Skip to main content

Review of Selfless Desires by Taylor Spight Hines

Selfless Desires: H. Emilie Cady and the Victorian New Thought Woman
Author: Taylor Spight Hines
Publisher: 2006.
Dissertation: M.A. University of California, Santa Barbara 2006
OCLC Number: 72575296
Description: vii, 78 leaves, bound
Responsibility: by Taylor Spight Hines.
Request only by interlibrary loan:
WorldCat permalink:

Download PDF of this page


What Was Emilie Cady's Greatness?

Hello, Friends,

A 43-page thesis about Emilie Cady was submitted in 2006 at the University of California Santa Barbara by Taylor Spight Hines in fulfillment of a Master’s Degree. The title of the thesis is Selfless Desires: H. Emilie Cady and the Victorian New Thought Woman. As the title suggests, Hines takes a deep look at what Emilie Cady says about desire — whether it should be selfless or human driven, and the look he takes is from a feminist perspective of victorian norms in New Thought.

Hines’ thesis is that New Thought challenged victorian feminine norms, placing New Thought women in the uncomfortable place where women were expected by the culture to be submissive but were expected by their New Thought beliefs to be powerful and independent. His conclusion is that Emilie Cady was uniquely successful because she bridged this cultural/religious divide and that Unity, by embracing Cady, also was successful in reaching a wide audience of orthodox Christian women looking for ways to embrace power.

Here is a summary of the sections in Selfless Desires (with page numbers):

1-3. Introduction. Emilie defends her desire to live privately, outside of the public gaze. Myrtle had asserted that the source of Emilie’s eye problems was Emilie’s refusal to “let God’s light shine” by not doing more public speaking (an example of metaphysical malpractice by Myrtle). Emilie disagrees with Myrtle and says her eye problems were because she had “began to yield to the constant clamor of the multitude for personality”. Hines concludes that these two women represent a tension in New Thought for women: should they pursue desire and power of the mind (Myrtle) or should they pursue desireless service to others (Emilie)?

3-9. The Emergence of Women’s New Thought. Hines contrasts two “orientations” in New Thought: the affective and the noetic. The affective is primarily feminine, passive, selfless, Christian languaged and alturistic while using NT as a means of expressing power that would eventually overcome self-assertive, capitalist masculinity. The noetic is primarily masculine, self-assertive, individualistic, esoteric languaged and darwinian while using NT as a means of augmenting masculine power. Hines says Emilie promoted both self-assertion and self-effacement over time and served as a bridge for the affective and noetic orientations in NT.

9-12. The Road to New Thought. Hines writes about Emilie’s early life and her path to New Thought. This part includes information about the Dryden area between 1848 and 1870, the probable influence on Emilie by Dr. Samantha S. Nivison, Eclecticism and the Eclectic Medical College of New York, Emilie’s experience of evangelist and faith healer Albert B. Simpson and his Four-Fold Gospel, her reading of Warren Felt Evans and the lessons of Emma Curtis Hopkins (circa 1887) and her interaction with people in the “Christian Science” community, such as Mary Plunkett.

13-16. Work and the New Thought Woman. As industrialization led to men working outside of the home, affective NT women (such as Mary Baker Eddy) found themselves limited to a sphere of keeping the moral order and questioning the reality of matter. Helen Wilmans and other noetic NT women were embracing the physicality of matter and the goodness of earning money. Because of this tension, Emilie found herself “constantly urged ... to step out of the medical profession and at once become a public Christian healer.” When Emilie took it to prayer, she was told “Stay right where you are and see what I will do through you.” By choosing to remain a self-employed physician Emilie bridged the affective and noetic aspects of NT for women.

16-19. Finding the Christ in Ourselves. The impact of Emilie’s first known work, Finding the Christ in Ourselves, is well known. Hines focuses on its “alluring affirmation of [women’s] latent inner power.” Paraphrasing “Jesus Loves Me”, Hines reformulates its message as “I am weak, but I am strong”. Thus, Hines says, “the message of the Christ within was quite literally empowering for women who had long felt their weakness as they pleaded for the aid of an external God in a society which similarly placed them in positions of dependence. By disciplining and letting go of their weak, external selves, women could find immense resources within themselves to overcome any obstacle.”

19-25. The Unstoppable Force of Passivity – Writings from 1892. Hines discusses several writings that appear in How I Used Truth (formerly Miscellaneous Writings) from the perspective of how each resolved a dilemma that NT women were facing. The first dilemma was what to do with the disempowering aspects of traditional Christianity and biblical interpretation (she embraced both but stressed the emotional [mystical] connection). The second was how to become “well and strong and powerful” in a Victorian world of submissive femininity (she submitted her mind not to man but rather to the God Mind which empowers all people, women as well as men). The third dilemma was how to prosper and still be a provider of care and comfort (“God [will provide] much like a successful husband or father ... allowing New Thought women to continue in their culturally approved role as givers of card and comfort”). Hines concludes that such “trustful passivity” would “build the self into an independent unstoppable force.” [Emilie has shifted from metaphysician to mystic in these writings.]

25-27. All Sufficiency. This section discusses prosperity in light of the economic panic of 1893. All Sufficiency goes beyond the passive acceptance that “God will supply” to the “radical ideal of economic self-reliance” where “one could create prosperity merely by opening oneself to the divine inflow at the base of one’s own deepest nature.” [This changes prosperity from attracting supply to creating supply, ex nihlo.] What is important for Hines is that it illustrates the belief that New Thought would “accelerate human progress and fully bring about the ‘Era of Woman’ that many women (and some men) were anticipating and with it the the end of the harmful materialism associated with male dominance of the economy.”

28-31. Lessons in Truth. Hines comments on how Lessons in Truth came to be written and how it shows a progression in Emilie’s thinking, which would prepare it for a long life in the 20th c. He writes that Emilie had let go of some of the requirement that prosperity need be entirely submissive to the will of God. Highlighting her passage in the fifth lesson (Faith) about desire, Hines says Emilie’s writing that “Desire in the heart is always God tapping at the door of your consciousness with His infinite supply” shows that personal desires “received a somewhat more positive, if still guarded, evaluation.” Hines notes that LIT did not embrace the NT ideas described above about the ‘Era of Woman’ and the ‘acceleration of human progress’. Finally, he notes that Emilie “avoided the radical antimaterialism that marked the works of many of Emma Curtis Hopkins’s students.” Both these points may reflect Emilie’s training as a physician.

31-32. Cady in the late 1890s. Hines describes how Emilie’s financial condition radically improved after publishing LIT, not necessarily because of royalties but because she had come to “demand an answer” and to “speak the word.” In a footnote, Hines says that she had received a large donation from a “mysterious source” and that “by the closing years of the nineteenth century Cady was known among elite, and wealthy, metaphysically inclined New Yorkers.” In the appendix Hines discusses Emilie’s “life living with a prominent family on Park Avenue.” (The Goodyears).

33-36. Will, Power, and Success: Cady’s Later Writings. Hines describes the significant shift in NT through the 1910s and also subtle but ambiguous shifts in Emilie’s thinking. NT was embracing more prosperity themes and smaller groups (like Emma Curtis Hopkins’ school) were closing. Emilie did no writing until 1906-1909, when she published several articles in Unity and a book, God a Present Help, which Unity declined to publish (because the last chapter challenged Charles Fillmore’s assertions about immortality and reincarnation. Unity would eventually publish the book—in 1939, without the final chapter). Hines notes that these writings seem to combine God’s will with one’s personal will and to emphasize worldly good as a measure of spiritual success.

36-41. Final Years. Hines talks about the fatigue Emilie felt in her later years. Unity published Miscellaneous Writings in 1916 and also acted as an agent for letters sent to her. As a professional, she found herself generally detached from the life experience of women and sympathetic to the life experience of professional men who “stiffen up their back[s] and go to work.” Hines also highlights conflict between Emilie Cady and Unity, particularly about the editing of her materials and Unity’s desire to “promote” her personally. Regardless of the conflict, Lowell Fillmore was her primary contact with Unity and they remained on good terms.

41-42. Conclusion. Hines asserts that Emilie’s embrace of selfless service was a bridge between progressive NT and Christian orthodoxy and that this bridge “helped Unity thrive.” Hines says Unity built on this by “continually revising [her] writing, eliminating aspects of her texts deemed anachronistic or unclear, rearranging words and even chapters, and thereby further stripping Cady of her historical context. Cady became, in many ways, Unity’s text.” Hines’ goal in this paper is, he says, to “placing her back in context [to] help us better understand what was at stake for women in the rise of the New Thought movement.”

43-49. Footnotes.

50-53. Bibliography.

54-78. Appendix. Biographical information not relevant to Hines’ thesis.

55-57. 1. Additional Information on Cady’s Family and Childhood
57-60. 2. More on Samantha Nivison (Dryden Physician Who May Have Influenced Cady)
60-65. 3. The Context of Cady’s Early Medical Career
66-69. 4. Relationship to family in 1890s/ Legal Problems of Father/Later Family Life
70-72. 5. Physical Description
73-77. 6. Life with the Goodyears - late 1890s
74-77. 7. Tensions with the Fillmores
77-77. 9. Cady in the White House (Appendix 8 does not exist)
78-78. 10. (Very Distant) Relationship to Elizabeth Cady Stanton

While Hines provides sufficient quotes from Cady’s writings to show a shift over time from submissiveness to assertiveness, he doesn’t adequately explain why this shift occurred, nor why Emilie Cady would be uniquely suited to bridge the divide. He does describe how Emilie’s life changed after she took a much more assertive stance, such a her “demand” of God for an explanation of her poverty.

But he does not explain why Emilie stopped short of getting on the ‘Era of Women’ bandwagon or why she never became an advocate for social change programs, both of which proved limiting over time to others, such as Helen Wilman. It also does not explain why she rejected the strict antimaterialism of Mary Baker Eddy, Emma Curtis Hopkins, and, to some extent, Charles Fillmore. That is where, I believe, Hines’ feminist interpretation limits our understanding of the long-lasting influence of Emilie Cady.

My sense is what stands out in Emilie Cady’s life and what makes her unique among New Thought women, is her training as a physician. That is to say all Emilie Cady’s metaphysical notions were tested and modified by her training and daily experience as a self-employed, eclectic, homeopathic physician.

Furthermore, a recurring theme in Hines’ essay is Emilie Cady’s extreme reluctance to allow Unity or anyone else to “promote” her as a public persona. In fact, the opening paragraph in this essay addresses this foundational quality of Emilie’s character. At a time when many pressured her to abandon her medical practice and become a public healer, Emilie Cady revolted and chose to remain a self-employed physician, “to see what [God] will do through [me].”

Let me explain why that is important. It’s all too easy to formulate metaphysical theories, to write books and to give public presentations. It is so easy, in fact, that such public theorists often wind up out in the weeds. Although Emilie Cady wrote essays and books, she did so reluctantly and with reservation. Emilie Cady believed that any promotion of her “personality” would dissipate the power of her one-on-one healing ability. She was absolute in protecting her privacy and pubic exposure.

Her ministry was face-to-face healing and one-to-one correspondence. It was a ministry based on practice, not proclamation. Her proclamations proceeded from her experience as a practitioner and those experiences shaped her metaphysical views.

Two weeks ago I sent out a message that included an offer to send to anyone (who will promise to read it) a free copy of Fishers of Men by Glenn Clark. It is a book about how you and I can conduct one-on-one ministry. That offer is still good.

Understandably, Unity and other denominations are asking how ministry has changed in this digital and post-pandemic world. That’s a question for leadership. But for folks like you and I, nothing has changed. One-to-one ministry is now and always has been the foundational Christian ministry. My sense is that Emilie Cady’s greatness is bringing that message home to us by her life and work.

Mark Hicks
Sunday, June 26, 2022