently inherited his temper which often hurt her ability to get along with others.  Though her mother was kind, the tension from her father’s attitudes affected her.  .Mary often would get sick and often suffered from an eating disorder.  She was a semi invalid until her discovery of Christian Science.  Before that, she sought help from any number of sciences, from allopathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, electricity to“various humbugs” as she recounted it.  When she became a patient of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who used medicine free techniques, she improved.  This made her interested in his healing system and she gave public lectures on the subject. Shortly after Quimby’s death in 1866, she fell on an icy sidewalk, struck her back and was rendered unconscious.  The attending doctor said she would not walk again, but she used Quimby’s method and recovered.  She then more fully embraced and understood his “Science of Christianity” which she named Christian Science. She became well known as a healer.  Some first-hand accounts say she performed healing miracles similar to those of Jesus.  In 1879 she established the Church of Christ, Scientist which became a worldwide movement.  She wrote and published 16 books, including “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”, a best seller for decades.  The Women’s National Book Association named it as one of the 75 Books by Women Whose Words Have Changed the World”.  She started several magazines, but the most famous was “The Christian Science Monitor” in 1908.  It has become a global newspaper that has won seven Pulitzer Prizes.  In 1995, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.    And during all of this, she was married three times, the last from 1877 to 1882 to Asa Gilbert Eddy, a student of Christian Science and a worker in the movement.  Mary died in 1910 at the age of 87.



Bernadette Farrell, music and social justice crusader

Life has been too busy to maintain a blog.  Among the many things I have done lately is to attend Grandparents’ Day at grandson Keenan’s parochial school.   One of the hymns they sang was “God Has Chosen Me”, music and lyrics by Bernadette Farrell.  The tune is lively and the lyrics are certainly appropriate for any Christian denomination.  When I noticed the composer, I looked her up.  What a life she has had!

Bernadette was born in 1957 and raised in Altofts, West Yorkshire, England.  She studied at King’s College in London and the Guildhall School of Music.  Though quite English, she is well known in Catholic music circles on both sides of the Atlantic. She came to the public scene in the 1970’s as one of the founding members of the St. Thomas More Group where some of her popular songs were first published.    Later, her work has been published by Oregon Catholic Press. OCP publisher, John Limb said “She has a way of communicating the Gospel message that gets under your skin.  Every song is like a mini-homily, calling people to live their lives in such a way that makes God’s Kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven.”   This is certainly the message I saw in “God Has Chosen Me” which says: “God has chosen me to bring to birth a new kingdom on earth”.     Her texts are based on scripture, but she also puts to music the words of others, including those of New Zealand writer Shirley Erena Murray who is featured in my book, Sisters in Song. She has been a workshop presenter in both the UK and USA. She served on the Roman Catholic Bishops Liturgical Commission.

Her interests go beyond music and liturgy, for she worked for decades in London’s East End as advisor to Bishop Guazzelli, a sponsor of the East London Communities Organization and as a community organizer.  She authored a report on immigration, adopted by the government; and led campaigns for safety, sanctuary, housing, wages and health.  She is a community organizer for CitizensUK, an influential organization for social change, and which is composed of schools, churches, mosques, synagogues and trade unions.  As much as I applaud her passion and action for social justice, my interest in her for purposes of my blog relates to music.  Her social justice will have to wait for another blogger.

Mattie Robertson revisited

On June 23, 2014, I wrote about Mattie Robertson, composer/arranger and choir director of Chicago’s First Baptist Congregational Church.  Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting her when the FBCC choir came to my home church, Broadway Christian in Columbia, MO.  Her neice, Rachel Griffin took the picture of Mattie and me.  Thanks Rachel, for the photo and for bringing this treasure to my attention.

Julia Fletcher Carney gets the credit

It occasionally happens that women will use male pseudonyms in order to get recognized in the arts.  Sometimes their works are attributed to men, whether by accident (for example, A.P. Carter getting the credit for Maybelle Carter’s songs) or sometimes the deception is intentional.  The latter situation existed for the work of Julia Abigail Fletcher Carney.  So what’s the story?

Julia Fletcher was born in 1823 in Lancaster Massachusetts.  Though she showed a talent for writing when quite young, her mother discouraged this as she felt it wouldn’t help her as an adult.   But Julia came down with scarlet fever when she was eight and was homebound for several years.  She spent the time writing when not reading.  By 14, she was sending poems to local papers.  At age 19, she worked as a teacher and continued teaching until she married Thomas Carney, a Universalist minister, in 1849.  They moved out west where four of their children died during the western years.   She and the surviving three children went back east to Illinois after Rev. Carney’s death in 1871.  She continued to write prose and poetry as well as short sketches. She wrote for Universalist and other periodicals, and many of her poems were set to music and published as hymns.  By the time she died in 1908, she knew her works were quoted and had inspired hymns.

“Little Drops of Water” was written as a ten minute writing assignment in a teachers’ summer program she attended in Boston.  This was added as filler to a previously written article to be published in a paper “A Letter to Sabbath School Children”.   This poem has been used by many people, but one notable use was at the opening of the British Red Cross in 1845.  It reminded the audience that little things mattered.  It has been cited by world leaders and in a Nobel Prize speech.  In her later years, Carl Sandburg was her next door neighbor.  He said of her, “She loved children and wrote poems she hoped children would love.”

For many years, this poem, set to a French folk song, was attributed to Rev. E. Cobham Brewer (1810-1897).  In addition to his fame as sporting a great beard, he compiled many dictionaries, and as a known writer, he published “Little Drops of Water” as his own.   But since Julia Fletcher had published the poem in 1845, three years before Brewer claimed authorship, she eventually got the credit.

As a side note, I had occasion to deal with “Whispering Hope” in a performance.  It was allegedly written by Alice Hawthorne, but this was a pseudonym for Mr. Septimus Winner.  It’s quite a twist to see the gender switch going the other way around!

A. Irma Cohon – Rebbitzin Hymnist

At my church’s recent annual charity garage sale, I found an oddity, a Jewish hymnal!  When I told a Jewish friend, she was just as perplexed as I.  This had to be explored.  It was titled The Jewish Song Book Third edition, compiled for Synagogue, school and home, covering the complete Jewish religious year.  It was composed, compiled and arranged for unison congregational singing and for solo and choir with organ or piano accompaniment using Israel’s religious folksong: the traditional Synagogue modes and melodies.   It was issued to serve the “remnant” of Jewry after World War II, as a united voice of Israel in traditional sacred song.  The book is unclear, but it apparently originally contained music by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn (1882-1938).  However, this third edition was enlarged and revised in 1951.  Some of the hymns were by A. Irma Cohon and she was the editor. So who is she?

Angie Irma Reinhart was born in Portland Oregon in 1890, educated at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and got her degree in 1912 from the University of Cincinnati.  Immediately thereafter, she married Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon who also attended the Hebrew Union College while studying for a degree at the University of Cincinnati.  They had one son, Baruch Joseph.  Irma’s brother, Harold Reinhart, was a prominent liberal rabbi in London, England.  Irma was known as a Rebbetzin (wife of a Rabbi or a female religious teacher – she was both) and as a publisher.  Her book, Introduction to Jewish Music, the first book on this subject in English, came out in 1923, much sooner than A.Z. Idelsohn’s 1929 book, which sometimes gets credit for being first.  She collaborated with Idelsohn, a Hebrew Union College music professor, on various projects.  Obviously, she respected him.  The Jewish Song Book I found expanded Idelsohn’s work, and added the works of others, primarily Cohon’s translations, adaptations, and original works.  She not only outlived Idelsohn, but did so in a big way.  She died at age 100 in 1991.

In looking into the hymns and songs in the book, I found several of interest.   “Purim Song”, as you would guess, is to celebrate Purim, which was March 12-13 this year (2017), “Sabbath’s Balm” has a more spiritual theme, the healing balm and living waters of Sabbath.  “In His Unfathomed Ways” renders praise and prayer to the Rock of Israel, the Lord of Hosts.  Her metaphors, similes and language sound quite familiar to this Christian’s ears.  The most endearing song to me is “Yesterday’s Bubble” noted to be for Purim, but which sounds very current and for any day:  “If I should assume importance  . . .  and by posing, should convince you that I am a handsome man, don’t believe me. . . If I play the man of riches . . .  Don’t believe me.  If I seem to shower money and acquire a mighty name, and by reason of my greatness, seem to set the world aflame, don’t believe me.  If I pose as mighty learned and my wisdom I confess, if I am forever prating of my great broadmindedness, Don’t believe my airs and boasting, do not trust a word I say.”    Somehow, I wasn’t thinking of Haman when reading this

Light Dawns for Lent

At a recent retreat for women at my church, I heard “Light Dawns on a Weary World” for the first time.  Unlike so many soul numbing repetitive hymn texts today, it had content.  I had to look up more information on it.  But first, the text writer:  Mary Louise Bringle has a PhD in from Emory University and has taught philosophy, religious studies and French and has chaired the humanities division at Brevard College in Brevard NC.  On Sundays, she teaches an adult class at her local Presbyterian Church.   She has several publications on pastoral theology to her credit, and has translated Spanish language hymns into English.  She began to write hymn texts as a supposed heretic would write, in order to challenge her students.  But one day a former student asked her to write a text for a tune he wrote for his wedding.  Now she had to get serious about writing actual hymn texts. Apparently God meant for her to do this.  Just like solid modern text writers Ruth Duck and Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, she wrote the text for tunes composed by others that challenge and illuminate.  And this is from what can only be a feminist point of view for like them, she is seeks to be gender inclusive. She has won many hymn writing contests and the Hymn Society in the US and Canada named her an “emerging text writer”.

“Light Dawns on a Weary World” was written in 2001.  She wrote out its story in an article in The Hymn in Autumn, 2006.   You can read the story in her own words at,%20Light%20Dawns%20on%20a%20Weary%20World.pdf . For a quick version, here goes:  When the Hymn Society met in 2001, composer William Rowan wrote and played a new melody for her and as she said, “It was love at first listen.”  The words came to her that evening.  One of the bars has a sixteenth note run that reminded her of water in a fountain.  She found the chapters from Isaiah written when Cyrus of Persia released the Jewish captives to return to Judah.  “. . . you will be like a well-watered garden. . “ (Is. 58:11).  Before that she found Isaiah 55:12:  “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace”.  The words fell into place with the melody.  The words reflect Isaiah’s vision of a beloved community for all peoples.  After publication, she got feedback from several music directors that the hymn was particularly appropriate for Lent, a season of waiting for new hope in a weary life.  And so I write this article at the beginning of Lent.

Iconoclast Mary Brahe’s Home

Though I covered Mary Brahe in Sisters in Song, I gave her only a cursory glance.  I hope to remedy this.  Mary Dickson was born in East Melbourne, Australia in 1884 to an Australian cordial manufacturer and his Scottish wife.  Her mother Margaret taught piano to May, as she was known.  Alas, the mother died when May was 12, and three years later, she had to leave school due to economic hardship and earn a living teaching piano.  All the while, she continued to take private lessons with other more accomplished musicians.  After marrying Frederick Brahe in 1903 when she was 19, she continued to pursue her music career, playing, writing and publishing her compositions.  Her publishers encouraged her to go to London to further her status as a composer.  In a move unusual for the time, she left her three young children with her husband and grandmother and went to London in 1912.  By 1914, she earned enough to visit Australia and bring her family to England.   In 1919, soon after returning from service in World War I, Frederick Brahe was killed in an auto accident.    Three years later, she married fellow Australian, George Morgan with whom she had a daughter.  She finally returned to Melbourne, Australia in 1939 living well from song royalties.  She was in fact the only Australian woman composer to win international recognition before World War II.


Her publishers arranged regular concerts of her songs and ballads.  After the original publishers were bought out by another firm, she was one the few composers they paid on an annual retainer.  She continued to publish over 400 songs.   They were often published under one of nine pseudonyms.  This was necessary as most publishers didn‘t want to publish more than four songs of any one writer in a year.  She worked with many lyricists, but was most successful with Englishwoman Helen Taylor, her favorite collaborator in both songs and in two of her three musicals.  In addition to the songs and musicals, she wrote two operettas for children.   It was with Taylor that she wrote “Bless This House” which was originally published as “Bless the House” in 1927. Tenor John McCormack changed the title to the one we know today.  This melodic and sentimental song became famous over the world and has been recorded by the likes of Jan Peerce, Doris Day, Perry Como, and Leontyne Price among many others.  It seems ironic that the woman who composed a song in praise of the God-centered family home was brave enough to leave family for two years to pursue a career in a still Victorian influenced age.