by Paula Bosse
In the summer of 1940, a group called The Children’s Evacuation Committee of Texas was organized to bring child refugees to Dallas, even if it meant sending a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to get them. Its chairman was local businessman George Edgley, a transplanted Briton who owned a music shop and performed around town as an actor and musician.
The group was formed in response to the heavily publicized plight of English children living under the constant threat of attack during World War II. The situation was of great international concern, and plans were drawn up to evacuate the children to safety. The United States had agencies working to bring some of the children to America, and communities around the country were organizing at a grassroots level.
George Edgley took up the cause in Dallas and was the driving force behind The Children’s Evacuation Committee of Texas. He worked day and night to sign up potential foster families, worked with American and British politicians and humanitarian relief agencies, and traveled to Washington, DC to petition for special immigration allowances. He even pleaded with Congress to authorize a special ship to carry children from the UK to the Texas Gulf.
Some Dallasites were adamant that only British children would be considered. One Briton living in Dallas made the following statement at an early meeting:
It’s the Anglo-Saxon race against the world, […] and we want Anglo-Saxon children brought over here — not material for fifth columnists. We want English-speaking children. (Dallas Morning News, June 27, 1940)
Edgley disagreed vehemently, insisting that a humanitarian project such as the one under consideration should not be limited to British children.
Numerous Dallas families signed up to offer their homes to refugee children. Many were willing to take any child that needed a temporary home, and most were prepared to adopt the child should his or her parents be killed in the war. There was, though, this unsettling read-between-the-lines sentence in one of the reports in The Dallas Morning News:
A few stipulated that the children should be free of hereditary defects, should be from good families and of certain nationalities or have eyes or hair of certain color. (DMN, July 21, 1940)
A big supporter of this effort was Miss Ela Hockaday, who worked to get her school’s alumnae and patrons to offer their homes to the displaced children. She herself had adopted the children of British novelist Vera Brittain for the duration of the war.
After weeks of determined effort, though, the inability to find a way to safely transport children en masse from the UK became an insurmountable roadblock. The bureaucracy and logistics proved to be too big a hurdle. Edgley turned his attention to working one-on-one with Dallas families who agreed to be responsible for paying the transportation costs of a child and providing for all of his or her needs until the war’s end. It would cost a local family a substantial $188 to assure a child’s privately-arranged temporary adoption (equivalent in today’s money to just over $2,200).
I’m not sure how many children found shelter from the war in Dallas, but the tireless efforts of George Edgley on their behalf are to be admired.
Top photo and headline “America: Haven for Refugee Children?” from the February, 1940 issue of The Rotarian. You can read the magazine’s take on the issue here.
If you would like more information on George Edgley’s campaign to relocate refugee children from war-torn England, please contact me.
The Life magazine story “U.S. Opens Its Homes and Heart to Refugee Children of England” (July 22, 1940), can be found here.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.