This week Peeps into the Past is taking a look at the history of the Mothers’ Union, a worldwide organisation of four million members originally set up by a Hampshire vicar’s wife.

The group – a Christian charity linked to the Anglican Church – was founded in 1876, by Mary Sumner, the wife of the Rector of the parish of Old Alresford and the first meeting was held in the rectory.

It came about after her eldest daughter, Margaret, gave birth. Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood and decided to hold a meeting of mothers in the parish to offer mutual support. 

Mary was passionate about transforming the home lives of parish families by helping women to support one another in raising their children. 

Her plan was quite radical in its day as it involved calling women of all social classes to support one another and to see motherhood as a profession as important as those of men, if not more so.

For Mary, faith was the foundation of family life and although some of her principles might strike us as being socially conservative now, she was not afraid to act outside of the strict social norms of her day to do what she believed to be right. 

For example, at a time when unmarried girls with children were condemned and cast out, she cared for and protected her niece and her illegitimate son.

From 1900 onwards, Mary and the members of her Union of Mothers started to advocate on issues of key importance to families and children – they campaigned to stop children collecting alcohol from public houses for their families, and for the age of marriage for girls to be raised from 12 to 16. 

Mary was not afraid to tackle difficult issues, despite resistance from members of the establishment, and today the Mothers’ Union ( continues to campaign on issues of social justice, including working for women’s and girls’ rights across the globe and for an end to gender-based violence.