Mothers’ Union – Then and Now

History: The Mothers’ Union was founded in 1876 by Mary Sumner, a Rector’s wife, and the inaugural meeting took place in Old Alresford, Hampshire.

Mary was born in late 1828 in Winton, Manchester and moved to Hereford when she was 4. Her father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker and historian and her mother has been described as a woman of “faith, charm and sympathy”, qualities which Mary certainly inherited. She was educated at home, spoke three foreign languages and sang well. In her late teens on a visit to Rome she met George Sumner, a son of the Bishop of Winchester. It was a well connected family: his uncle became the Archbishop of Canterbury and his second cousin was William Wilberforce. Mary and George married in July 1848 when she was only 19 and soon after his ordination. They moved to old Alresford in 1851 and had  3 children; Margaret, Louise and George. Mary dedicated herself to raising her children and supporting her husband’s ministry by providing music and Bible classes.

When Margaret became a mother Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood. She decided to hold a meeting to which she invited the local women not only of her own class but also all the village mothers. Her aim was to find out if women could be brought together to offer each other prayer and mutual support in their roles as wives and mothers; and so MU was born.

For 9 years the Mothers’ Union was limited to Old Alresford. Then in 1885 the Bishop of Newscastle invited Mary to address women in Portsmouth, 20 miles away. Several women who heard her message, that women could use their vocation as mothers to change the nation for the better, went away and formed groups in their own parishes. Soon MU spread to the dioceses of Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle. By 1892 there were 60,000 members in 28 dioceses and by 1900 there were 169,000 members. By the time Mary died in 1921 she had seen MU cross the seas to become an international organisation of prayer and good purpose.

Today: Mothers’ Union today is made up of hundreds of individual branches spread across 84 countries. it is unique in that members work together to solve challenges in their local communities but also support diocesan initiatives and national and international projects. Mothers’ Union worldwide equips members and their communities to recognise and use the skills, resources and talents around them. Through this process people are able to take ownership of their own future, lifting them from poverty and dependency.

Local branch: At the beginning of 2020 the two local branches merged to become Farncombe & Godalming MU. The Farncombe branch is over 125 years old while the Godalming group was re-established in July 2012. We are a small, committed branch and welcome new members. Today MU is not just for mothers; everyone who cares about family life is welcome – male or female, married, single or divorced. There are local opportunities to support people in refuges and prisons as well as the families who live on your local housing estate.

If you would like to join us or just find out more, please contact Gillian Martin, Branch Leader telephone 01483 429640.