New Thought – New Woman

EMMA2I can’t let March go without writing this… New Thought deserves a very special place in Women’s History. Did you know that New Thought was the first church  to have women ministers? Did you know Emma Curtis Hopkins was a leader in the women’s movement?        

One reason I was attracted to New Thought in the first place was that women had an equal voice and there were a so many women ministers in our churches.

Recently I read that since the beginning of time, women have been more interesteed in religion than men are. I don’t know if that is true but I do know that I’ve never attended any church anywhere when there weren’t more women that men in the pews. Nevertheless, I’m almost positive we remain the only denomination with more women than men behind the pulpit.

New Thought was started in the 1880’s when the women’s movement was gaining steam but the real reason we allowed women equal power in our churches is because of what we teach – our basic theology. We define God as Creative Intelligence that is present everywhere, and is all powerful and all Good.

God is not an old man in the sky fighting a big battle with a smaller man in a smokin’ red suit from down below. God is neither male nor female but encompasses everything. Since God lives fully present in each of us, we all have equal access to the Power For Good and we can all use it.

Women have been the leaders in our teaching since the very beginning. One early leader, Emma Curtis Hopkins (1855-1925), is credited with being the founder of New Thought by many scholars. I am in that camp. I believe Hopkins was the true founder because she clearly articulated the ideas of the teaching as religion and her writing is still taught in our churches.

Others say Phineas P. Quimby who learned about Anton Mesmer’s early hypnotism and experimented with the principles of mental healing was the founder, but although he believed in mental healing, he did not believe in organized not religion.  It was his student, Mary Baker Eddy, who combined his mental healing techniques with religion and who founded Christian Science. Her churches are not considered New Thought.

Emma Curtis Hopkins was a former school teacher who was a divorced woman with health and financial problems. Hopkins studied with Eddy and split away to form her own teaching. Over a period of years, she built a wide-spread work and earned the title, Teacher of Teachers.

She taught thousands of people including the founders of the three major New Thought denominations; Unity, Divine Science and Religious Science. She also taught Anna Rix Militz who founded the California-based Home Truth and many others who founded large works at that time.

Emilie Cady was in Hopkins’s first class and Cady is author of the famous Unity text, Ten Lessons in Truth. Later Hopkins taught Unity founders Myrtle and Charles Fillmore . She also taught Malinda Cramer, and the other founder, Nona Brooks, learned from a student of Hopkins. Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science, studied with Emma Curtis Hopkins later in her life.

I have always been fascinated by Hopkins and her colleagues because they lived in a time when women were pushing for the vote and for equal opportunity. Most of these New Thought pioneers were divorced or widowed women who travelled from town to town, staying in people’s homes and teaching any beginners they could attract. They were truly very brave.

Some of them, like Hopkins, were charismatic enough to draw big crowds (as much as a thousand) and even start schools. Others labored in the vineyards with little notice, crisscrossing the nation by railroads and opening minds and hearts.

They were teaching philosophy and religion in a time when most women worked at uneducated, menial jobs and/or housework. They were harbingers of the New Age of Women. Some, like Helen Wilmans and Hopkins, were active in the Women’s Movement and others were simply active women.

Wilmans was active in the labor movement as well as creating a mail order books, lessons and distance prayer business in the town she built in Florida. She was hugely successful for a while and  known as a political activist as well as a prosperity teacher. No one knows much about her today.

Emma Curtis Hopkin’s fame remains but people don’t know she taught leaders of the Suffrage Movement.  Of the 22 graduates of in her first graduating class, 20 were women. One was Helen Wilmans. Two others were the very active, well known suffrage activists, Louisa Southworth and Elizabeth Boynton Harbert.

What’s more, Hopkins Metaphysical Association had a booth in the Women’s Pavilion of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!

Over the years, I have heard many comments bewailing the lack of men in our churches (mostly from women). Almost no one comments about the wonder of having so many fabulous women leaders. We need to look at that and pay more attention to our history.

While the Christian Science and Seventh Day Adventist Churches were American religions founded by women during the same era, those leaders who the founders were male.  Our leaders have included both genders throughout our history. The first president of the International New Thought Alliance was the noted writer and magazine editor, Elizabeth Towne.

Some people know that Quaker women played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights but not many know that New Thought women were also involved. Other people associate the Unitarian-Universalist Churches with social action and that is certainly true. It is also true that they had very few women ministers until the 1960’s.

Both Unitarian and New Thought teachings are descended from the Transcendentalists and we both claim Emerson as one of our ancestors. I am also very proud to also claim early feminist, Margaret Fuller, first editor of the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial as my ancestor as well.

Unitarians and the Quakers have been well known for their social activism, while we have been quietly making history for the last century and a half. When I began studying Religious Science, the President of Religious Science International was a woman named Earlene Castellaw. Dr. Arlene Bump was president later. The Rev. Dr.Cathy Hearn headed United Religious Science for many years.

I believe New Thought people should be very proud of our women’s history heritage and make it known. I still have a few copies of a book I wrote ten years ago. I plan to rewrite one of these days and add more about these ideas and new facts. Meanwhile, contact me if you are interested. The book is called New Thought – New Woman, a survey of Women and Spirit from Goddess to New Thought.

Ask Yourself

Why was I led to this teaching?

How do I feel about a majority of women in my Center?

Am I proud of our New Thought history?

Do I have friends I want to tell about our history?

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Woman’s Place In New Thought Histroy

“Imagine what it must have been like to ride the trains like those early women did,” my ministerial  student says. “They were very brave and it makes me feel special to be a part of that history”.

As she speaks, I can feel myself beginning to glow  with pleasure. Any history teacher wants her students to appreciate the past, and I believe New Thought history and its connection to the rise of women’s rights is especially relevant. I am proud of the part women played in New Thought history and I want my students to be proud, as well.

My interest in the role of women in New Thought history goes all the way back to when I was training to be a minister. In those days, we had to write a thesis and I chose to write about Women and New Thought. That early thesis morphed into a book called New Thought – New Woman which I am now rewriting.

Ministerial students also had to give a public lecture based on their topic. I talked about women’s lives in the 1880’s and how difficult it was just to get dinner on the table and the weekly washing done. Housework was a full time job for most women.

The women who worked outside the home were always poor and usually not considered respectable; they were slaves, prostitutes, or servants. There were a few school teachers and some small business owners who had been lucky enough to inherit from fathers and husbands.

New Thought teachers were an anomaly. These pioneers, were respectable, educated women who included some well-known figures such as Emma Curtis Hopkins, and many others whose names we no longer remember. They usually chose to live independent and quite solitary lives as practitioners and teachers of New Thought.

Those early teachers were often widowed or divorced and they struck out on their own, riding trains from town to town and staying in boarding houses while they taught in one town and then another. Some of them, like Hopkins, started schools that were fairly big establishments but most were doing small works in small towns, spreading the word, one small group at a time.

The New Thought teaching was something that was open to them as a way to earn a living and they took advantage of that fact.  It was a healing teaching and that probably seemed natural to some. Women were accustomed to healing and teaching work. Perhaps it felt as though they were simply expanding their boundaries as time and women marched onward.

Many of the travelling practitioners and teachers were widowed or divorced women. Additionally, women were accustomed to healing and teaching work and they simply expanded their techniques and boundaries as time and women marched forward.

In New Thought, our understanding of God is much grander than a human-like figure. It has no shape and no gender but is the creative energy of the Universe. In that way, we were like the Quakers, who also allowed women to speak, because they believed the Inner Light is in all persons.

How could we say that only men can be ministers if we said that God created all of us and lives within everyone? If God is present everywhere all of the time then we must acknowledge that women should have an equal voice everywhere – even in the pulpit.

One of the greatest strengths of our religion is that we describe God as the Creative Energy of the Universe. Our founder, Ernest Holmes and the other New Thought writers use many names for God including; Universal Mind, First Cause, Divine Mind, Infinite Mind, Divine Givingness … and the list goes on.

We sometimes use the word God but we never intend it to describe an Old Man who lives in the sky and looks down upon us, judging what is right and wrong.

The fact that God has no gender is probably the major reason so many women were so important to the New Thought movement from the very beginning. The founders of Divine Science were women. The founders of Unity were a married couple. The first president of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) was a woman.

There were also important women writers and some of them are still quite well known. Emilie Cady’s book, Lessons In Truth is still well read in Unity. Ella Wheeler Wilcox is no longer considered a great poet but her verse is still read and she is still taught in poetry classes. Most writers have faded from our current lists but not all of them. The Game of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovell Shin is still in most New Thought bookstores.

Emma Curtis Hopkins, often called the “Teacher of Teachers” is definitely better known now than she was twenty-five years ago. There are new classes based on her old books. She taught the woman who taught the Divine Science founders and the Fillmores who founded Unity plus Ernest Holmes who founded Religious Science. In her lifetime, she spoke to and taught thousands of people.

The other factor in the importance of women in New Thought is that the women’s movement was rising at the same time New Thought was developing into a distinct denomination. In the 1880’s through the turn of the Century, women were on the march. They were interested in a variety of causes. Those interests included women’s right to vote, abolishing alcohol consumption, rational clothing (remember Amelia Bloomer?) public hygiene, prison reform, and helping poor people.

Some New Thought leaders who were women were interested in more than one of these subjects. There were several early suffragettes in Hopkins’s classes. She had a boot in the Women’s Pavilion of the World’s Fair. Other women leaders reserved all their energy for healing endeavors.

The important thing to know about this period in history is that more women were much more active outside the home and in the public forum as lecturers, writers and teachers than in any other field. We should be very proud of our feminine heritage.

Ask Yourself

What does history have to do with my life?

What is one courageous thing I might do today?


Great Minds

“ I wanted to write that, but he beat me to it,” a friend says. Soon after, another friend claims, “I had that idea before anyone else.” As I look at my own life, I see that many ideas I believed were original were actually part of a cultural shift.

The more I look at how ideas develop, the more I believe that it all comes from the same Creative Source that we call God. Ideas seem to come into being when the time is right and they often develop in multiple strains, out of multiple people’s minds, in multiple places.

At some level, we all acknowledge this. We say, “Great minds run in the same direction,” because it seems to be true. One of the best proofs that the ideas come into being when the time is right  is the phenomenon of simultaneous inventions.

Thomas Edison was the inventor of motion pictures unless you are French and then you probably believe it was the Lumiere family. Some people believe that one must have stolen from the other but it is quite likely the invention occurred because it was time for it to appear.

It is now common for the Nobel Prize to be awarded to more than one scientist for simultaneous discoveries. Ideas of science, philosophy and religion can definitely have multiple origins and be very similar. The Reformation began in Germany but England’s reformation was more simultaneous development than it was Lutheran in origin.

Divine Science, which is part of New Thought, was started at the same time in Colorado and San Francisco. When Nona Brooks and Malinda Cramer met, they joined forces because they were doing the same thing at the same time. Those two women were smart enough to cooperate rather than let their egos rule them.

New Thought leaders, in general, are able to rise above their egos; they are not afraid to share ideas. They do their work and share their ideas without a lot of proprietary interest. Since we believe that it all comes from One Mind, we are grateful to be in the flow. Ego self may want to believe it is “mine” but in the light of the teaching, that can’t really be true.

Since New Thought beginnings, there were many people who wrote and taught ideas of self-reliance and mental healing and they called their movement many different names. Divine Science, Christian Science, Unity, Church of Truth and Religious Science were some that survived long enough to make the history books.

The founder of Religious Science, Ernest Holmes, wrote a very complete textbook that approached New Thought as a philosophy as well as religion. His book, Science of Mind, is filled with quotations from the Bible, RW Emerson and other Transcendentalist writers as well as many other sources . It is most impressive but he did not claim absolute originality; he was very clear that he was a synthesizer. He said his work was based on enlightened teaching of the ages.

Often, people who come to Religious Science churches for the first time, are amazed to find a religion that teaches the ideas about the nature of life that they already hold. You can believe that it is because the ideas are practical and logical or you can believe Holmes caught the wave of the next great development in the evolutionary experience of humankind.

Alcoholics Anonymous is another powerful self-help teaching that developed at about the same time as Religious Science. The ideas of AA and SOM are very similar in some ways. Both emphasize the individual’s ability to take charge of his life through small, consistent steps. They both are based on spiritual realities.

One of the reasons New Thought and Alcoholics Anonymous are similar is that they originated in the United States where we already had a strong tradition of self reliance. We do not look to the elite or powerful to tell us what to do or think, we look to our inner voice to guide us.

Many of us have found both AA and SOM to be two wonderful organizations that help us change our thinking and change our lives. The concept of living one day at a time keeps me sober and it keeps me spiritually grounded. The concept of small choices adding up to big answers keeps me consistently on track and it produces great changes in my life.

If I had been born in an earlier time, AA would not have been there. Nor would Science of Mind. They arrived on the scene in the late 1920’s and 30’s just in time to lead me into the light.

What about you? Do you know that your small choices are building your life a day at a time? Do you know that this is the day in which to happy? Next time you make your gratitude list, you might begin with the fact that you were born into these enlightened times.

I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime. Most of them have been helpful and I am filled with gratitude that I have moved into a personal belief system that allowed me to take charge of my life more completely than I originally believed was possible.

I used to think my journey was an original one but now I know I am part of a great wave of positive thinking. The fact that just about everyone knows about my two organizations doesn’t mean they are old fashioned or outdated. It means they arrived at the right time to become accepted truths for many.

Ideas about equal opportunity are simultaneously inventing themselves in our lives right now.  The possibility thinking that is personal is also cultural and it is spreading.  As a woman, I am very aware of the difference in opportunity fifty years ago and today. I am grateful for the changes that have already happened and the ones that are coming.

Equality of opportunity is springing up in many places. This is an idea whose time has come. Look around at the various groups who are speaking up about their civil and personal rights. Gay rights. Minority rights. Immigrant rights. Native American rights. Disabled people’s rights.  99% rights. Prisoner’s rights.

It’s all right.

Ask Yourself

What small choices shall I make today?

Do I see myself as unlimited opportunity?


Women and New Thought

“Imagine what it must have been like to ride the trains like those early women did,”my ministerial  student says. “They were very brave and it makes me feel special to be a part of that history”.

As she speaks, I can feel myself beginning to glow  with pleasure. After all, any history teacher wants her students to appreciate the past, and I believe New Thought history and its connection to the rise of women’s rights is especially relevant.

My interest in the role of women in New Thought history goes all the way back more than twenty years when I was training to be a minister. In those days, we had to write a thesis and mine was on Women and New Thought.

We also had to give a public lecture on our subject. I talked about women’s lives in the 1880’s and how difficult it was just to get dinner on the table and get the weekly washing done. Housework was a full time job for most women but there were many, including well-known figures such as Emma Curtis Hopkins and others, who chose to be practitioners and teachers of New Thought.

Those early practitioners and teachers were often widowed or divorced and they struck out on their own, riding trains from town to town and staying in boarding houses while they taught. Some of them, like Hopkins, started schools that were fairly big establishments but most were doing small works in small towns, spreading the word to small groups.

During the years of my ministry, I have done more research on the early women in New Thought and written the book,  New Thought, New Woman.

One of the great strengths of our religion is that we describe God as the Creative Energy of the Universe. Our founder, Ernest Holmes and the other New Thought writers use many names for God including; Universal Mind, First Cause, Divine Mind, Infinite Mind, Divine Givingness … and the list goes on.

We sometimes use the word God but we never intend it to describe an Old Man who lives in the sky and looks down upon us, judging what is right and wrong. We do not believe that God is male and that men are the natural leaders of churches.

Our understanding of God is not a human-like figure, it is much grander and without gender. In that way, we were like the Quakers, who also allowed women to speak in meeting (church) because they believe the Inner Light lives in all persons and that Light guides us.

How could we say that only men can be ministers if we believe that God creates us all and lives everywhere including within us? If God is present everywhere all of the time then we must acknowledge that women should have an equal voice in the pulpit.

The fact that God has no gender is probably the major reason so many women were so important to the New Thought movement from the very beginning. The founders of Divine Science were women. The founders of Unity were a married couple. The first president of the International New Thought Alliance (INTA) was a woman.

There were many important New Thought writers and some of them are still quite well known. Ella Wheeler Wilcox is no longer considered a great poet but her verse is still taught in poetry classes. Do you know her most famous lines from the poem Solitude? Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep and you weep alone.

Most writers have faded from our current lists but not all of them. The Game of Life and How To Play It by Florence Scovell Shin is still in most New Thought bookstores. So is, Emilie Cady’s Lessons In Truth.

Emma Curtis Hopkins, often called the “Teacher of Teachers” is definitely better known now than she was twenty-five years ago. There are new classes based on her old books. She not only taught the founders of the surviving New Thought denominations, she wrote several books and influenced famous people in the arts.  In her lifetime, she spoke to and taught thousands of people.

The other factor in the importance of women in New Thought is that the women’s movement was rising at the same time New Thought was developing into a distinct denomination. In the 1880’s through the turn of the Century, women were on the march. They were interested in a variety of causes. Those movements included women’s right to vote, abolishing alcohol consumption, rational clothing (remember Amelia Bloomer?) public hygiene, prison reform, and helping poor people.

Some New Thought leaders were also interested in more than one of these subjects. Others reserved all their energy for healing and teaching endeavors. However, the important thing to know about this period in history is that women were beginning to be much more active outside the home. For the first time, they were in the public forum as lecturers, writers and teachers.

The New Thought teaching was something that was open to them as a way to earn a living and they took advantage of that fact. Many of the travelling practitioners and teachers were widowed or divorced women. Additionally, women were accustomed to healing and teaching work and they simply expanded their techniques and boundaries as time and women marched onward.

Ask Yourself

What have I done that took courage?

What might I do today?

What does New Thought history have to do with my life?