Hopkins, Emma Curtis

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HOPKINS, EMMA CURTIS . Emma Curtis Hopkins (18491925) was the oldest of nine children born to Lydia Phillips Curtis and Rufus Curtis. She grew up with her Congregationalist family in Killingly, Connecticut, and became a teacher. In 1874 she married a schoolteacher, George Hopkins, and they had a son, John, born in 1875.

In 1881 Emma had a healing experience using the methods of Christian Science. She heard Mary Baker Eddy (18211910) speak in 1883 and subsequently became a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, traveling to Boston for lessons with Eddy. Recognizing her talents, Eddy appointed her to serve as the first full-time (and unpaid) editor of the Christian Science Journal in September 1884. After a year and a half, Hopkins was asked by Eddy to leave the position. Financial constraints or theological differences were most likely the reasons for the split. Hopkins resigned from the Christian Science Association in October 1885.

Hopkins and her family relocated to Chicago in early 1886. There was a burgeoning women's movement there and she was an immediate success in her educational ventures and healing ministries, which dovetailed with the social activism of the time. George Hopkins later moved back to New England, and they were divorced in 1900. In 1886 Emma Hopkins and a colleague, Mary Plunkett (d. 1900), founded the Hopkins College of Christian Science, which taught an idealistic theology with a focus on serene lifestyles, prosperity, and positive thinking. The first graduates of the initial class in 1886 formed the backbone of the Hopkins Metaphysical Association, which grew in numbers and evolved into the first organized association of the New Thought movement in the United States. At that time, Christian Science was a generic term used by many to denote the mental healing movement. It continued to be used in a generic way until Eddy threatened to sue any group that used the term. By the 1890s New Thought became the standard term for groups not affiliated with Eddy.

Graduates of the Hopkins College, functioning as religious entrepreneurs and trained as practitioners and teachers, transported Hopkins's idealistic theology to every region of the United States and later to Great Britain and New Zealand, making New Thought an American export. Hopkins's student, Frances Lord, was the first to systematize and teach New Thought's prosperity principles, expounding upon Hopkins's ideas. By the end of 1887 there were seventeen or more New Thought associations around the United States affiliated with Hopkins College and Hopkins's philosophical tenets. The college's graduates, most of them women, traveled by train as missionaries, setting up Truth Centers around the country and checking in with the Hopkins Association in Chicago. From 1887 until 1894, the association served as the social and theological hub for their religious activity.

In 1887, Hopkins, now a national figure as well as a social activist, was invited to speak to large gatherings in San Francisco, Milwaukee, and New York. These lectures gained new proponents for her approach to mental healing and her theology of a monistic, impersonal God who, as Divine Mind, was omniscient, pure, and perfect. Widely read, Hopkins drew upon Gnostic ideas of the immanence of divinity and she rejected the traditional Christian notion of sin, replacing it with a belief that human failings were merely spiritual errors, which could be overcome. She had a theory similar to what would later become Jungian ideas. She believed that racial memory was something akin to what Jung would describe as the collective and individual unconscious. These stored memories, embedded within the genetic code of the individual when triggered, recall disease, traumatic events and health challenges from the individual and collective past. She believed these cases of racial memory could be cured through silent healing. Convinced that the advent of spiritual healing methods ushered in the second coming of Christ, Hopkins dissolved her college and reorganized her teaching to fit an ecclesiastical structure. Believing her mission to be sacred, a hallmark of the second coming of Christ, she organized the Christian Science Theological Seminary in late October 1887. She meant for her top-ranked disciples to be trained in a religious manner and ordained. Those not taking the most advanced course with her on a one-to-one basis were licensed as teachers and practitioners. She selected talented faculty, such as Annie Rix Militz (18561924), who later founded the Homes of Truth, to teach classes in the manner of Protestant seminaries. In 1888 an early graduate, Ida Nichols, founded the periodical Christian Science, for which Hopkins, a prolific writer, authored feature articles. Hopkins's classic texts, Class Lessons 1888 (1888) and Scientific Mental Practice (1890), also became seminal lessons to understanding her teachings. At this time she was also asked to write International Bible Lessons, a weekly column for the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper that ran for nine years.

What was unique about Hopkins was that she did not found a church; she thought the sick people of the world were her church. It was her disciples and ordinands that founded churches. Every prominent New Thought church surviving today was started by her students and disciples.

The predominantly female social milieu in which Hopkins operated, and her ideas about the innate goodness of women that she associated with the Holy Spirit of the Trinity, prepared her to act as bishop. On January 10, 1889, she ordained twenty-two ministers to the independent Christian Science ministry. During the next four years, 111 students graduated from her seminary. The importance of her graduates and ordinands, coupled with their success in founding and forming New Thought churches and Truth Centers, earned for her the sobriquet "teacher of teachers" of the New Thought movement.

During 1894, content that her dedicated students had established ministries and were teaching "the newer ways," she closed the seminary, sold the property, and relocated to New York. There, as a reclusive mystic she taught primarily one-to-one in her private hotel suite in Manhattan. She taught Mabel Dodge Luhan (18791962), Hutchins Hapgood (18691944), Neith Boyce (18721951), and other prominent writers working for a more democratic treatment of minority peoples. She taught Elizabeth Duncan, the older sister of the dancer Isadora Duncan (18771927), and supported their progressive school for children. Her teachings advocated for Native American and African American rights. One of her students, Emilie Hapgood, supported the first all-black theater troupe to perform on Broadway, while Luhan labored all of her life for Native American rights.

Every major contemporary New Thought organization can be traced directly to Hopkins's teachings. She ordained Myrtle Fillmore (18451931) and Charles Fillmore (18541948), who founded Unity; Malinda Cramer (18441906), Nona Brooks (18611945), Fannie James, and Alethea Small, who founded Divine Science in Denver; and Harriet Emilie Cady (18481941), who wrote Unity's all-time best-seller, Lessons in Truth. During the New York years, she taught a young Ernest Holmes (18871960), who founded Religious Science in Los Angeles and inspired the theology of Norman Vincent Peale (18981993) and Robert Schuller (b. 1926). Other speakers and teachers who appropriated Hopkins's work and taught it in more secular form number in the thousands, and they spread her teachings to millions. Prior to her death from heart failure in 1925, Hopkins wrote the culmination of her life's work, High Mysticism (19121917).

See Also

Christian Science; New Thought Movement; Unity.


Harley, Gail. Emma Curtis Hopkins : Forgotten Founder of New Thought. Syracuse, N.Y., 2002. The first biography of Hopkins. It corrects every prior erroneous source to date and establishes her as the founder of organizational New Thought.

Hast, Adele, and Rima Lunin Schultz, eds. "Emma Curtis Hopkins." In Women Building Chicago 17901990: A Biographical Dictionary, pp. 305307. Bloomington, Ind., 2001. A comprehensive insight into the women who were prominent in Chicago and how their vision established music, art, drama, social justice, religion, and education.

Hopkins, Emma Curtis. Class Lessons 1888. Chicago, 1987. Her first teaching manual that details her methods and ideas about monistic healing.

Hopkins, Emma Curtis. Scientific Christian Mental Practice. Marina Del Rey, Calif., undated. Written later in Chicago, this book details every lesson that she had created and how to apply affirmations for change.

Hopkins, Emma Curtis. High Mysticism. Marina Del Rey, Calif., 1983. The culmination of her life's work in mysticism and perennial philosophy that reveals the pinnacle of the High Watch of metaphysical healing.

Journal of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion 8, no. 2 (2002): 79151. The entire issue is devoted to critical assessment of the book Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought.

Melton, J. Gordon. "Emma Curtis Hopkins: A Feminist of the 1880s and Mother of New Thought." In Women's Leadership in Marginal Religions: Explorations outside the Mainstream, edited by Catherine Wessinger, pp. 88101. Urbana, Ill., 1993.

Melton, J. Gordon. "New Thought's Hidden History: Emma Curtis Hopkins, Forgotten Founder." Journal of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion 1 (1995): 539. The first in-depth work about her accomplishments during the Chicago years.

Melton, J. Gordon. "Emma Curtis Hopkins." In Religious Leaders of America: A Biographical Guide to Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual Groups in North America, 2d ed. Farmington Hills, Mich., 1999.

Satter, Beryl. Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 18751920. Berkeley, Calif., 1999. A compelling view of historical tributaries that coalesced to form New Thought.

Gail M. Harley (2005)

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