MACMILLAN, ISABELLA HENDRY (Stewart), Christian Science practitioner and teacher; b. 12 July 1859 in Stewarton, Scotland, third and youngest daughter of William Macmillan, a gardener, and Catharine Kerr; m. 25 Feb. 1885 John Henry Stewart, and they had one son; d. 4 Aug. 1912 in Boston.
Isabella Macmillan’s family immigrated to Upper Canada in 1862 and settled in Arran Township. In 1882 she went to Chicago to visit a sister, Annie Knott, who had embraced Christian Science and who would later serve as a director of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Becoming convinced herself, Isabella took instruction from two women who had studied under Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the church.
In Chicago Isabella married John Stewart, a native of Ontario who had also become a Christian Scientist. After John spent some time in Toronto in the interests of the movement in 1886, Isabella took his place there in 1887, and by 1888 both husband and wife were in Toronto. In May of that year Isabella studied under Mrs Eddy herself, and thus became a qualified teacher of Christian Science. Based on Mrs Eddy’s conviction that according to the Bible only mind is ultimately real, Christian Science made much of its impact by offering healing without the intervention of medical science. Practitioners insisted that healings were the result not of faith but of the application of right thinking. In addition to practising healing in Toronto, the Stewarts established the Toronto Christian Science Institute for training practitioners.
Healing activities soon aroused the ire of the local medical establishment, and the Stewarts were repeatedly haled before the courts. A charge against John of practising medicine without a licence was ultimately dismissed by the Ontario Court of Common Pleas in 1888 on the ground that no medicine had been prescribed. The death of a prominent patient two years later prompted a more serious charge of manslaughter against Isabella, but, despite a coroner’s verdict of “gross negligence,” it was thrown out by a grand jury.
In 1889 a Christian Science congregation had been organized in Toronto, the first outside the United States, and Isabella Macmillan Stewart became its pastor in 1892, the year the Mother Church was established in the United States. In 1895 Mrs Eddy ordained that the Bible and her Science and health, with key to the Scriptures, should be “the sole pastor” of all Christian Science churches, and from 1899 to 1902 and again in 1906 Isabella Stewart held the office of first reader, a position John also held. Meanwhile the Stewarts maintained the institute, and Isabella worked tirelessly for patients who often paid trifling amounts or received free treatment. Until her death her name remained on the list of recognized Christian Science practitioners.
Widowed in 1904, Isabella was pressed by Mrs Eddy to keep her company in retirement at Concord, N.H., but she was reluctant to leave her son. However, at the request of the board of directors of the Mother Church, she moved to Boston with her son in 1906, and carried on teaching and practising there. In 1909 she returned to Toronto, only to confront a challenge to her influence that resulted in her estrangement from the directors of the congregation. Her supporters were prominent in the organization of a new congregation, which she joined in October 1910. Her death occurred during a visit to her sister Annie in Boston.
Isabella and John Stewart helped introduce Christian Science to Canada. A woman of commanding presence, Isabella quickly attained a prominence that awakened resentment among some of her colleagues. Possessed of considerable intelligence and great dedication, however, she provided strong leadership in Toronto during the formative years of the church.
Isabella Hendry Macmillan Stewart published two articles, “The scientific universe” and “Another Christian Science trial,” in the Christian Science Journal (Boston), December 1893: 399–402 and February 1896: 469–72, and another, “Healed by Christian Science,” in the Christian Science Sentinel (Boston), 29 Aug. 1901: 833–34; she was also coauthor, with her husband John Henry Stewart, of “Christian Science in the courts in Canada,” Christian Science Journal, May 1898: 92–95.
AO, RG 22-392, box 250, file 8459. First Church of Christ, Scientist (Boston), Church Hist. Dept., File information concerning Isabella Macmillan Stewart. Private arch., Helen Stewart (Toronto), Typescript notes on Isabella Macmillan and J. H. Stewart (copy in possession of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Toronto). Globe, 16 Oct. 1890, 5 Aug. 1912. Christian Science Journal, May 1889: 103–4; August 1889: 226. J. D. Fulton, “Christian Science,” in Spirit of Toronto, 1834–1984, ed. M. L. Holton (Toronto, 1983), 201–7. The Queen v. Stewart (1888), Ontario Reports (Toronto), 17: 4–6.