Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Yesterday, I wrote about Edith Cavell, an English nurse who was executed by firing squad in 1915. Today I want to write about another Englishwoman, who was some ten years younger than Edith Cavell. Her name was Eglantyne Jebb. I wonder if you have heard of her?
Eglantyne was born in Shropshire in 1876 (Edith Cavell was born in 1865). Eglantyne was fortunate enough to be able to go to University, attending Oxford University and graduating with a degree in history in 1898. She then trained as a teacher, but her heart lay elsewhere. In the later 1890s, she became interested in social work and she also travelled abroad. During the 1st World War, she became increasingly concerned about the effects of war on the well-being of civilian populations, especially the most vulnerable. When the time came to sign the Armistice, in 1918, there were between 4 and 5 million children in Europe who were quite literally starving. There were two possible responses to this crisis : one response was to bemoan the tragedy, but say that it was far too difficult to do anything about it; the other response was to try to do something to alleviate the suffering.
Eglantyne chose the latter option. She helped to set up an organization called the “Fight-the-Famine” Council, and this in turn led to the initiation of the “Save the Children” fund. Eglantyne devoted the rest of her life to Save the Children, and to the welfare of children more generally. In 1923, she drafted the text of the “Children’s Charter” , and this was unanimously adopted by the League of Nations in the following year. Eglantyne died in 1928, worn out by her selfless efforts to promote the well-being of children.
Here are couple of quotes from Eglantyne, which give a flavour of what mattered to her. In a letter to a friend, she wrote : “Every generation of children offers mankind a new possibility of rebuilding this ruin of a world”. And this is what she wrote in response to those who were tempted to give up in despair in the face of the complexity of the problems involved in caring for the children of the world : ”Often we were tempted to shrink back from the magnitude and complexity of the problems …but…we learnt to realise how marvellous is the response when a little love and a little money go with a well-thought out plan”. Note the combination : love by itself is not enough; neither is money, nor simply having a good plan. All three are needed. I wonder if you would agree?