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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/3696
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1868-1996
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 2.42 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Mothers' Union | Diocese of London


Administrative/Biographical history:

Mothers' Union is a world-wide voluntary Christian women's organisation whose purpose is the strengthening and preservation of marriage and Christian family life. The Mothers' Union follows the same organisational structure as the Anglican Church. Each diocese has its own President and Secretary, who, with the Diocesan Council and Departmental Committees, are responsible for the overall administration of work in the dioceses.

The Mothers' Union in the Diocese of London covers the part of London north of the River Thames and since 1970 has been divided into five Areas, each with its own bishop and corresponding Mothers' Union Vice President and Chaplain. In 1990 there were 100 Branches and 2,500 members in the diocese, and the following Departments were in operation: Overseas, Media, Social Concern, Young Families, Prayer and Publications Departments.

The Mothers' Union was founded in 1876 by Mrs Mary Elizabeth Sumner (formerly Mary Elizabeth Heywood) (1829-1921) at Old Arlesford, Hampshire, where her husband George Henry Sumner was Rector (who later became Bishop of Guildford in 1889). It began as a small group of mothers from the village who met with Mary Sumner and pledged themselves to uphold the sanctity of marriage and bring up their children in the faith of God.

By 1886 it developed into an organised church society in the Diocese of Winchester, which was soon added to by other dioceses, the next one being established by Mrs Emily Wilberforce (wife of the Bishop of Chichester) in the Diocese of Newcastle. In 1887 the first Diocesan Council Conference was held at Winchester under the approval of the Bishop of Winchester. From 1888 the first overseas work began as Branches were set up in Canada (which was followed by New Zealand, Australia, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), China, Japan, Egypt, Malta, and South America before 1900).

In 1890 the Diocese of London Mothers' Union began, largely under the initiative of Lady Horatia Erskine and the Honorary Mrs Evelyn Hubbard. The first meeting was addressed by Mary Sumner. London became the centre of the Mothers' Union's rapidly growing activities. In 1892 the first annual General Conference was held in London where 1550 branches and 60,000 members in 28 dioceses were represented, to discuss questions affecting the work of the Mothers' Union. In 1895 the first central union Headquarters were established at Church House, Westminster, initially consisting of a locker room for the post. In 1896 a Central Council, a system of democratic representation by each diocese, was developed at Westminster to oversee the work of the rapidly growing organisation, and in 1899 the expansion of work necessitated the renting of the first office at Church House. The continuing growth of membership necessitated new administration and an office was rented for the Diocesan Secretary in 1905.

During this time the Central Council began to exercise pressure on legislation effecting marriage and the family, including laws on prostitution, divorce, temperance, education, infant life insurance, and the registration of domestic servants. The greatest campaign was made against divorce laws. In 1903 Central Council 'pledged to resist all attacks on the Marriage Laws of this country'. Mothers' Union wanted the Divorce Act 1857 repealed, and resisted those who wanted to make divorce easier. In 1910 a protest was organised against the extension of the divorce laws and evidence was presented to the Divorce Commission.

In 1912 the Mothers' Union formed as an Incorporated Society and in 1917 the first 'Mary Sumner House', Deans Yard, Westminster was opened. The society then moved to 'Mary Sumner House', Tufton Street, Westminster which was built to the Founder's memory in 1923 and opened in 1925. The building has been the Central Headquarters and the London Diocesan office of the Mothers' Union including accommodation for Official Workers, various Departments running the work of the society, a war memorial chapel, assembly hall, library, bookshop, hostel and members' room.

By 1926, when the Mothers' Union was Incorporated by Royal Charter on its 50th Anniversary, there were over 70,000 home branches and 900 branches overseas, and 490,000 members.

Up to the 1970s the three main principals of the Mothers' Union were:
* To uphold the sanctity of marriage
* To have a sense of responsibility in the training of children
* Daily prayer and high ideals in home life.

In 1968 a World Conference concluded that the society needed to re-think its scope and take a more liberal attitude towards divorce and marriage. For this purpose, a Commission was appointed by the Central Council in 1969 and in 1972 it produced a report 'New Dimensions'. In 1974 a new supplementary Royal Charter was granted and the Aims and Objects were extended and reworded to reflect changing trends:

"The aim of the society is the advancement of the Christian religion in the sphere of marriage and family life. In order to carry out this aim, its objectives are:
* To uphold Christ's teaching on the nature of marriage and promote its wider understanding.
* To encourage parents to bring up their children in the faith and life of the Church.
* To maintain a world-wide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service.
* To promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children
* To help those whose family life has met with adversity."

In 2003 the society had more than one million members in 70 countries, and 122,000 members in the United Kingdom. The Mothers' Union has continued to play a important role in the religious life and social policies of many countries. Members have been active in their local communities and their commitment to the family is still supported through a tradition of personal links and relationships world-wide.

Central Presidents (1896-1920): Mrs Mary Elizabeth Sumner - 1896 (elected at the first Central Council)
Dowager Countess of Chichester - 1910
Mrs Emily Wilberforce - 1916
Mrs Hubert Barclay - 1920.

London Diocesan Presidents (1890-1989): Beatrice Temple - 1890
Lady Horatia E Erskine - 1894 (Central Vice President)
Lady Victoria Buxton - 1898
Lady Horatia E Erskine - 1900
The Honorary Mrs Evelyn Hubbard - 1905
Mrs Emily Wilberforce - 1909 (Central President from 1916)
Gertrude Gow - 1916
Maud Montgomery - 1918
Dame Beatrix Hudson Lyall - 1921 (Central Vice President)
Eleanor Mary Raymond - 1936 (Central Vice President)
Joyce Coombs - 1946 (Central Vice President)
Helena Lambert - 1955 (Central Vice President)
Mildred Rawlinson - 1961 (Central Vice President)
Elizabeth Naylor - 1965 (Central Vice President)
Betty Dunhill - 1971
Rachel Nugee - 1974 (Central President from 1977)
Liz Robson - 1977
Rosemary Johnson - 1983 (Central Vice President 1989)
Mollie Nichols - 1989.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records relating to the Mothers' Union in the Diocese of London, 1868-1996. There are minutes of the Diocesan Council (1890-1990) and various Committees (1907-1990) including those of the Social Concern and Media Committees which examined the impact of changing leisure activities and other social trends on marriage and the family. Debates surrounding attitudes towards the relaxation of the Divorce Laws can be found in the newspaper cuttings.

Also included are annual reports (1896-1961) summarising events, developments and work carried out in the Diocese; annual accounts and financial reports (1946-1990); rules and constitutions (1950-1991); journals and magazines (1905-1995); programmes, tickets and other material relating to Diocesan Festivals held at Saint Paul's Cathedral (1908-1995); registers listing details of the Branches in the Diocese including their starting date, names of Presiding Members, Secretaries and numbers of Members (1900-1919); printed lists of Member Speakers who gave group talks, giving their names, addresses and specialised subjects (1960-1995); official handbooks providing lists of the Branches and their Presiding members (1942-1995); leases of Mothers' Union offices in Westminster (1908-1994); programmes, tickets and draft speeches for Mass Meetings of members (1922-1963); overseas links registration cards establishing communication between Branches in the Diocese with Branches overseas (1942-1979); records containing information on local work carried out in some Deaneries and Branches including minutes, members registers and meeting programmes (1899-1982); various correspondence, drawings of banners, newspaper cuttings, circulars, anniversaries material including history booklets on the Mothers' Union, and other publications including 'Mothers' Union Golden Book' and 'Mary Sumner: Her Life and Work' (1868-1994); some photographs including Presidents, members with banners and Committee groups (1896-1990); and various badges and a banner of the London Branch of the Army Division depicting Saint George and the Dragon.

Of particular interest are the Mothers' Union Journal and other magazines which provide useful information on work, developments and activities, and include Golden Wedding anniversaries and 'In Memoriam' listings of deceased members.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is arranged in the following series: Diocesan Council Meetings ACC/3696/01; Committee Minutes ACC/3696/02; Annual Reports ACC/3696/03; Annual Accounts ACC/3696/04; Rules and Constitutions ACC/3696/05; Journals and Magazines ACC/3696/06; Diocesan Festivals ACC/3696/07; Registers ACC/3696/08; Lists of Speakers ACC/3696/09; Official Handbooks ACC/3696/10; Leases of Offices ACC/3696/11; Mass Meetings ACC/3696/12; Overseas Links ACC/3696/13; Deanery and Branch ACC/3696/14; Printed Material and Correspondence ACC/3696/15; Photographs ACC/3696/16; Artefacts ACC/3696/17.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received in three accessions in 1996, 1998 and 2002 (ACC/3696, B98/174, B02/064).

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July to October 2009

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