Eglantyne Jebb was born into a well-to-do country family in Shropshire. She was one of six children of Arthur Jebb and his wife Eglantyne. The couple had markedly liberal and progressive ideas and encouraged the development of all their children.

After education at Oxford, and a short-lived attempt to teach, Eglantyne found herself in Cambridge, nursing her sick mother. Here she met Mrs Margaret Keynes, mother of Maynard Keynes, the economist . Mrs. Keynes was Secretary and driving force of the Cambridge-based “Charity Organisation Society" (COS), which aimed to define the best ways to run charities and aid groups, through research and scientific methods.

In 1903 Mrs. Keynes employed Eglantyne in the COS, whose office was in Regent Street, giving her the first real taste of effective charity work. Eglantyne researched the conditions of life in east Cambridge and wrote a well-received book on poverty in the city called Cambridge: A Social Study (Macmillan, 1906). This set out some forward-thinking ideas and practical suggestions – laying the ground for Eglantyne’s focus on education and continuing development programmes as keys to helping the disadvantaged. The book, and her work at COS, gave her a sound understanding of how to make a charitable organization work. She worked at the COS until spring 1908.

During 1917 Eglantyne volunteered to help her sister Dorothy, who had permission to import and republish news stories from Europe, which balanced the propaganda, put out by the British government. It became clear, as the First World War drew to a close, that there were terrible social effects from the allied blockade of Europe. The magazine served not only to increase the two sisters’ resolve to make a difference, but also made them, at the war’s end, amongst the most well-informed people on the state of European society. News was bad – there were shortages of food, linen for newborn babies and other daily necessities.

The blockade was extended after the 1918 Armistice and a "Fight the Famine Council” was started in order to get political agreement to raise the blockade. In 1919, Dorothy succeeded in getting this largely politically oriented pressure group to agree to a separate “Save the Children Fund”. This aimed to provide real aid to children across Europe.
On May 19th, Eglantyne, aided by her sister, led a major meeting at the Albert Hall to announce the fund.

“An associate of Eglantyne's describes the scene: "The public arrived supplied with rotten apples destined to be thrown at the head of 'the traitors who wanted to raise money for enemy children'. But they did not insult Eglantyne Jebb; they were forced to listen to her. She began hesitantly, then, gaining by the fervour of her mission, her voice became louder. Did she convince you? It was not by the arguments, but by the passionate conviction for the cause that she defended."

On January 6th 1920, Eglantyne succeeded in starting the International Save the Children Union, in Geneva. She built up excellent relationships with other Geneva-based organizations, including the Red Cross who supported Save’s International foundation.
Eglantyne believed that every country should do its best to help its own people, and not just rely on aid. So as Save became a success across the British Empire - and spread to many other countries - the focus was not just on relief for war victims, but also for the disadvantaged children of each country. Whilst many other aid agencies were channelling help to adults, it was Eglantyne’s firm opinion that children had the greatest need. She wrote
“Every generation of children, in fact, offers mankind the possibility of rebuilding his ruin of a world”.
Through the children she saw the best hope of lasting peace.

By August of 1921, the UK Save the Children had raised over £1,000,000, and Central European conditions were slowly getting better. However, at that time a massive famine struck the ‘bread basket’ Volga region of Russia. Eglantyne and Save needed to go to work with renewed vigour. It was this event that also forced Eglantyne and Dorothy to realise that Save the Children needed to be a permanent organization, and could not simply be disbanded once the job of repairing war damage in Europe was done. So, from 1921 to 1923 Save the Children swung into action. Press campaign and movies were made, and feeding centres set up. 157 million meals for 300,000 children were provided during the Russian famine.

In 1923, Eglantyne drafted a declaration of the Rights of the Child. These five simple statements were endorsed by the League of Nations in 1924. Eventually an extended, seven statement declaration became the UN’s ‘Rights of the Child’.

Although her work took her interests far away from Cambridge (and she died in Geneva) her five years in the town learning how to analyse and respond to social need were a very important preparation to the later work for which she is deservedly reme.