Save the Children USA began with a hot lunch program for undernourished schoolchildren in Harlan County, Kentucky in rural Appalachia 1932. The result was an almost immediate rise in attendance and academic achievement. Photo Credit: Save the Children Archive 1932.

100 years ago, Save the Children's founder, Eglantyne Jebb, had a vision: to achieve and protect the rights of children worldwide. She was driven by the belief that all children – whoever they are, wherever they are – have the right to a healthy, happy, fulfilling life. Her vision continues to guide us well into the the 21st century.

Our Founder: Eglantyne Jebb

The Woman Who Started Save the Children

Eglantyne Jebb – the woman who founded Save the Children a century ago in 1919 – was one of the world’s most charismatic, fiercely intelligent and influential champions of human rights. A British social reformer and former teacher, Jebb was appalled by newspaper photos she saw of children starving in enemy countries like Germany and Austria – starving because Allied troops’ blockades wouldn’t let supplies through. She joined Fight the Famine Council, a group working to get food and medical supplies to these children. She stood in Trafalgar Square and handed out leaflets that showed the emaciated children with a headline: “Our blockade has caused this – millions of children are starving to death.”

"The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress."

Passersby turned away from the disturbing flyer. But Eglantyne was determined not to let people ignore what she believed was a violation of these children’s human rights. Her passion that day led to her being arrested, and she was found guilty and fined for her protest. But the judge was so impressed with Eglantyne’s commitment to children, that he paid her fine. His money became the first donation to Save the Children.

Two years later, Save the Children was making a difference in the lives of children beyond war-torn Europe. Russia was experiencing famine, due to political and civil unrest and a rail system that couldn’t effectively distribute food. Millions of children were dying. In the fall of 1921, Eglantyne and Save the Children chartered a cargo ship, the SS Torcello, to carry 600 tons of lifesaving food and medical supplies to Russia – an impressive feat of international negotiations and logistics that saved hundreds of thousands of lives. 

A few years later at the 1924 League of Nations convention in Geneva, Eglantyne presented a Declaration of the Rights of the Child to leaders from around the world. Written by her, this short but clear document asserted what she believed were the human rights of every child. Stressing the need to especially remember “forgotten” children, the rights she called for read, “the child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.” The declaration was adopted a year later and adopted in an extended form by the United Nations in 1959. The declaration later inspired the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty.1

Now, more than 100 years later, her legacy continues. In 2021 alone, our programs supported 183 million children, including 837,000 here in America. Coupling our efforts with advances in medicine and technology, we could be the first generation to ensure that no child dies from a preventable disease, and that every child gets the chance to fulfill her or his potential. These now-possible realities were part of Eglantyne’s pioneering vision: a world where every child receives a healthy start, a chance to learn and protection from harm – for a brighter future.


1. Convention on the Rights of the Child


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