New Thought Editorials > New Thought's Forgotten Non-Founder


Spring 2012

New Thought's Forgotten Non-Founder

One of the most significant leaders from the early days of the New Thought movement, before it even had the name New Thought, did not found a denomination, nor was he a minister. He wrote nine New Thought books that sold in the tens of thousands and won him the praise of philosopher and psychologist William James, who in The Varieties of Religious Experience referred to him as one of two specifically named "latest writers" who "are far and away the ablest of the group" associated with what James called "the religion of healthy-mindedness". He was one of the founders of the Metaphysical Club, a precursor of the INTA; he presented at pre-INTA Congresses; and at one time he served as president of the Metaphysical Club. Most New Thoughters have never heard of him. He was Henry Wood (1834-1909).

Born in Barre, Vermont, Wood graduated from Barre Academy, a well-respected school that taught Christian principles and practices, insisting that its students lead a Christian lifestyle yet allowing freedom of beliefs. At school and at home, Wood grew up in a world that postulated good character. His father was a model for him in business and in community leadership.

Wood was a successful businessman, possibly a bit of a workaholic. He was a partner in a wholesale dry goods business catering to the carriage trade in Chicago, successfully coming back from a terrible fire a few years before the Great Fire of Chicago. However, his health broke, and he was forced to retire early. He spent a year abroad and sought cures of all sorts, to no avail. He endured the death of a son in infancy and a daughter just under age 11. Somewhere around 1888, he discovered mind cure, which later became known as New Thought. He was healed, and he spent the next twenty years writing about New Thought principles and practices in both fiction and non-fiction and lecturing in various places. He is considered New Thought’s first philanthropist, continuing well-to-do despite his early retirement. He also wrote two books on business that remain amazingly relevant for today’s world.

Wood’s best-known book was Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography, outlining a method of photographing important phrases on the consciousness by simply staring at them. He supplemented these with brief meditations to read. Photography was still relatively new, and this was an attempt to keep up with science that apparently worked for many of his readers. I have called New Thought a form of benign brainwashing, and this approach fits with that notion. His books were clear and well written, based on serious scholarship as well as his own personal experiences with New Thought principles and practices. Yet Wood attempted to stay in reasonable harmony with conventional Christianity, debating points of theology and practice through the words of his characters in the novel Edward Burton as well as in his later writings.

I have provided Henry Wood with his own page, including a list of links to free downloadable PDF files of his books, at Our Newsletters at the same site also offer detailed analyses of his writings.

Henry Wood began his healing in the same year that Unity co-founder Myrtle Fillmore declared her healing complete. In similar fashion, Divine Science co-founders Malinda Cramer and the Brooks sisters were healed in approximately the same period or a few years earlier. Emma Curtis Hopkins left Christian Science and set out on her own about then. Much later, Ernest Holmes founded Religious Science. However, the acknowledged fountainhead of the movement later known as New Thought was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), who did not seek to found anything, but simply to heal people. This was established in what had been billed as an academic rumble between philosopher C. Alan Anderson, defending Quimby, and sociologist Gail Harley, defending Emma Curtis Hopkins. The two irenically agreed in short order that Quimby was indeed the father of New Thought, and that Emma Curtis Hopkins was—sociologically speaking—the founder of the movement as a movement. The other New Thought leader who also did not found anything, mentioned specifically by William James, was New Thought historian Horatio W. Dresser, whose parents met in Quimby’s office and later married. Dresser is also fairly well known in New Thought.

All of these early New Thought figures are worthy of study, and all of them except Henry Wood are well known by most New Thoughters. It’s time that we give Wood his due recognition.