In the Beginning.

posted by: Joan Vine | on: Wednesday, 19 September 2018, 21:27


Mary Elizabeth Townsend founder of the GFS

Mary Elizabeth Townsend founder of the GFS

In a book entitled ‘A History of the Mothers’ Union’ by Cordelia Moyse, (Boydell Press) Ms Moyse goes into Mary Sumner’s background and endeavours to explain the motivation that lead to the Mothers’ Union being started up.

The writer informs us that a church organisation called the Girls Friendly Society had been formed in England in January 1875 by a Mary Elizabeth Townsend, an Irish clergyman’s daughter who was married to the wealthy Frederick Townsend. The society was strongly supported by the Anglican church in a bid to protect young working-class girls who had to leave home in order to get work in urban areas. Older and more experienced women were enlisted into the GFS to help the young girls stay on the narrow path of purity and to give them an insight into the work of the church. They also sought to provide accommodation for those young women who were alone.

We are told that Mary Sumner was very interested in the work of the GFS and joined early in its formation, holding a number of positions in the society until in 1887 when she became the Diocesan President… The book states that somewhere around this time Mary Sumner was approached by the Bishop to give an address to a meeting of young, poor women. At the meeting to which the Bishop attended, she voiced her opinion that to keep young women pure they would need the help, support and guidance of their own mothers’, for as Mary said, that without their mother’s help the chances of helping these girls was virtually impossible, so it seems that although Mary was very much involved with the GFS she felt that the mothers of these young girls should get instruction as to how to bring up their children to live a pure life and be active in the life and work of the church… This idea was greatly applauded by the hierarchy of the church and was quickly awarded church-status and approval.

The book doesn’t state exactly when the MU started officially but it was noted that Mary Sumner had been inviting local women into her and her husband’s home to hold talks and discussions on how to bring their children up in the Christian Faith through true prayer and Christian fellowship. The book then jumps to January 1888 by saying that the new MU organisation had expanded rapidly and had already been taken up in 18 Diocese and had established 57 branches in Winchester alone… Truly fascinating! Will have to write some more about this interesting story.


 Posted: 19 Sep 2018 | There are 0 comments


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