Archive of the Mothers' Union

Reference code(s): GB 109
Held at: Lambeth Palace Library
Domain: archival
Title: Archive of the Mothers' Union
Date(s) of contents: c.1890-c.2000
Level of description: Fonds
Extent and medium: 313 volumes, 2144 files, 40 plans, 5 posters and 2 card indices


Name of creator(s):

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.

Custodial history: 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 in June 2008.


Scope and content/abstract: Records of the headquarters of the Mothers' Union, Mary Sumner House, Westminster: minutes, correspondence, accounts, pamphlets, architectual plans, photographs and slides. 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.

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.


Language: English unless otherwise stated

Conditions governing access: 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: 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).


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). The journals of the Mothers' Union (Mothers' Union Journal, Mothers in Council, Workers' Paper, Mothers' Union News, Home and Family, Overseas News Bulletin, Overseas News Extra, Overseas News Digest, World-Wide News and Encompass) are included on the Library's printed books catalogue. Other printed 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 & Brewer, 2009).


Archivist's note: 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.

Date(s) of descriptions: May 2010

Church of England
Home mission administration
Missionary work
Religious institutions
Women's missionary work

Personal names
Lancaster | Violet
Moyse | Cordelia
Sumner | Mary | 1828-1921 | founder of the Mothers' Union

Corporate names
Mothers’ Union | 1876-

Western Europe