Who founded Oxfam?

Last month we celebrated International Archives Day with Oxfam’s first minute book. It reminded us that the make-up of the small group that founded Oxfam has often been debated. The answer could be seen as simply a list of those attending the first meeting on 5 October 1942 that brought the Oxford Famine Relief Committee into being. However, no such list exists and the minutes of that meeting mention only three people by name as being present – Rev. T. R. Milford (Chairman), Professor Gilbert Murray and Mrs. White.

Cecil Jackson-Cole (left) and Canon T. R. Milford (centre) at the Oxfam Summer Conference, 1962. Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Libraries

Cecil Jackson-Cole (left) and Canon T. R. Milford (centre) at the Oxfam Summer Conference, 1962. Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Libraries

Rev. T. Richard Milford of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where the meeting took place, explained at the outset that

‘the meeting had been called by a small preliminary committee of which he was Chairman and that its five members had been appointed at a public meeting …….. on July 20th.’

A list of names on the first page of the minute book, probably of those appointed at the public meeting, but with numerous later amendments, suggests that it is likely that the following were also present on 5 October: Miss Margaret Macnamara, Assistant Hon. Secretary, Sir Alan Pim, Hon. Treasurer, Wilson Baker, Mrs. Kathleen Compton-Ford, Rev. F. Greaves, R. V. Holt, Dr. Leo Liepmann, Rev. H. R. Moxley, Lady Mary Murray, and Nowell C. Smith.

At the second meeting on 11 December 1942 it was reported that the Hon. Secretary, Mary Pask (who had sent apologies to the October meeting) and the Assistant Hon. Secretary, Miss Macnamara, had resigned. The Chairman introduced the new Hon. Secretary, Cecil Jackson-Cole. Jackson-Cole, businessman and philanthropist, later the founder of charities including Help the Aged and Action Aid, became the driving force behind the work of the Committee by various means including his innovative use of advertising. He continued as Hon. Secretary and later Secretary Emeritus with the Committee (Oxfam from 1965) until his death in 1979.

Oxfam advertisement, Oxford Mail, 1947

Advertisement, Oxford Mail, 1947. Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Libraries

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