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The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb: Founder of Save the Children

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2009 marks the 90th anniversary of Save the Children, a charity that fights to uphold the human rights of children wherever they are threatened. Now promoted by the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julianne Moore the charity’s original founder was a childless spinster in a brown cardigan whose most famous line, ‘I don’t care for children’ makes hers a most unconvent 2009 marks the 90th anniversary of Save the Children, a charity that fights to uphold the human rights of children wherever they are threatened. Now promoted by the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julianne Moore the charity’s original founder was a childless spinster in a brown cardigan whose most famous line, ‘I don’t care for children’ makes hers a most unconventional story. At once a romantic and realist, Eglantyne’s short life (she died aged just 52) was full of humour and tragedy, passion and pain. She moved from illicit romance in Cambridge to espionage in Serbia, from private spiritualism in Shropshire to public arrest in Trafalgar Square. And while children’s universal human rights are yet to be realised, Eglantyne’s achievement of putting them on the world agenda is a powerful testament to her rare combination of personal courage, eccentric charisma, and humane vision. Clare Mulley joined Save the Children as a corporate fundraiser in the 1990s. She is the mother of three daughters and currently lives in Essex, UK.


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2009 marks the 90th anniversary of Save the Children, a charity that fights to uphold the human rights of children wherever they are threatened. Now promoted by the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julianne Moore the charity’s original founder was a childless spinster in a brown cardigan whose most famous line, ‘I don’t care for children’ makes hers a most unconvent 2009 marks the 90th anniversary of Save the Children, a charity that fights to uphold the human rights of children wherever they are threatened. Now promoted by the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Julianne Moore the charity’s original founder was a childless spinster in a brown cardigan whose most famous line, ‘I don’t care for children’ makes hers a most unconventional story. At once a romantic and realist, Eglantyne’s short life (she died aged just 52) was full of humour and tragedy, passion and pain. She moved from illicit romance in Cambridge to espionage in Serbia, from private spiritualism in Shropshire to public arrest in Trafalgar Square. And while children’s universal human rights are yet to be realised, Eglantyne’s achievement of putting them on the world agenda is a powerful testament to her rare combination of personal courage, eccentric charisma, and humane vision. Clare Mulley joined Save the Children as a corporate fundraiser in the 1990s. She is the mother of three daughters and currently lives in Essex, UK.

30 review for The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb: Founder of Save the Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nadya

    Having never been a fan of biographies I wasn’t expecting much from this book. It was really just to fill in some information gaps in my doctoral research. Contrary to my expectations I was completely taken by Mulley’s account of Eglantyne Jebb’s life. Instead of the drudgery that I usually experience when reading biographies Mulley’s portrayal of Eglantyne’s fascinating life and character drew me in quickly. Eglantyne’s supportive and socially conscious country gentry family, the feminist influ Having never been a fan of biographies I wasn’t expecting much from this book. It was really just to fill in some information gaps in my doctoral research. Contrary to my expectations I was completely taken by Mulley’s account of Eglantyne Jebb’s life. Instead of the drudgery that I usually experience when reading biographies Mulley’s portrayal of Eglantyne’s fascinating life and character drew me in quickly. Eglantyne’s supportive and socially conscious country gentry family, the feminist influences of her Aunt Bun who encouraged all the girls to go to university even though it would dim their marriage prospects, and her circle of supportive friends, which included the Darwins and the Keynes, all helped to shape this inspiring woman’s path. It was with great interest that I absorbed the details of these influences in Eglantyne’s life. Mulley’s portrayal of Eglantyne shows a brave, intelligent, and active woman who, along the way to her great human rights achievements, struggled with her writing, her love life, and a chronic health condition that would put her out of commission for months at a time. Eglantyne and her sister Dorothy Buxton, advocates for the recognition of the rights of humanity outside one’s borders at a time when it was considered traitorous, were two fascinating and courageous historical figures that deserve greater recognition. I thoroughly enjoyed Mulley’s reflections on her experiences researching and writing about Eglantyne’s life. Mulley’s serious, yet playful, feminist contemplation of the position of women, juxtaposed herself as fundraiser / researcher / young mother with Eglantyne the great humanitarian who saved countless children, and yet, funnily enough, wasn’t that fond of children. All in all, this is a fantastic book, not only for illuminating the largely unrecognized humanitarian achievements of a remarkable woman, but also for being so well-researched and written that it was a delight to read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eliatan

    I am a supporter of Save the Children, which is how I first came across this book. I bought it as an act of charity from their website, but I was delighted as I delved into it to discover the fascinating life of their founder, Eglantyne. Brave and adventurous women hold a special place in my heart. An excellently researched and well written book, I'd like to read more of Clare's writing. I am a supporter of Save the Children, which is how I first came across this book. I bought it as an act of charity from their website, but I was delighted as I delved into it to discover the fascinating life of their founder, Eglantyne. Brave and adventurous women hold a special place in my heart. An excellently researched and well written book, I'd like to read more of Clare's writing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    Such an interesting life and such an interesting period of history. Unfortunately the author is not a skilled biographer nor writer and I found this turgid, dense and dull on the whole. Which is a shame as the individuals and history should have been crackling off the page.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    What an inspiring woman!! Especially considering the times and her poor health!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Fascinating read. Amazing what one woman could achieve especially during this time period and whilst having such poor health.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lelde

    Good and very thorough book, particularly if you're a fan of either Eglantyn Webb's life and work or if you like historically situated biographies. Enjoyed it though some parts seemed a bit too and almost unnecessarily described to very thorough details and dates. Good and very thorough book, particularly if you're a fan of either Eglantyn Webb's life and work or if you like historically situated biographies. Enjoyed it though some parts seemed a bit too and almost unnecessarily described to very thorough details and dates.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Beachcomber

    Felt like this book would never end, it just waffled on and on.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Brook

    What an extraordinary life and a highly enjoyable book. What are the upbringing and life experiences that form Eglantyne Jebb into someone who in her fifty two years of quite ill health “launched an international aid operation, saved the lives of millions of children, redefined how child welfare operates, and wrote social policy of permanent world significance, all in an era when women did not even have the vote.” I support Save the Children and I knew about its early work in relief of the Russia What an extraordinary life and a highly enjoyable book. What are the upbringing and life experiences that form Eglantyne Jebb into someone who in her fifty two years of quite ill health “launched an international aid operation, saved the lives of millions of children, redefined how child welfare operates, and wrote social policy of permanent world significance, all in an era when women did not even have the vote.” I support Save the Children and I knew about its early work in relief of the Russian famine but had no idea just how controversial, even revolutionary Eglantyne had been or how compelling and inspirational. Arrested in Trafalgar Square for handing out leaflets showing pictures of starving babies and indeed found guilty under the Defence of the Realm Act, one of the first contributions used to set up Save the Children and provide milk for children in Vienna coming from £5 from the prosecution lawyer immediately following her trial! Later she was invited both to meet with the Pope at the Vatican and to speak from Calvin’s pulpit in Geneva to great success on both occasions. I did not know that the WW1 blockade of Germany continued after the Armistice until late 1919 as a lever in the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles and I did not quite expect the strength of feeling in the examples of resistance given to helping to “feed foreign children who will only rise up and kill us”. This book shows the motivations, the challenges faced and the changes wrought by Jebb. The scraps of poems and the tiny pen and ink drawings taken from the margins of her letters bring her to life - l love the one of her in a hoodie tobogganing in 1910. Sometimes her early sadnesses (bereavements, unrequited love and a passionate sapphic affair that others took pains to terminate as terribly unsuitable, illness and loneliness) seem never ending. Her last ten years are full of towering achievements (and she was no slouch as a young woman either).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robin Kirk

    I really enjoyed this. I found Jebb moving. She didn't come with a strong vision to the work that came to define her life. In Mulley's telling, the plight of children harmed by war overwhelmed her. That feels more compelling than someone who always set out to do this work. In some way, Jebb was kind of a pill: privileged, moony, a dilettante. During WWI, she happened to travel as a kind of middle-class witness for a minor charity effort. Her experiences shook her, and by the end of her life she' I really enjoyed this. I found Jebb moving. She didn't come with a strong vision to the work that came to define her life. In Mulley's telling, the plight of children harmed by war overwhelmed her. That feels more compelling than someone who always set out to do this work. In some way, Jebb was kind of a pill: privileged, moony, a dilettante. During WWI, she happened to travel as a kind of middle-class witness for a minor charity effort. Her experiences shook her, and by the end of her life she'd established one of our most important child welfare groups, Save the Children, became a talented leader and fund raiser, and penned the early inspiration for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A life very well lived.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    3.5 stars, really, but I can’t do that here. I hadn’t heard of Eglantyne Jebb until I received this book even though almost everyone must know of her organisation. I mostly enjoyed this biography but it’s quite uneven, with some rather boring parts concerning spiritualism and the tedious bureaucracy of SCF.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Garnett Haris

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gulgun Mahmudova

  14. 4 out of 5

    Monica Bessler

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Layden

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kath

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lucie Dark

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

  22. 4 out of 5

    Grace

  23. 5 out of 5

    Juliette

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tiny Keats

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kara Lynsdale

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  27. 5 out of 5

    June

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz Thackray

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kate Cooley

  30. 5 out of 5

    AINHOA

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