Bold. Unapologetic. Authentic. 100 years ago, Save the Children’s founder had a vision: to achieve and protect the rights of children worldwide. In 2023 we commissioned a new portrait to honor her on International Women’s Day – while we honor her vision every day. Artist Credit: Sam Rodriguez
Meet Eglantyne Jebb
The Woman Who Started Save the Children
Eglantyne Jebb – the woman who founded Save the Children over 100 years ago in 1919 – was one of the world’s most influential champions of children’s rights. It began when Jebb saw something she knew wasn’t right. She saw photos in a newspaper – exploitative, tragic photos showing children starving because Allied troops’ blockades wouldn’t let supplies through to Germany and Austria.
Jebb was outraged. So, she decided to do something about it.
Disruptor Turned Humanitarian
She created flyers and stood in Trafalgar Square handing them out. The flyers said “Our blockade has caused this – millions of children are starving to death.” But people didn’t want to see the disturbing photos, and many passersby turned a blind eye. She ended up getting arrested and fined for her protest – and went before a judge to plead her case. But the judge was so impressed by her fire, her determination to help children, that he joined her cause. He paid her fine – in a sense making the very first donation to Save the Children.
The Mother of All Children
In the fall of 1921, Eglantyne continued her selfless work. Millions of children were dying in Russia – starving due to political and civil unrest and an inability to distribute food. So, she chartered a cargo ship – the SS Torcello – filled with 600 tons of lifesaving food and medical supplies. This incredible feat saved thousands of lives. But she wasn’t done.
She made the world see that children have rights. In 1924, Eglantyne attended the 1924 League of Nations convention in Geneva. There, she presented her Declaration of the Rights of the Child to world leaders – asserting that every child had human rights. “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...” 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
In 1932, a group of Americans were inspired by Eglantyne, and established Save the Children in the U.S. They helped struggling families in Appalachia during the Great Depression, bringing them clothes, food, books and shoes. And in schools, they served hot lunches and built playgrounds. Today, Save the Children offers programs in 30 states.
She’s still fighting – because we’re still fighting
Save the Children is a global child health leader, providing what children need when they need it most. Whether that’s an education, mental health care or a warm blanket.
• We lead the world in protecting children in conflict and war zones – identifying their needs, advocating for their safety and delivering support
• Since 1990, we’ve cut the number of children dying before age 5 by over half.
• Since 2000, we’ve helped reduce the number of children out of school by over a third.
• Since 1990, we’ve helped reduce child marriage worldwide by nearly a third On International Women’s Day – and every day – we celebrate her. Our hope is that one day her name will be a household name – alongside legends Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart and Frida Kahlo. Eglantyne Jebb: one of the most influential women you’ve never heard of.
1. Convention on the Rights of the Child https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_on_the_Rights_of_the_Child
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