Although she was a child of the 19th century, Harriet Emilie Cady remains one of the best-selling Unity authors to this day. When she was born in 1848
in Dryden, New York, James K. Polk was President of the
then- 30 United States of America, the Mexican War had
just ended, a gold rush to the newly acquired California
Territory had begun, and the first-ever women’s rights
convention was being held in Seneca Falls, New York.
Cady’s writing makes it apparent that she was influenced
by the intellectual and spiritual milieu of the day. The
central upstate region of the Empire State was full of radical
ideas, like abolitionism and the push for full equality of
women. Transcendentalist women, like author and social
change agent Elizabeth Cady Stanton, boldly spoke their
minds in a Victorian era when women were considered
helpmates at best, not equal players in a man’s world.
Stanton was a distant relative of Cady’s, but there’s no
evidence the women were acquainted.
Even so, Stanton undeniably influenced Cady’s
choice of a professional career. The irony is that Cady’s
books reflect both stiffly moralistic, male-dominated
Victorianism as well as liberating, forward-thinking
transcendentalism. Cady never fully resolved this
fundamental conflict in her thought.
As a young woman, Cady taught at the one-room
schoolhouse in Dryden. She later became interested in
medicine and in the 1860s studied at the Homeopathic
Medical College of the State of New York (today known as
New York Medical College). When she graduated in 1871,
Cady became one of the first female physicians in America.
It was a remarkable achievement by a remarkable woman.
However, the spiritual side of her transcendentalism
reasserted itself, especially through the writings of Ralph
Waldo Emerson. Cady deepened her studies in New
Thought with the “teacher of teachers,” Emma Curtis
Hopkins. Cady later worked with such luminaries as Emmet
Fox and Ernest Holmes, as well as Charles Fillmore and
In 1891, Cady sent an unsolicited article to the
Fillmores, who published it in their periodical Modern
Thought, later known as Unity Magazine. It proved so
popular that she began writing a series of follow-up
lessons. These Lessons in Truth would be published as
a 12-part series in Unity Magazine in 1892. Once again,
Cady’s work was so enthusiastically received that the
Fillmores decided to combine the articles under one cover
as the first book Unity ever published. Since its release
in 1896, Lessons in Truth has sold more than 1. 5 million
copies and has been translated into a dozen languages,
Cady’s first book continues as the rock upon which
the Unity movement is built. Generations of readers
have discovered the relevance of this thin volume
written by a quiet, studious woman. She wrote of the
choice between “bondage or liberty” and made a strong
case for the latter. The language of freedom was potent
Unity Masters :
BY REV. THOMAS W. SHEPHERD, D.MIN.