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A History of the Mothers' Union

A History of the Mothers' Union: Women, Anglicanism and Globalisation, 1876-2008

Archbishop of Canterbury
Jane Williams
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    A History of the Mothers' Union
    Book Description:

    This book tells the story of how a parish women's meeting started in 1876 by a Victorian vicar's wife is now the most authentic and powerful organization of women in the new global Christianity. Its cross-disciplinary approach examines how religious faith and shifting ideologies of womanhood and motherhood in the imperial and post colonial worlds acted as a source of empowerment for conservative women in their homes, communities and churches. In contrast to much of feminist history, A History of the Mothers' Union 1876-2008: Women, Anglicanism and Globalisation shows how the beliefs of ordinary women led them to become advocates and activists long before women had the vote or could be ordained priests. Having survived an identity crisis over social and theological liberalism in the 1960s, the Mothers' Union provides a model of unity and reconciled diversity for a divided world wide church. Today it is hailed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and international development practitioners as an outstanding example of global Christian engagement with poverty and social transformation issues at the grass roots. The material is arranged both thematically and chronologically. Case studies of Australia, Ghana and South Africa trace how the Mothers' Union arrived with white British women but evolved into indigenous organizations. CORDELIA MOYSE is Adjunct Professor of Church History at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Lancaster, PA, USA.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-735-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Archbishop Rowan and Jane Williams

    The Mothers’ Union is one of the most distinctive aspects of the Anglican ‘brand’ throughout the world; it has even been described – not quite in jest – as the fifth Instrument of Communion for the Anglican family (along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council). Yet for many people outside the Church and probably quite a few within it, the Mothers’ Union is part of a cluster of stereotypes, along with pale young curates and angelic but unruly choristers, reflecting a quaint but long-outdated model of church life. It would be dangerously...

    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. 1-14)

    History books tend to be written for one of two reasons. The author is seeking either to correct what was wrong in a previous teller’s tale, or to tell a new tale, which will cast new light on historical developments and open up new fields of enquiry. This book on the Mothers’ Union falls largely into the second category. The audience for which it is written is primarily that of historians of women, the Church and the British Empire.

    It is an unlikely story that begins in 1876 in a vicarage drawing-room in rural England with a nervous rector’s wife...

  8. Part II, 1910–1944

    • CHAPTER 5 Identity and Spirituality
      (pp. 97-115)

      Prior to 1912 the MU’s spirituality was largely that of a movement rather than an institution. While a common prayer life and mission were articulated in publications, there was little evidence that the MU was a coherent group of devout Christian women.¹ It was only in the years after 1910 that the MU became a recognisable Anglican institution. Previously this was an implied identity but not one fully worked out or widely understood and accepted within the organisation. The intensity of the debates on the MU’s identity throughout the period and the resulting outcomes reveal that the MU was far...

    • CHAPTER 6 Marriage and Family Life
      (pp. 116-139)

      In addition to spirituality another key to unlocking the evolving identity of the MU as a maturing organisation is to be found in its attempts to influence public policy. After the presidency of Mary Sumner in 1909, the MU established an increasingly high profile in political and social debates concerning marriage and family life. The vision as well as the machinery that underpinned it owed much to Sumner’s immediate successor as Central President, the Dowager Countess of Chichester. Sumner had shrunk ‘from touching on the sad side of life’.¹ Chichester by contrast, with her background as a clergy wife in...

    • CHAPTER 7 Membership and Worldwide Work
      (pp. 140-158)

      Between 1910 and 1940 the MU experienced an eight-fold increase in the number of overseas members. Overseas membership stood at just under 80,000 in 1940 and represented around 12 per cent of the total membership. Formerly expansion overseas had been largely driven by the enthusiasm of expatriates in British colonies to secure the benefits of the MU for themselves while they were so far away from home. Now the combined drive of missionary-minded women and the imperial vision of the Central MU worked together to create and nurture an indigenous overseas membership. The shift is most clearly illustrated by the...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  9. Part III, 1945–1974

    • CHAPTER 8 Identity and Spirituality
      (pp. 161-186)

      The MU entered the post-war world with a renewed sense of its mission to the nation. Wartime bombing, evacuation and conscription had disrupted the domestic and community lives of millions. At the same time traditional constraints around sexual activity and alcohol consumption, particularly among the young and women, had weakened. In 1944 the radical Bishop of Birmingham, Ernest Barnes, when surveying family life, claimed that many families had ‘disintegrated’ in the face of total warfare. His remedy for all its consequent social evils ‘was that national home life should be re-established as rapidly as possible’. This was a view shared...

    • CHAPTER 9 Marriage and Family Life
      (pp. 187-201)

      From the vantage point of 1944 it was not unreasonable for the MU leadership to have some confidence that its views on women, the family and on Christian faith in daily life were still widely shared and would inform public policy. The longing for an end to war was often fed by a desire for home and hearth with family members resuming their traditional gender roles. It was possible to see Christianity as standing at the heart of the nation’s life. At an ideological level the Second World War had been seen as moral struggle between ‘Christian’ civilisation and the...

    • CHAPTER 10 Membership and Worldwide Work
      (pp. 202-220)

      Adaptation, identity and loyalty were the key and increasingly interrelated issues the MU needed to address as a worldwide organisation in this period. Some form of adaptation was required for the post-war ecclesial and secular international environments in which the MU operated bore little resemblance to their pre-war counterparts. Ideas of independence and liberation took hold in non-Western countries which were once colonised or feudal societies with the result that as different peoples assumed new identities the political map of the world was redrawn. For the MU the single most dramatic event which affected its mission followed the establishment of...

  10. Part IV, 1975–2008

    • CHAPTER 11 Mission and Spirituality in a Global Age
      (pp. 223-244)

      The MU was virtually born again in 1974. Its new constitution gave it five new objects through which it was to express its mission to marriage and family life. For members in the British Isles 1974 marked the official end of the MU’s 80-year obsession with a ‘pure’ membership engaged in resisting all divorce. Instead the MU took on a new pastoral commitment to supporting people whatever their domestic situation rather than seeking to impose one model of the ideal relationship. For members across the world the MU created its own post-colonial era, with overseas MU councils having the opportunity...

    (pp. 245-252)

    The Mothers’ Union, now well into its second century, enjoys an unprecedented longevity and popularity for an international, voluntary, mass membership organisation. Within the Church of England, the Church of England’s Men’s Society collapsed decades ago and the Girls’ Friendly Society, although operating in 23 countries, has 40 parish branches in England and Wales, making it largely invisible and unknown within the Church of England. Further afield the Union of Catholic Mothers and the Catholic Women’s League have almost disappeared.¹ The only secular society to which the Mothers’ Union could be compared is the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI),...

  12. APPENDIX 1: Text of Early Membership Cards
    (pp. 253-255)
  13. APPENDIX 2: Development of the Mothers’ Union’s Prayer
    (pp. 256-257)
  14. APPENDIX 3: Midday Prayers (original)
    (pp. 258-258)
  15. APPENDIX 4: Development of the objects
    (pp. 259-260)
  16. APPENDIX 5: Biographical Notes on Central and Worldwide Presidents
    (pp. 261-267)
    (pp. 268-281)
  18. Index
    (pp. 282-288)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-292)