AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area

Archive of the Mothers' Union

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0109 MU
Held at: Lambeth Palace Library
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Full title: Archive of the Mothers' Union
Date(s): [1790-2000]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 313 volumes, 2144 files, 40 plans, 5 posters and 2 card indices
Name of creator(s): Mothers' Union


Administrative/Biographical history:

The foundation of the Mothers' Union is dated to the publication of the first membership card in 1876. The society was established by Mary Sumner, wife of the Rector of Old Alresford in the Diocese of Winchester, to defend the institution of marriage and promote Christian family life. This concern broadened over time to consider all factors affecting the morality of society, within the home and without.

Initially a network of meetings in parishes in the Diocese of Winchester, by the mid 1890s, the MU had established a centralised governing body in London, and had a number of branches overseas; from the early twentieth century, departments were established to deal with specialised tasks in the society's work. Although the society was primarily concerned with the role of the mother and the upbringing of children, married women without children and unmarried women were allowed to join as Associate Members from the outset. Throughout the twentieth century the MU addressed a variety of contemporary social issues (such as runaway children, drug dependence, venereal disease, housing conditions and birth control), but reserved particular efforts for campaigning against divorce and marriage breakdown.

Faced with a need to address a liberalisation in both society and the Church in the decades following the Second World War, the Mothers' Union revised its constitution in 1974 giving greater autonomy to the MU overseas and no longer excluding divorcées. Further reassessment took place in the early 1990s when the need to comply with charity regulations prompted a restructuring of the organisation.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the headquarters of the Mothers' Union, Mary Sumner House, Westminster. The majority of the archive dates from when the Mothers' Union established a centralised structure in the 1890s, and contains a small number of papers from members who, although not always based at Mary Sumner House, played important roles within the MU (see MU/MSS/2). Although some files run into the 1990s, many of the series stop in the early 1980s, which coincides with a survey undertaken of the archive in Mary Sumner House (see MU/CO/1/127).

Contemporary terminology has been used to refer to the structure or offices of the MU: 'Home' members and dioceses refer to those in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. In the 1990s the acronym CWISY is employed to refer to members and dioceses within the provinces of Canterbury, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and York. Readers should also note that the catalogue contains some transcriptions of titles containing terms that are now politically incorrect.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mainly English

System of arrangement:

Where possible the archive of the Mothers' Union reflects the changing structure of the organisation itself, dividing largely along departmental lines. It should be noted that many of the topics addressed by individual departments were also of interest to the governing bodies - the Central Council and Executive Committee.

Besides material that can be identified as originating from a specific department, a number of series of records were also transferred to Lambeth Palace Library, united by their format rather than provenance: photographs, slides, newspaper cuttings, printed material and manuscripts of articles written about the MU. A preliminary list was produced while the records were at Mary Sumner House by Dr Cordelia Moyse.

Conditions governing access:

The archive is open; some correspondence relating to living persons has been closed under the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998) and withheld. This will be made available in due course.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Finding aids:

Catalogued 2010 in Calm. References assigned prior to transfer to the Library contained leading zeros (e.g. MU/OS/005/01/01), these have not been retained in the current catalogue (converting the format to MU/OS/5/1/1).

Archival Information

Archival history:

Appraisal has been minimal as references had been assigned and a preliminary list produced prior to transfer to the Library. Duplicate information has not been retained. According to MU/MSS/2/1/2, most of Mary Sumner's personal papers were burned in a bonfire after her death. In a small number of cases the arrangement received on acquisition has had to be altered to accommodate unlisted records. Any change to the reference number has been recorded in the 'CustodialHistory' field of the record in question.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The archive was transferred from Mary Sumner House to Lambeth Palace Library in June 2008.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Where they have been preserved, branch and diocesan records of the Mothers' Union tend to have been deposited at local diocesan records offices. Records of the Wives' Fellowship, which split from the MU in 1920, are held at the Women's Library (ref. 5WFE). Published material transferred from the archive for inclusion in the Library's printed books collection are currently awaiting cataloguing. Please contact the Library for advice.

Publication note:

Histories of the Mothers' Union have been published, notably Violet Lancaster: A Short History of the Mothers' Union (Mothers' Union, 1958), and Cordelia Moyse, A History of the Mothers' Union: Women, Anglicanism and Globalisation, 1876-2008 (Boydell and Brewer, 2009).

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:
April 2010

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"

Related Placename Search

* To search for other records with similar placenames, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"