If there is one unifying fact about the New Thought Movement of the early 20th century, it was that it was the first feminist movement. At a time when women were fighting for their education, equality to vote, and equal status beside men, their voices were unequaled in the burgeoning path of spirituality.
In the latter part of the 19th century, women such as Emma Curtis Hopkins, Mary Baker Eddy, Malinda Cramer, and Nona L. Brooks founded principles of religious science that would go on to seed today’s New Thought churches like Unity Church, Science of Mind, and Divine Science. New Thought embraces metaphysical beliefs combined with basic principles of positive thinking, life force, creative visualization and the law of attraction.
What was cleverly packaged in 2005 as “The Secret” was started by passionate, visionary women of the Victorian Age.
In 1898 Elizabeth Towne was a young, single mother without education or business skills. What she did have was an idea to help other women like her by creating a magazine that published helpful stories about homemaking, parenting, personal health, and finances. She began to read the works of Emma Curtis Hopkins, about self-healing, the law of attraction and other New Thought ideals. She began to incorporate this philosophy in her work, and with a $180 business loan from her father, Nautilus was born. The magazine attracted all of the major New Thought teachers and practitioners of the day, carrying on for 55 years in publication.
Elizabeth would later go on to create the Elizabeth Towne Company to publish metaphysical, new age philosophy, self-help and her own 16 books about self-actualization, healing and New Thought principles. She would also become the president of The International New Thought Alliance… Not bad for a single mother with no formal training as a writer, publisher, or philosopher.
The New Thought Movement was not simply a new ‘cult of mind’ ideal. This foundation embraced the very thing that women were looking for at the time. It allowed equality, and opportunity to be recognized in what was largely a man’s world. New Thought is the embodiment of “All One” ideals, that we are all connected; we are all part of the creator no matter how it is recognized; God, Source, or The Universe. How attractive would it be for anyone feeling oppressed, women and men alike, to see themselves on par with their creator? Empowerment was no longer the exclusive providence of those who could afford it, or who was entitled to it by gender.
This article begins a series examining the history of New Thought, its visionaries, and its re-emergence in the 21st century. Next: A Philosophy in Soap