Happy Birthday to the Fillmores

In commemoration of the August birthdays of Unity founders Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, the Treasures of the Archives series looks at the early lives of the Fillmores, and the importance of birthdays as expressed in Unity teachings.

“Remember that your physical birthday is a blessed event because it is the symbol of a much more important birthday, your spiritual birthday,” wrote Lowell Fillmore, the Fillmores’ oldest son, in a February 1939 issue of Weekly Unity.

The Treasures of the Archives series is a regular feature highlighting the extensive digital records, data, and artifacts held in the Unity Archives, located at Unity World Headquarters.

Myrtle Fillmore was born August 6, 1845, as Mary Caroline Page, the seventh of eight children, to Lucy and Marcus Page. The large family lived relatively comfortably on a farm in Pagetown, Ohio. Her father nicknamed her “Myrtilee” and as she grew, she chose Myrtle as her preferred name, as told in The Story of Unity by James Dillet Freeman.

Her bright young mind was recognized by many around her. So not surprisingly, Myrtle took advantage of any education offerings available, including enrolling and graduating from Oberlin College. At that time, the college offered a one-year program for women, “Literary Course for Ladies.”

Charles Sherlock Fillmore was born in a log cabin August 22, 1854, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, to Mary Georgiana Stone Fillmore and Henry Fillmore, a trader with the Chippewa Nation and a second cousin to U.S. President Millard Fillmore. Charles was 7 when his father moved out of the family’s home and into a cabin about 10 miles away, leaving his mother to raise him and his younger brother Norton in the wilderness.

“It was a kind of Huckleberry Finn existence,” Charles Fillmore later wrote. “Hunters and trappers came and went, and roving bands of Chippewa and Sioux Indians passed by the cabin.”

Unlike Myrtle, Charles had little formal education. He attended an all-ages one-room school for a few years but it was in session only three months a year. When he was 19, he left home for Caddo, just north of the Texas border in the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma, to “clerk” for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway.

Both Myrtle and Charles shared early life health issues. Charles was 10 when he fell on an icy pond and dislocated his hip. The injury, first diagnosed as rheumatism, developed into tuberculosis and Charles endured a series of grueling experimental treatments. “I was bled, leeched, cupped, lanced, seasoned, blistered, and roweled,” he wrote in September 1896.

The doctors concluded he’d have to live with one leg three and a half inches shorter than the other and he’d be lucky to make it to his 40th birthday.

Myrtle contracted tuberculosis at an early age, and the disease “lay like a dark cloud over much of her youth,” as described by Neal Vahle in The Unity Movement: Its Evolution and Spiritual Teachings.

The couple met in 1878, in Denison, Texas, and married on March 29, 1881, in Clinton, Mo., where Myrtle was a teacher. They would later move to Kansas City, Missouri, where at the age of 40, Myrtle would discover her life’s work as a spiritual teacher and healer.   

An 1886 lecture in Kansas City by Christian Science practitioner Eugene B. Weeks changed Myrtle’s life. Soon after, influenced by Myrtle, Charles also found inner spiritual power in Practical Christianity, through silent meditation, a practice that would be shared by both.

In 1889 Charles quit his real estate business to publish a periodical eventually titled Modern Thought. The magazine’s growing popularity led to the formation of a small prayer group that focused on spiritual solitude in silent prayer, eventually called “Silent Unity.”

Myrtle enjoyed writing to Charles, especially for his birthday and other special occasions. On his 55th birthday, August 22, 1909, she sent him a ruby gem with a note:

“I wrote you this morning and wanted so much to have something to send you that would express my appreciation of this date. And tonight, I came about that I could do so.  The little package I am sending you, is a demonstration—and though you don’t general care for jewels you will always love to wear this, for it is a genuine ruby and is your birth stone, and glows with warmth and love of August—as well as symbolizes a love that never grows cold or faileth.”

She signed it, “From your old pard and lover.”

Elizabeth Harbison David wrote this birthday poem, which ran in a July 1928 issue of Daily Word®:

BIRTHDAY GREETING

I measure not thy life by year on year,
Nor do I mark thy stature or thy face;
I see thee only as thou dost appear,
As perfect being, full of health and grace.
I do not crave for thee the gifts of earth,
For as a child of God, thou art possessed
Of things eternal; and by right of birth
Thou art already of His kingdom, blessed.
I only wish to greet thee on thy day;
To pledge anew the love I bear to thee,
And bid thee happy God-speed on thy way
Toward the fulfillment of thy destiny

In November 1928, Daily Word editor Frank B. Whitney shared his prayer honoring birthdays:

“EVERY DAY is a special day for someone. Every day is a birthday, an anniversary, or some particular occasion for rejoicing. Whenever the day is special for someone dear to us, let us give him this blessing:
Child of God, you walk in love; your pathway is clear.
Child of God, you speak with faith; your word brings cheer.
Child of God, you see the good; your vision is bright.
Child of God, you hear the Truth; you are attuned to right.
Child of God, you serve in joy; your service is a blessing.
Child of God, you live in beauty, and through you beauty is expressing.
Child of God, you are not alone; in our Father's love you are at home.
Child of God, friends and strangers, too, behold the Christ who dwells in you.”

In his June 1990 “Life Is a Wonder” column in Unity magazine, James Dillet Freeman wrote that birthdays are meant to celebrate “the beginning of us.”

“There is nothing in the universe more necessary and important to us than us. We are important, not only to us, but to the universe. Without us the universe would be less than universal.  So let us celebrate ourselves, for our birthday is as good a day to do this as any other.”