9 August Mary Sumner

In Mary Sumners Footsteps logo blueMary Sumner (1828 – 1921) during her long life became the originator of the Mothers’ Union.

In the Wikipedia there is a long description of her life and background (which is as Anglican as one can get!) but in the Oxford Dictionary of Biographies Database (login required) there is even more fascinating insight to find.  

A few short quotes:

Then her husband became archdeacon, entailing a move to Winchester Cathedral Close; further preferment came with his appointment as suffragan bishop of Guildford, but they still resided at 1 The Close. Relieved of parochial duties, Mary Sumner concentrated on her ideas for a network of mothers' groups which would help women deepen their spiritual lives through Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. The groups would benefit both church and society, strengthening family life through material influence for good and providing a meeting-ground for women of different social classes”.


Meetings were interdenominational, concentrating on devotional and practical topics. 

What I found fascinating is that the categories in Wikipedia put Sumner under “British women's rights activists” and “Feminist theology”. No special reason is given for this, but it might be found in what the modern Mothers’ Union writes about the way the union works (emphasis theirs):
“The first is the centrality of prayer to all we do.
The second is how members enable individuals, families, and communities to discover and utilise the skills and knowledge that they possess, which are culturally relevant and appropriate for their circumstances.
The third is campaigning to challenge the mechanisms that perpetuate social injustices”.

I think that the last point might have been in the background of Mary Sumner’s thinking.  Even in 1876 when the first meetings began, as her biographer Pamela Johnston writes:  “boldly crossing the social boundaries, she invited the ‘cottage mothers’, whose long working hours in the fields provoked her concern”.

In St Mary’s congregation we, at this moment, do not have a Mothers’ Union group.  I think though that this way of working for peace and well–being is as needed and as worthwhile it has been since Mary Sumner’s start of the Mothers’ Union.


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