We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Mace, David Robert (1907–1990), Methodist minister and pioneer of the marriage guidance movement, was born at the Wesleyan manse, Rosehill Road, Montrose, on 21 June 1907, the eldest of the two children of Joseph Mace, a working-class and largely self-educated Wesleyan minister who became a significant leader in the Methodist church in Scotland, and his wife, Josephine, née Reid, from a wealthy family in Port Gordon. Afflicted with a congenital deformity of the foot, Mace described himself as a ‘shy, withdrawn, socially awkward boy’ (King, 16) who found the sociability of his parents' home, with constant gathering of congregants challenging. His father's intellectualism and religious commitments were nevertheless major influences. Frequent school moves (Inverness Academy; Hyndland school, Glasgow; then a day school in London) were necessitated by his father's changing ministerial appointments. In negotiating these disruptions, a wide variety of sport and church activities, such as the Boys' Brigade, provided solace.

Mace entered the University of London at the age of seventeen to study for a bachelor of science degree, with the intention of working in radio technology. Nevertheless, his involvement in the Methodist young men's movement and his enduring admiration for his father led to the development of a passion for mission and a decision to enter the Methodist ministry. After graduating from London in 1927, he was offered for the Wesleyan Methodist ministry at Cambridge University (commencing in 1928) and served as the part-time pastor of three churches outside London. His two years in Cambridge were filled with studies, sport, and intense activity within the Young Laymen's League, which led to his decision to become a foreign missionary in India. Notification of his appointment, instead, as a teaching missionary in China was profoundly disappointing and led to his taking on an alternative ‘missionary’ role to the working class at the South London Mission in the Old Kent Road, in succession to Donald Soper.

During this time Mace began to correspond with the collaborator in his life's work. Vera Chapman [ [married name Mace] (1902–2008)], was born at 31 Ganton Place, Leeds, Yorkshire, on 24 January 1902, the elder of two children of George Henry Chapman, a builder's foreman and later master builder in stone, involved in the construction of large municipal and university buildings in Yorkshire, and his wife, Caroline née Hodgson. She was very close to her father, but had a strained relationship with her mother, whose domesticity Vera did not share, though her mother's hearing impairment and eventual deafness was also a contributing factor. Vera herself was born with an arched roof structure in her mouth, a hereditary condition which affected her speech and made her particularly appreciative of the written word; she took refuge in literature. Her father was a Methodist, and her mother an Anglican, but neither was fervent and sent the children to Sunday schools to get them out of the house on Sunday afternoons. During adolescence she developed strong religious convictions. Her father provided emotional and financial support when she decided to take a teacher training course, obtaining her diploma from Bingley Teachers' College in 1923.

Vera Chapman's first post was Primrose Hill School in Leeds, where she taught for six years. She found in the Methodist tradition a recognition that women had a role in church work, and joined the Girls' League, established under the auspices of the Methodist Missionary Society. Subsequently becoming a lay preacher, she would have desired ordination, then still closed to women in the Methodist church, but instead, in 1929, became the full-time general executive secretary of the Girls' League of England which necessitated relocation to London. In 1933, during her fourth, and last, year as executive secretary, she became a member of a committee appointed to examine the role of women in ministry in the Methodist church.

Mace and Chapman were married at Walworth Methodist Church, Southwark, on 26 July 1933, the day after Mace's ordination. The years served in the deprived area of the Old Kent Road were seminal in the realization of the Maces' ‘joint life purpose’ in the creation and provision of marriage counselling. He recalled that in ministering to people living in conditions of extreme economic and social distress, during the depression years, the factor that distinguished those who coped from those who did not was the quality of their family life: ‘Going a little deeper, I saw that nothing seemed to equal the power of a truly happy marriage to keep people going under great stress’ (Mace, ‘The man, the book, the message’, 13).

Mace's own happy marriage and family formation was the focus of the next few years, with a ministry at Stonehouse, Gloucestershire (1934–6), and a year as chaplain and teacher at Wycliffe College (1936), during which time his first child, Sheila, was born; a second daughter, Fiona, followed three years later in 1938. He was identified as something of a young prodigy in the Methodist church, a preacher who spoke with ‘fire and passion: like a man aflame with zeal’ (Methodist Recorder, 10 Jan 1990, 18). He was given charge of the North London Mission in 1937, one of the largest Methodist congregations in London, encompassing the Archway Central Hall and a complex of shops, offices, and cinemas which generated substantial income to support its evangelical efforts, particularly with youth, in the capital. As a thirty-year-old superintendent, David Mace began an informal counselling ministry at Archway, and in 1938 was invited by the Revd Dr Herbert Gray (1868–1956) to an informal planning meeting for professionals interested in improving marriage and family life, which led to the establishment of the Marriage Guidance Council.

The Second World War interrupted both the Maces' family and professional life. Vera evacuated with their daughters to America in 1940 and lived with former Cambridge friends while, as breadwinner and primary parent, she undertook a master's degree in systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, where she held a scholarship. Her thesis was on ‘A theological and historical study of the Christian institution of marriage’.

David Mace resigned his pastorate in September 1940, in part due to tensions within the church around his preaching of pacifism and his activities with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. An appointment as pastor of the Newmarket Mission in Cambridgeshire, with responsibility for seven weekend churches serviced from his parent's residence in Buxton, Derbyshire, enabled him to self-fund his doctoral studies at the University of Manchester between 1940 and 1942. Literature for this research was chiefly supplied by the library of the Eugenics Society, which he joined in October 1940. He explained that he had:
given up my church … because I am so convinced that the forging of a newer view of marriage and family life will be one of the vital elements in the task of post-war reconstruction. And I believe someone in the Church must get ready now to give a lead later. (Wellcome Trust, SA/EUG/C.218:Box AMS/MF/111)
The dissertation that emerged from reading the works of sexologists and eugenicists like Ellis, Stopes, Kinsey, Kay, and Griffith was entitled ‘Origins of the Christian sex ethic’ and was largely supervised by T. W. Manson and Stanley Cook at Cambridge.

Following the completion of his studies, David Mace reconvened the Marriage Guidance Council in 1942. Assuming the role of secretary until 1949 (with Gray as chairman), he set up an experimental guidance centre in the West End of London (using the Tavistock selection process and American counselling models), and asked doctors, ministers, and other lay counsellors to volunteer. Vera Mace returned to Britain in 1944 to assist with the venture, arranging lectures on marriage and family, and began work on her own doctorate, though this was never finished. Husband and wife were overwhelmed by referrals and press publicity. Mace received permission from the Methodist conference to work with the council for one year full time, and he developed plans for the expansion of marriage guidance centres throughout England (culminating in government support, in 1945), and published the first of his thirty-three subsequent books, Does Sex Morality Matter? (1943).

When called upon to resume pastoral ministry, Mace made a submission that his ministry was best realized through the work of the Marriage Guidance Council and when this was not sanctioned, he submitted his resignation and his ordination was revoked. Over two decades later in 1972, and following an intervening period when he and Vera became Quakers, Mace's ordination was reinstated and he was relisted as a supernumerary minister with permission to remain abroad. However, his formal removal from circuit ministry in 1948 enabled Mace to devote his full-time attention to marriage guidance and he attained considerable public prominence through his ‘clear-cut, no-nonsense stand on chastity and fidelity, together with his willingness to be radical when talking of the importance of sex in marriage and of allied issues of birth control, sexual technique and even divorce’ (Lewis, Clark, and Morgan, 70). His gruelling speaking and writing schedule included a weekly column on family life in a London newspaper, The Star, a BBC radio talk show, Coming Home, and authorship of two highly influential books, Marriage Counselling (1948) and Marriage Crisis (1948). This expertise in marriage and family issues was recognized internationally, when Mace addressed a White House conference on the family in 1947, and when he and Vera helped to organize the International Union of Family Organizations in Paris in 1948.

When David Mace was invited by the Methodist Drew University to serve as a visiting professor in 1949, the family returned to America and he accepted a chair at Drew as professor of human relations, which he held until 1958. He managed a schedule of nine months' teaching, allowing the family to return to England annually and retain close ties with elderly parents and the Marriage Guidance Council. To this schedule was added a series of international consultancies—to South Africa (1954), Australia and New Zealand (1956)—and co-authorship of the first of many publications with Vera, including comparative studies, such as Marriage: East and West (1960). Academic appointments as associate professor of family studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (1959–60) and as professor of sociology at Wake Forest University (1967–73) were interspersed with worldwide tours, conferences, lectures, and practical work. This included joint directorship (with Vera Mace) of the American Association of Marriage Counsellors (1960–67), the founding of Parents without Partners (1964), and the establishment of the Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment (ACME, 1973–9).

The energy, enthusiasm, and expertise of husband and wife was also harnessed by a variety of Christian organizations throughout this period, such as the World Council of Churches—in Thailand (1958), the Caribbean (1964), and the Pacific (1969)—the Southern Baptist conference on family life—published as The Church Looks at Family Life (1964) and Marriage Enrichment in the Church (1977)—and training programmes in 1966 for Methodist pastors (which evolved into the marriage communication labs co-ordinated by the United Methodist Church). Another influential publication, The Christian Response to the Sexual Revolution (1971), emerged from his Samuel Robinson lectures at Wake Forest University in 1969.

After David Mace suffered a severe heart attack in 1969, he and Vera curtailed their international travel and exacting workload and concentrated on writing, the development of ACME, and the provision of retreats and courses on marriage enrichment, education, and conflict, resulting in their co-authored publication, How to Have a Happy Marriage (1979). David Mace died at their retirement home in Black Mountain, North Carolina, on 1 December 1990. After his death Vera Mace moved to Burlington, Vermont, where she died on 22 July 2008, having celebrated her 106th birthday.

The ACME centre in Winston-Salem became an international training headquarters for over sixty centres worldwide. It represented a lasting legacy of the Maces' pioneering work in the development of marriage guidance and enrichment, and in the evolution of relationship counselling in Britain, continued through the Marriage Guidance Council's successor organization, Relate.

Alana Harris


R. E. King, ‘A critical assessment of the lifework of David and Vera Mace with implications for pastoral care of families’, DPhil diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980 · D. R. Mace, ‘The man, the book, the message’, in A. H. Gray, Men, women and God: a discussion of sex questions from the Christian point of view, rev. edn (1987), 9–30 · J. Lewis, D. Clark, and D. J. J. Morgan, ‘Whom God hath joined together’: the work of marriage guidance (1992) · Wellcome L., SA/EUG/C.218, box AMS/MF/111; SA/FPA/A14/57, box 358 · D. R. Mace, Marriage counselling: the first full account of the remedial work of the marriage guidance councils (1948) · Methodist Recorder (10 Jan 1990) · New York Times (14 Nov 1983) · Christian Century (16 Jan 1991) · Who's who in Methodism (1933) · b. cert. [Vera Chapman] · m. cert.


Better Marriages, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA [formerly Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment] · Drew University Library, New Jersey, USA, Drew University Archives · Wellcome L., SA/FPA/A14/57, box 358 |  LMA, WL, records of the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene, 1913–1956; marriage and divorce, corresp., 3AMS/B/09/05 · LMA, GB/NNAF/C40397 NMGC · TNA: PRO, HO 45/25202–3 · Wellcome L., SA/EUG/C.218, box AMS/MF/111


group portrait, photograph, Better Marriages (formerly Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment), Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA