The Early Years
From our humble beginnings during the Spanish Civil War, and generous support from our sponsors and donors, Plan has always focused first and foremost on ensuring that children are safe, protected, and have the opportunity to meet their full potential.
In the midst of the horrors of war, refugee worker Eric Muggeridge, journalist John Langdon-Davies, humanitarians Esme Odgers and Nick Carter, along with a handful of other committed individuals, devoted themselves to helping children start over, recognizing that it would take gentle patience and loving care to bring these young ones ‘back to life.’”
Eric Muggeridge: During those first 18 months I covered 35,000 miles with my truck. I made 57 trips into Madrid from Valencia, carrying in food to the Capital and coming out with a load of refugee children. I picked up refugees from the road out of Malage. Children injured and dying, children who had left their parents and relatives dead on the roadside… Children like little Jose, aged 5, who arrived, with thousands of others, clutching a note which read, “This is Jose, my child. I know I shall be killed when they capture Santander. Whoever reads this will they please take care of my son for me.”
We found mansions in Catalonia and created Children’s Colonies for the orphans. One center was at Sarrie outside of Barcelona, and others by the sea at Torrentbo and Sitges. I carried as many children as we had funds for in my truck to their new homes. School started again. New thoughts of childish happiness began to blossom, our orphans thanked us with their shining faces.
As the conflict escalated across the country, it soon became unsafe for the refugee children to remain in Spain, and housing and provisions were secured in France — provided that Muggeridge and other volunteers could transport them across the border.
After three harrowing days of finding transportation, struggling with closed borders, negotiating with officials, and dodging border bombings, the first group of children crossed over into France on January 29, 1939.
After that first crossing, there were multiple other trips between Spain and France, as Muggeridge continued to find refugee children who had either lost or been separated from their parents.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a fledgling committee was formed under the name of Foster Parents’ Plan for Children in Spain, and Edna Blue – a wife and mother of two children in New York who met Eric Muggeridge at an organizing event on Long Island – became the de facto administrator, using her own typewriter, as well as donated stationery and postage, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children in Spain.
Edna Blue: Of course we knew we needed publicity but we could not afford to pay for it. I began writing to [radio personality] Walter Winchell. … It became a ritual with me. I wrote at least once a week for months and months. One day it happened on the radio.
Of course I wasn’t lucky enough to hear it, but by the way the phone rang the next day I knew I had succeeded – or I should say Winchell had succeeded for us. Letters of inquiry began coming in and in about one week, checks!
The idea behind sustained donations came from John Langdon-Davies and started with an individual signing a pledge indicating he/she would become the Foster Parent for a child in Spain for one year. This pledge took the form of a 25 cents-a-day contribution and written letters to the child. In turn, the Foster Parent would receive a photo of the child and his/her history, which included “something about the child, what he liked and so on, and something about his temperament, so the person in America could write intelligently.”
Having worn down Walter Winchell by writing and writing, I took to writing to Eleanor Roosevelt. I think I wrote for exactly one year – then one day it happened. Mrs. Roosevelt mailed us her application to become a Foster Parent with her first month’s check.
At that time we had about 35 Foster Parents. We had the photo of her child and the child’s case history published in all the papers, and that did it. In less than two months we had 200 Foster Parents — we are now on the map!!