Born on 25th of August 1876
Died on 20th of December 1928
Born 1876. Died 1928 - English philanthropist.Save the Children's first leader and inspiration was Eglantyne Jebb. She and her sister started Save the Children in 1919 and in 1923 she drafted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, laying the foundations for Save the Children's continuing mission. The declaration was adopted by the League of Nations and later formed the basis of the current UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Eglantyne Jebb was born in 1876. As a child, she lived in Ellesmere, Shropshire. The grounds of her family's large country house provided the backdrop of many adventurous games and mock battles with her brothers and sisters. She also enjoyed making up stories and telling them to her siblings.
As a young woman, she enjoyed riding and swimming. In later life a colleague recalls that she would use official visits to Save the Children's new school at Broadstairs as a chance to have a swim in the sea. She had a lifelong enjoyment of taking long walks in the countryside and during her years in Geneva loved following the mountain paths in the area. She famously drafted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child while walking on Mount Salève. Encouraged by her father she was also a great reader and continued to write her own material, also venturing into poetry.
In 1895 she went to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to study history. There she met other young people interested in social issues, and enjoyed the open atmosphere of learning and debate. Contemporary photos show an elegantly dressed, tall young woman. However Eglantyne's tastes were simple and she was always fierce in her condemnation of the waste of unnecessary luxuries.
Eglantyne's sister, Dorothy Buxton, once said of her sister "the desire to do something useful left her no peace." This need first found expression in her short career as a teacher. She trained to be a primary school teacher at Stockwell in London and spent just over a year at a school at Marlborough, in Wiltshire. She found the physical conditions of teaching difficult and was disturbed by the lack of resources available to the school. But she became fond of her pupils and was horrified by the poverty in which some of them lived.
Quotes from Eglantyne's teaching career
Eglantyne left Marlborough when the physical rigours of teaching became too much for her. She went to live in Cambridge with her mother and became involved in the work of the Charity Organisation Society in Cambridge. This organisation had been set up to encourage the running of charities on scientific lines, basing their work on a proper analysis of need rather than the often well-meaning but impractical methods that were common in the charity sector at the time. In 1906, she published the fruits of her research into poverty in the city - Cambridge: A Study in Social Questions.
In 1912, war broke out in the Balkans. Greece and Serbia were intent on expanding their territory into Macedonia, at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Consequently the civilian population, especially in Macedonia, suffered terribly.
Eglantyne worked in Macedonia for the Macedonian Relief Fund distributing money for the relief of refugees. She travelled in the area and was shaken by the devastation the war had wrought, the suffering of the refugees displaced from their homes and her inability to do enough to help them: "I must get back to England," she wrote. "The people are dying, dying, dying."
Her report back to the Macedonian Relief Fund showed that she had already formed strong opinions about what should be done to help civilians caught up in conflict. She insisted that more than short-term relief was needed. What the people needed was constructive aid. They needed homes, and land to cultivate to help themselves. She urged the Fund to organise a scheme for the settlement of refugees on the land. All this experience later informed her work with Save the Children.
The Great War broke out in 1914. From the start the UK newspapers were full of propaganda and there was very little reliable news of what was really happening in Europe. Eglantyne's sister Dorothy Buxton formed and led a team translating and publishing newspapers from Europe, including papers from Germany and Austria-Hungary, for the Cambridge Magazine. Eglantyne was one of the team who worked long hours in the attic of Dorothy's home, translating the original newspapers. She knew both French and German, so made a useful member of the team.
As the war progressed the Allied blockade of supplies to the central powers began to have devastating effects on their populations, especially the children. Even when the war had ended, the blockade dragged on as the Allied governments sought to force the Germans and Austro-Hungarians to agree to a peace treaty.
Eglantyne and Dorothy's circle were among those outraged that such suffering should continue to be inflicted on innocent civilians. The election of 1918 brought to power a government determined to "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked." At the beginning of 1919, Dorothy and Eglantyne were among the founders of the Fight the Famine Council, which was formed to lobby the government to end the blockade and to push for the establishment of the League of Nations.
Eglantyne's desire fight for justice on this occasion led to her arrest. During a Fight the Famine rally in Trafalgar Square she was arrested for distributing the leaflet A Starving Baby, which had not been cleared as complying with the Defence of the Realm Act by the government censors. She was fined £5. During the court case she reputedly approached the prosecuting lawyer and asked him for a donation to the new venture for the Fight the Famine Council - The Save the Children Fund.
Save the Children was set up as a committee to raise money to send food to the suffering countries in Europe. It was launched at a packed Royal Albert Hall in London on 19 May 1919.
People in the UK were exhausted by the long war with the central powers. Many of them had lost loved ones in the fighting and could not be expected to feel kindly towards their former enemies. However, there was a mood of reconciliation in the country and a sizeable minority of people were willing to give generously to help children starving in the former enemy countries. The number of families and particularly children who had lost fathers and brothers during the war and were still willing to donate money touched and impressed the pioneers of Save the Children. Many other families offered money as a thank offering for the safe return of loved ones from the war.
The public's early generosity, which raised £400,000 in 1919, was further encouraged by a campaign of press advertising, which began in March 1920. This was Eglantyne Jebb's idea. She saw that Save the Children should be a modern, businesslike organisation.
This professionalism was showing as early as 1922. Save the Children had already become one of the UK's biggest charities, with a high reputation for delivering assistance speedily and at low cost. When famine struck the Volga region of Russia in 1921, the organisation was able to point out that it could feed children there for just a shilling [five pence] a week. Save the Children's highly efficient relief operation in Saratov province, Russia was professionally run.
Again, Eglantyne mobilised all the modern media at her disposal to raise money. Although the advertising presented heart-rending images of starving children and desperate parents, not all publicity was based on immediate emotional appeal. G.H. Mewes was dispatched to Russia to film not just the famine and its pathetic victims, but the children on the road to recovery and something of the agriculture on which life alongside the Volga was based.
Professionalism and accountability were vital, as once again Eglantyne and Save the Children were opposing what was supposedly popular sentiment, this time against the Bolsheviks. In the press, notably the Daily Express there was a questioning of Save the Children's motives, its finances and whether the food aid was indeed getting through. Save the Children was by this time so large and successful and working in such diverse areas that Eglantyne was reliant upon many people, both professionals and volunteers -"schemers, defenders and friends" - working in the field and in the headquarters.
She inspired them all by her own devotion to "the movement". Never very strong, she suffered from a thyroid problem that caused her increasing difficulties. Tall thin and by this time white-haired, she was nicknamed "The White Flame" by a co-worker and this name stuck as colleague after colleague marvelled at the willpower and vision that kept her going.
At this time, Save the Children was diversifying from emergency relief work to give support for more constructive projects. A project particularly dear to Eglantyne's heart was the work school run in Budapest by Julie Eve Vajkai. The two women were great friends and enjoyed a mutual respect. The work school was run along principles of mutual help and co-operation. The children worked in teams to learn handicraft skills because they were too old for school and too young to be apprenticed. The more able children helped the less able. Team leaders amongst the children dealt with minor discipline and all the children had a say in their school life.
Eglantyne was delighted by these international links. She was a passionate internationalist. She wanted worldwide co-operation to help and speak for children. In 1920, she took the first step in this direction by setting up the Save the Children International Union. This, she intended, should be a co-operative body of child welfare agencies that not only distributed funds but also would act as a centre for research and development in the area of children's welfare. It should aim to help children in every country, without racial, sectarian or political bias. And it should be a society of equals working together for all the world's children.
It was clear to Eglantyne Jebb that unless Save the Children was more than an emergency relief organisation its income would be bound to fall. The pioneering work that she dreamed of and that had just been started would be threatened as receipts dried up. She therefore looked at ways of turning Save the Children into an organisation that would speak for and publicise the needs and welfare of all children.
Her response was typically bold and visionary. She planned an initiative that would ensure that the rights and welfare of children continued to be major issues around the world. Her unique vision was a simple statement of rights that would have a claim on everybody dealing with children, not just the wealthy or the powerful.
Eglantyne's Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted and promoted by the International Save the Children Union. Within a year at had been adopted by the League of Nations and had achieved lasting international significance. The present UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is derived from Eglantyne's original inspiration.
Recession in England, followed by worldwide depression, meant that the Fund's income quickly fell to a fraction of what it had been, and was to take many years to recover. The organisation might easily have closed down. Thanks to Eglantyne's vision, however, Save the Children had a powerful and clearly defined mission upon which to focus. This enabled it to continue to pioneer and to campaign for positive change for children.
Life with Miss Jebb as she struggled to achieve this mission was never dull. Contemporaries speak of her determination not to depart from her ideals, whatever the reason. They also speak of her charisma and her humour that more often then persuaded people to her case.
Eglantyne was a committed Christian, but as with her internationalist views had no truck with sectarian divisions. She visited the pope in person in 1919 to persuade him to appeal on behalf of Save the Children. However she also preached at St Peter's Cathedral in Calvin's Geneva in 1924. She spoke out passionately for the cause of children around the world.
As well as promoting the Declaration around the world, Save the Children continued to carry out pioneering work. It carried out research and published the results; its journal, The World's Children, became a publication of record on the question of children's welfare; and through the International Union, the first International Child Welfare Congress was organised in 1925.
The problems of refugees continued to bother Eglantyne. She had first hand experience of their suffering in Macedonia in 1913 and in 1925 she was persuaded to visit the Balkans to see for herself the plight of refugees following the exchange of populations there. She had been an advocate of permanent solutions for refugees, rather than simple emergency relief. During 1925 Save the Children bought some land in Bulgaria, drained it, and built houses and farms on it. They settled a group of landless refugees in this village, and handed it over to them to run, and to support themselves and their families.
Ten years of work for Save the Children had undermined Eglantyne's fragile health. She would never give up. By now she was an Assessor for the League of Nations child protection committee. She felt that it was vital to look outside Europe, which was beginning to get back on its feet and to work with all children. She passionately wanted to turn that hope into reality. She started to learn Chinese and talked of visiting India when her health improved.
Sadly, even Eglantyne could not keep going forever. She became very unwell in Geneva towards the end of 1928 and in spite of the hope of her friends she died after a stroke on 17 December 1928. She was only 52 years old. Friends and co-workers filled St Peters for her funeral and in London a simultaneous service was held at St Martin in the Fields. Save the Children's staff from the London headquarters were amongst a large congregation, including Edith Lawrence, who recalled being taken on for a maximum of 6 week by Miss Jebb back in 1919. A few months later, Save the Children celebrated its tenth anniversary.
Eglantyne Jebb was a remarkable woman by the standards of any age. Courageous, determined and with a vision of an organisation dedicated to defending the rights of the world's children in every continent, she was years ahead of her time, both in the span of her ambition and the methodology she proposed to achieve it. For years after her death, those who had known her laboured to keep the flame alive within the organisation and even today, Save the Children bears the distinct stamp of the woman who founded it, and is still working to turn her vision into a reality.
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