Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2022
Chapter 1 explores the campaigns of Cecilia John, Meredith Atkinson and the Save the Children Fund, which in Australia was formed in 1919. John established an Australian branch after attending the Women’s International Peace Congress in Zurich in 1919 with feminist Vida Goldstein, where she witnessed the horror of images of starving children in Europe, which left an indelible impact on her. A biographical study of John provides a framework through which to bring together disparate parts of her life that have been studied in isolation. Previously, her national and international efforts have been discussed separately. Integrating these studies has revealed, I argue, not a continuum of political ideals but contradictions. During the First World War, John critiqued the British Empire for draining the blood of Australia’s men on the battlefields of Europe, but after the war, she eulogised the Empire for rescuing starving and destitute children through Save the Children. She appears not to bring these politics into Save the Children, however, focusing instead on the desperate plight of starving children in an apolitical framework. The emotive, apolitical appeal of rescuing starving children seemingly sat without the complications of her earlier proclamations. Privileging sentimentality in the cause of destitute children, void of political or critical analysis, was a challenge the journalist and educator Meredith Atkinson encountered too, as he attempted to promote the cause of Russian children caught in the civil war.