Mary Sumner:
: Religion, Mission, Education and Womanhood 1876-1921

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Mary Sumner (1828-1921) founded the Anglican Mothers’ Union, which originated as a parish mothers’ meeting in 1876, and followed the Girls’ Friendly Society as the second women’s organisation to be sanctioned by the Church of England. By 1921, the Mothers’ Union had a membership extending across the British Empire and transnationally. Mary Sumner sought to educate mothers in Christian values and pedagogy so that they might educate their children to be future citizens of empire. Her life trajectory occurred against a context of evangelical religious revival, contest over matters of doctrinal authority, the proliferation of women’s philanthropy, the growth of the British Empire and changes in education characterised by state intervention in working-class elementary schooling and the negotiation of educational provision for middle- class girls. This thesis uses primary source material to build on institutional histories of the Mothers’ Union to situate Mary Sumner in networks, emphasise gender and class as mediating of opportunity, and envisage her religious ‘mission’ as educational. The thesis draws on the thinking tools of Pierre Bourdieu, habitus, field and capital, to analyse Mary Sumner’s negotiation of constraint and agency in relation to the fields of religion, mission (understood as religious and philanthropic activism ‘at home’ and overseas) and education through which womanhood runs as a connecting theme. Bourdieu’s concept of reproduction is used to position Mary Sumner in relation to the operation of power across domestic, local and global spaces. The thesis concludes that using Bourdieu’s ‘thinking tools’ highlights how Mary Sumner used opportunities for women within her temporal and socio-cultural context in ways that were complicit with notions of womanhood reflective of patriarchal domination and accepting of hierarchies of class and ‘race’, yet were innovative in her achievement of access for an organisation of women within Anglicanism that was recognised for its educational work.
Date of Award27 May 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorJoyce Goodman (Supervisor), Camilla Leach (Supervisor) & Janice De Sousa (Supervisor)

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