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EGLANTYNE JEBB
1876 - 1928

Eglantyne as a young girl

Saving Children

Tomboy

Slim and tall, Eglantyne Jebb was a tomboy with delicate features and copper-red hair. She grew up in a country house with six brothers and sisters and liked to read, ride, daydream and lead her siblings on outings. She read history at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and took honours in modern history before training to become a primary school teacher. But after a year’s teaching she knew it wasn't what she wanted.

A dead-end and a new beginning

She faced the fact she had come to a dead end, and moved to Cambridge to live with her mother, who needed help. In Cambridge she became interested in taking a scientific approach to helping people in need, and in 1906 she published Cambridge, a Study in Social
Questions
. It was a lucid and compassionate manual and treatise, but nothing much came of it.

Meanwhile, she had fallen in love, but had not had her love returned, and she felt tired all the time. She blamed herself for being lazy. She did not realise that she had an undiagnosed medical problem.

For the next six years she cared for her mother, and engaged in works of personal charity. In 1913, on the eve of World War One, the organisers of the Macedonian Relief Fund, who had been impressed with her problem-solving approach, asked her to travel to Macedonia to investigate.

She went immediately, and learned how tangled up religion and politics could be. She reported on conditions, and threw herself into raising funds for Macedonian relief efforts.

A vision and responding to World War One

Sometime during her twenties, Eglantyne saw a vision of Christ. It was a life-affirming experience, and in years to come, whenever she faced a challenge or a question, she would ask herself, what Christ would do?

With the beginning of World War One, war fever swept Europe. Hoping to moderate the polarization and enmity between two warring sides, Eglantyne helped her sister Dorothy Buxton to edit weekly ‘Notes from the foreign press’ in the Cambridge Magazine. As the war ended, they learned about the plight of children in Germany and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The government was adamant that they would not aid their defeated enemy, but Eglantyne and Dorothy defiantly decided to launch an appeal for the children at the Royal Albert Hall. Eglantyne was arrested, but the British public responded, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds overnight. Eglantyne was about to apply the lessons she had gained to a worldwide effort. But she still struggled with exhaustion and illness.

Saving the children

She ignored what had been diagnosed as a debilitating thyroid condition. Drawing on hidden reserves, with a "powerful combination of personal energy, flair for publicity, astute political and diplomatic skill, and personal approaches to prominent people" (Oxford DNB), Eglantyne organised Save the Children.

She established Save the Children on the key principles of research and planning so the aid was effective and connected fundraising with individual sponsors because she understood the importance of the long-term personal connection.

She also insisted that the fund would help all children, regardless of religion. Save the Children took out full-page advertisements in national newspapers, and was so successful at fundraising and delivering help it went international in 1920, just in time to rush to the rescue of Russian children.

In 1923, Eglantyne headed to Geneva, to launch an international Children's Charter. Written in her clear and simple style, the Charter affirmed that children had rights and the international community had a duty to protect them. Gaining the support of the community of nations was her focus, even as thyroid disease took its toll and she endured five operations. She died in Geneva, in 1928. The Anglican Communion celebrates her feast day on December 17.

The Princess Royal has been President of Save the Children since 1970. Often first on the ground in a crisis, the fund helps children around the world, always linking individual sponsors with children.

 

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