Mary Sumner ~ a History

marysumnerAbout Mary Sumner

31 December 1828 – 9 August 1921

1828: Mary Heywood was born in Swinton, near Manchester, into a wealthy and cultured family. Her father was a banker and a scholarly man. Her mother’s family owned land in two counties. Mary grew up in the beautiful surroundings of Hope End, in Herefordshire. Educated at home she spoke three foreign languages and became a very accomplished singer. Yet what she valued most when she reminisced about her family home was its Christian atmosphere.
1848: Coming from such a home it is not perhaps surprising that George Sumner, the youngest son of Charles Sumner, Bishop of Winchester, fell in love with her when they met in Rome where she was completing her musical education. Married at St James, Colwall, they embarked on 61 years of married life.
For nearly thirty years Mary was fully occupied in bringing up their three children and supporting her husband’s ministry, in the parish of Old Alresford near Winchester, by providing music and teaching Bible classes.

1876: Mary decided that a new organisation was needed in the parish and the first branch of Mothers’ Union was begun. She was spurred into action when her eldest daughter gave birth to her first baby. Mary remembered her feelings of inadequacy as a young mother charged with the terrible responsibility for a new life. She believed that women from every class needed to understand that motherhood was a profession and be equipped to perform it. Motherhood involved more than providing for the physical needs of children. The primary responsibility of mothers was to raise their children in the love of God. Mothers could only do this, she believed, if their lives were firmly rooted in prayer.
Her plan for a new form of mothers’ meeting, bringing together mothers of all classes, did not start auspiciously. Having gathered the women of the parish in the Rectory, Mary could not present her ideas due to nerves. She had to call them together again a week later to explain the objects of the new society and to give out simple cards containing practical suggestions.
1885: Perhaps little more would have been heard of this organisation but for Bishop Ernest Wilberforce of Newcastle. Feeling suddenly that he had little of relevance to say to a women’s meeting made up of 1000 poor and anxious women at the Portsmouth Church Congress, he called on Mary to speak. Despite her initial resistance, as at that time respectable women did not address public meetings, she agreed. Painting a picture of the low moral standards in the country, she asked what could be done to improve the national character. Her answer was that the power for change lay in the hands of mothers. If women united in prayer and committed themselves to a Christian life the nation could be transformed.
The meeting responded to her passion and conviction with a rousing ovation. It was on this wave of public enthusiasm that the Bishop of Winchester decided to make Mothers’ Union a diocesan organisation. This decision was destined to change the lives of many far beyond the boundaries of the diocese of Winchester.
1921: On August 9 1921 Mary died at the age of 92. She is buried with her husband, who had died twelve years before, in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral. She is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of the Church of England, Church in Wales and other provinces on the date of her death.

  • ·       Spend time reflecting on Mary Sumner’s personal prayer:


All this day, O Lord,
let me touch as many lives as possible for thee;
and every life I touch, do thou by thy spirit quicken,
whether through the word I speak,
the prayer I breathe,
or the life I live.



Consider how these words are an inspiration today, both for us as individuals and in our work for Mothers’ Union.  Reflect on particular initiatives in your diocese and how through these we can touch lives through our prayers, words and actions. You may like to create a prayer focus which uses the prayer to

highlight and give prayer points for some of your initiatives.



Loving Lord,

We give you thanks for the far-reaching vision

of our founder, Mary Sumner.

We look back with gratitude and praise for her witness,

and for all that has been achieved thus far

in the name of Mothers’ Union worldwide.


As we look forward with faith for all that is to come

help us to build a future together

which will enable our work to flourish;

through far-reaching vision

and commitment to your will.



Mary Sumner


  1. Stella matala
    Posted January 25, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    As mother’s union member in southern Africa (Zambia) and as vice president of mothers union Lusaka archdeaconry am very proud with the works of our founder member and it very encouraging. I pray to the almighty that the can do Gods work in helping women and their families. May their souls Mr and Mrs. Sumner red in internal peace

  2. Ann Fyrette
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I thank God for the work of the Mother’s Union around the world and especially in the Pacific Islands. My mum is a District leader for Mothers Union and i salute her for the great work she has done !. God bless all mothers around the world.

  3. sophia mwaniki
    Posted June 27, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Sophia mwaniki
    as mothers union worker in the province of Kenya,i thank God for the work started by Mary Sumner. Truly motherhood is a professional where mothers don’t graduate. I salute all mothers in Kenya ,Africa and beyond.May God bless the work of mothers union in the world. Our founder R.I.P

  4. Ada Agbasimalo
    Posted March 24, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    My mother in law introduced me to Mary Sumner and made me buy and use a wrapper that has her face on it. In Nigeria where I come from, Mothers’ Union is a strong Anglican factor, held in very high esteem, all courtesy of this godly woman, Mary Sumner. She played her part well on earth and the rest is now God’s to determine. How well are we playing our own part? Rest on Founder!

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