The Mothers’ Union was founded by Mary Elizabeth Heywood who was born on 31st December
1828. She was well educated and later married George Sumner with whom she had three
children. In 1876 Mary started meetings for mothers in her parish, and she later
created a membership card and the first Mothers’ Union Prayer with her husband. Her
impromptu speech in 1885 at the Portsmouth Church Congress inspired other women to
establish their own meetings and persuaded the Bishop of Winchester to make the Mothers’
Union a diocesan organisation.
Mary Sumner’s visit to Scotland in 1887 sparked the creation of the Scottish Mothers’
Union. The Scottish MU’s affiliation with the organisation ended when the Mothers’
Union was granted a Royal Charter in 1926 which stipulated that all office bearers
must be Anglican Church members. In 1929 the Scottish MU became an Incorporated
Society; however, in March 1984 it was dissolved and the remaining groups were affiliated
with the Mothers’ Union. A service to commemorate the Scottish MU took place at
St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh.
In 1912 the Mothers’ Union was incorporated as a church society and its new constitution
expressed its primary aims:
To uphold the sanctity of marriage
To awaken in all mothers a sense of their great responsibility in their training
of their boys and girls (the Fathers and Mothers of the future)
To organise in every place a band of Mothers who will unite in prayer and seek by
their own example to lead their families in purity and holiness of life.
The Mothers’ Union was originally represented by a drawing of a mother and child
by the artist Heywood Sumner, Mary’s son, as can be seen in the image above of a
medallion and a brooch pin dated from approximately 1910. Badges, brooches and other
material items were important to members as treasured possessions while also embodying
the spiritual motivation behind the organisation.
After many years of fundraising, Mary Sumner House was opened in Tufton Street, Westminster,
by Princess Mary on 21st July 1925. It acts as a memorial to the MU’s founder and
a spiritual home to its members, with a chapel designed by the architect Paul Waterhouse
at the heart of the building.
The Mothers’ Union continues to thrive and describes itself as ‘an international
Christian membership charity that aims to demonstrate the Christian faith in action
through the transformation of communities worldwide’.
The image of the Scottish Mothers’ Union badges at the top of this article are part
of the Archive of the Mothers’ Union held at Lambeth Palace Library. The Archive
includes minute books, publications, correspondence, photographs, slides and ephemera
including banners, badges and even a jigsaw. It is invaluable to anyone interested
in the organisation and more generally, the history of women in the Anglican Church.
The Archive of the Mothers’ Union is available to view in the Lambeth Palace Library
reading room and you can learn more about the Mothers’ Union globally at http://www.mothersunion.org/about-us