Our History

But the plans of the Lord stand firm, the purposes of his heart through all generations (Psalm 33:11)

Whether we have been blessed by having a strong family with a dedicated supportive mother at the centre, or have had the tragedy of not having, most of us have an ideal of how family, especially parenting, should be.

Mary Elizabeth Sumner, the founder of Mothers' Union and herself a mother of three, was all too aware of the burdens and responsibilities of parenting; of the feelings of inadequacy that could swamp young mothers.

1876: When her daughter, Margaret, had her first child Mary took the initial steps in founding a society for the support of women in their role as mothers. Mary recognised that good parenting was more than providing for the physical needs of the child and she believed that the primary responsibility was to raise children in the love of God.

1896: The Central Council of Mothers' Union was formed and the first Central Constitution was agreed unifying members across dioceses into a national union with Mary Sumner as president. Members agreed objectives and a central vision that marriage, parenting and prayer were key to the future of families.

1900: Mary's connections within the Anglican Communion led to Mothers' Union branches quickly being established in Wales, Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle, followed by branches overseas in Dublin, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Canada, India and Madagascar. By 1900 Mothers' Union had nearly 170,000 members.

The years following the death of Mothers' Union's first patron, Queen Victoria, saw a dramatic increase in membership. New countries invited speakers and provincial Mothers' Unions were established in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Early 20th Century: An increase in the sphere of influence of Mothers' Union. In the years up to World War II Mothers' Union gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, campaigned to raise the minimum age of marriage for women to 16 years of age, gave evidence to the Government on abortion and sent a deputation to the Board of Education on religious education.

1936: Worldwide membership growth and publications such as Families First brought members an awareness of the needs of families in developing countries. The Diamond Jubilee provided the impetus for the first funds granted for support and development work overseas.

1960s &1970s: Modernising and remaining relevant to members saw new initiatives. New programmes were set up to meet the needs of the times: Away From It All Holidays were established so that members could provide holidays for families who would otherwise never have the opportunity. New objects and more relaxed membership rules were introduced and the Mothers' Union prayer was updated.

Late 20th Century: The rapidly changing face of society brought great changes within the Anglican Church and therefore to members of Mothers' Union. New issues, such as the ordination of women, homosexuality, increased awareness of acute poverty in the developing world and our global responsibilities to address the inequalities within both developed and developing world societies all became issues where Mothers' Union members wanted to witness and answer God's call within their sphere of ministry.

2016:  Mothers' Union's range and depth of work far exceeds Mary Sumner's original vision of a circle of prayer upholding family life. It now has four million members in 83 countries. Yet prayer continues to be at the heart of the witness of members who in the Wave of Prayer maintain constant chain of intercession across global membership. Members continue to promote family life through parents' group work, marriage support and advocating for family-supportive policies whilst at the same time upholding families affected by poverty, homelessness, imprisonment, relationship break-down and prison sentences.  This year Mothers' Union will celebrate its 140th anniversary.