Emma Curtis Hopkins was born Josephine Emma Curtis in Killingly, Connecticut, in 1849 to Rufus Curtis and Lydia Phillips Curtis. She married George Irving Hopkins on July 19, 1874. Their son, John Carver, was born in 1875 and died in 1905.
Hopkins was initially a student of the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy, who claimed to have found in the Christian Bible a science behind the alleged healing miracles of Jesus which could be practiced by anyone. She would afterwards (see below) leave Christian Science to develop her own more eclectic form of metaphysical idealism, known later as New Thought with, like it, certain mystical traits of Gnosticism, though Hopkins felt much freer to make affinities with Theosophy and a wide variety of Eastern teachings.
Differing from Eddy's lead in speaking of God as both Mother and Father, Hopkins conceptualized the Trinity as three aspects of divinity, each playing a role in different historical epochs: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Mother-Spirit or Holy Comforter. Hopkins believed (as did Eddy, though not as parochially) that spiritual healing was the Second Coming of Christ into the world, and this was the hallmark of her early work. Hopkins also believed more specifically that the changing roles of women indicated their prominence in the Godhead, signaling a new epoch identified by the inclusion of the Mother aspect of God.
While Phineas Parkhurst Quimby is sometimes described as the founder of New Thought, he died in 1866, and New Thought did not formally organize until Hopkins brought together and focused the national movement in 1886-88 with the base in Chicago. Her first work, Class Lessons 1888, ignited flash points for organized New Thought. She later authored Drops of Gold and Scientific Christian Mental Practice (1888) as well as a prolific body of written work. She was acclaimed for the giftedness of her personal lectures. Those that heard her speak noted her charismatic oratory. Her magnum opus, High Mysticism, is perhaps best read after familiarity with the groundwork of her other writings. She authored the International Bible Lessons in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper (1887–94, an apparent echo of the Bible Lessons central to Christian Science). Hopkins is often referred to as the "Teacher of teachers" or "The mother of New Thought." Those who studied with Hopkins included the Fillmores, founders of Unity; Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science; Malinda Cramer and Nona L. Brooks, founders of Divine Science; and Harriet Emilie Cady, author of Unity's cornerstone text Lessons in Truth.
Hopkins' earliest record in Christian Science appears to be her role in the expulsion of Clara Choate for promiscuity around 1884; Hopkins would some months later become acting editor of the Christian Science Journal (though she was never a Christian Science teacher), then in just over a year be relieved of the post for an editorial syncretizing too wide an Asian influence for Eddy's identification with Christianity.
Eventually won over to the influence and ambitions of Christian Science dissident Mary Plunkett, she told her original Christian Science practitioner that if Eddy did not give her the next Normal class and authority over all of Christian Science west of Buffalo, "I will sweep her off the face of the earth." She had earlier criticized A.J. Swartz for plagiarism of Eddy's work but, with Plunkett's help, went on to edit Swartz's magazine for a period before going into business with Plunkett.
Hopkins and Plunkett appropriated the term Christian Science for both their magazine's and institute's names. This term was beginning to come into its early great success with Mrs. Eddy. Hopkins and Plunkett believed the term appropriately described their work, in spite of their breach with its founder and her emphasis on a Christian subjugation of the human mind to the Divine. They sought to gain adherents from Eddy's base, including Joseph Adams.
Plunkett would again ask Eddy for a division of Eddy's Christian Science movement, with Eddy to yield everything west of the Mississippi, and took offense at Eddy's rebuff. Hopkins and Plunkett would in time take in other disaffected students of Eddy, such as Ursula Gestefeld, who were dissatisfied with either the teachings or Eddy's promotional schemes.
Hopkins went on to teach the Fillmores, after which she would finally drop use of the term Christian Science (which the Fillmores would also use, then subsequently drop).
Plunkett, however, tried to borrow visibly from her own past ties to Eddy to build a following in New York City. She fell into public disgrace after the scandal of her parting with her husband John, who had fathered neither of her children, in favor of a free love relationship with A. Bentley Worthington. Within a month after her adoption of his name Worthington was exposed as an embezzler and multi-state bigamist. Plunkett moved to Australia, where she committed suicide.
Hopkins went on to found the Emma Hopkins College of Metaphysical Science, which focused on training women as spiritual leaders. Hopkins believed that mankind was supposed to live through three spiritual ages, corresponding with the Holy Trinity. God the Father represented the patriarchies of the past. God the Son represented Jesus Christ and the freeing of human thought. The present age of God the Holy Spirit would place women in charge. Hopkins thought of the Holy Spirit in terms of the Shekinah, the Mother Comforter.
Her ideas about spiritual healing and the soul's relationship with God have been adopted by some mainstream religious movements including the International Order of St. Luke the Physician which was founded by an Episcopal priest. She wrote many books on these subjects. Her last student was Ernest Holmes. She died at her home in Connecticut in 1925.
Among those who studied with Emma Curtis Hopkins were:Malinda Cramer, Nona L. Brooks, Fannie Brooks co-founders of Divine Science;
Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of the Unity who were ordained by Hopkins in 1891;
Harriet Emilie Cady, author of Lessons in Truth;
Annie Rix Militz, founder of The Home of Truth;
Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science; Ordained in Divine Science
William Walker Atkinson, prolific New Thought author.