Institutional state child protection was born in Hungary with the child protection laws of 1901, submitted by Prime Minister Kálmán Széll. The law – very early in international comparison – provided, among other things, that the protection and care of children under the age of seven declared abandoned by the authority was the responsibility of the state.

Children's Day fundraising in front of the Franciscan Church in Pest in 1907 (Photo: Vasárnapi Ujság, April 14, 1907)

Something started because a few years later, in 1906, the National Child Protection League was formed to promote the well-being of children, led by Count Lipót Edelsheim-Gyulai, who was a well-known and popular figure of not just the aristocracy, but the whole of Hungarian society.

 The president of the National Child Protection League, Count Lipót Edelsheim-Gyulai and the director of the League, dr. Sándor Karsai on Children's Day 1909 (Photo: Vasárnapi Ujság, 11 April 1909)

The social embeddedness of the League soon became apparent when children's day was organized for 26 May 1906 and a children's festival for the next day, the 27th. The May 22 issue of the Ujság wrote about the preparations for the event: 

“After much fruitless effort, he aroused the interest of the merchant world with great struggle, which gave its support. So far, two thousand companies have committed to holding Children’s Day. The League invites the public to make their purchases as much as possible on this day, because the said merchant companies, whose shop window is adorned by the League’s ornate bright red poster, will donate part of their daily income to the League.”

An omnibus carrying musicians invited people to donate to Children's Day in 1908 in front of the Brudern House, which was already being demolished at that time, on Kígyó Square, today's Ferenciek Square. Paris court stands on the site of the building today (Photo: Vasárnapi Ujság, 12 April 1908)

Reading the article further, we can see that the organizers did not leave anything to chance:

“Next week, advertising cars of the League will tour the capital. The posters on the advertising car ask the public to buy only from companies affiliated with the League. ... [the League]  called on the upper society of the capital, women’s bodies, clubs, associations, to support those companies with their shopping, as this is the simplest and easiest way to practice charity. It is mentioned here that the use of the charity stamp was authorized by the Minister of the Interior exclusively for the Child Protection League.”

Often women from the highest social strata collected donations at fundraiser sites at the city’s busy spots. 

The fundraising stand of Count Ilona Andrássy, the wife of Count Lajos Batthyány of Németújvár, the former governor of Fiume, on Kossuth Lajos Street on Children's Day 1909 (Photo: Vasárnapi Ujság, April 11, 1909)

In addition to the merchants, the art world was also won for the fundraising campaign. Theatrical performances were held for the children’s festival, from cabaret to gala performances in the opera house.

The “Carriage of Singers” on Children’s Day 1909 in front of the Klotild Palaces. Image from the 11 April 1909 issue of the Vasárnapi Ujság

Let us see the cultural program of the children's festival the day after Children's Day 1906, which is also described in the article quoted from the Ujság:

 “At the children’s festival, there will be gala performances at the Opera House, the National Theater, the Royal, People’s and Hungarian Theaters, of course for the benefit of the League. Before the performances, the famous artists of the theaters recite the prologue by Jenő Heltai and Antal Váradi. ”

Among the actors, a name is known to this day: Sári Fedák, also performed in a cabaret.

Phonograph on the street at the beginning of Kossuth Lajos Street on Children's Day 1909 (Photo: Vasárnapi Ujság, April 11, 1909)

According to the 22 May 22, 1906, issue of the Ujság City Park was also filled with venues:

“There will be an interesting show on Children’s Day at the Beketow Circus, the zoo will host a big public festival in the afternoon, with lots of fun, interesting sights. In the evening there will be an enormous gala in the Ős-Budavár. In the afternoon, a children’s festival with a stroller beuty competition, the winners of which will receive a gold medal prize. The most charming scene of the evening will be the children's beauty contest, whose jury will include distinguished artists and actresses.”

The tradition of children’s day remained in later years, with varying dates, but was always held in the spring months, during April or May. Donations were always needed, as the “happy times of peace” were soon followed by World War, then the years of revolutions, Trianon, and the economic crisis of the 1920s.

Children's Day fundraiser in the late 1920s (Photo: Képes Pesti Hirlap, May 4, 1929)

The National Child Protection League helped a lot of children in years when most people were in need. The leaders of the city and the country also supported the issue. The wives of Mayor Jenő Sipőcz and of István Bethlen, prime minister, and even the wife of Miklós Horthy, the governor sat at fundraising tables.

The wives of the leaders of the country also took part in the Children's Day fundraising: Mrs Miklós Horthy on the left, and Mrs István Bethlen on the right (Photo: Pesti Hírlap, May 7, 1927)

Political leaders and their families, of course, gave not only moral but also financial support to the cause: in 1925, for example, the papers reported that Miklós Horthy had placed a check of one hundred million in the fundraiser box. Of course, this high amount already indicates inflation, the same news also reports that the result of the two-day fundraiser was about one and a half billion crowns ... Soon after, the new currency, the pengő, was introduced precisely because the korona lost its value due to rising inflation.

In the middle of the picture taken on Children's Day, 1933 is the wife of Mayor Jenő Sipőcz (Photo: Színházi Élet No. 21, 1933)

Year after year, the city moved for these two-day fundraisers. In 1938 the news was that the National Child Protection League had set up 127 fundraiser sites all over Budapest.

Actresses Gizi Bajor, Ilona Cs. Aczéi and Emilia P.  Márkus gather in front of the National Theater on Children's Day 1935 (Photo: Színházi Élet No. 20, 1995)

In addition to the almost obligatory role of the wives of political leaders and public dignitaries, the organizers also used the popularity of actresses and actors for the noble cause, and they also sat at the tables in front of each theatre building.

The last traditional children’s day was held in 1943. The 7 May 1943 issue of the Ujság announced the event as follows:

“For four decades has the Child Protection League put its urns out in every spring, and near these, all groups of society meet as collectors and as donors. There are traditional children’s days on Fridays and Saturdays on May 7 and 8 this year. On the streets of the capital, the usual leaded boxes of the League appear at about 130 sites. The most distinguished ladies of Hungarian society undertook patronage and fundraising.”

Reportedly the fundraising started in a heavy May rain... This is how Budapest said goodbye to the children's days of the old, pre-war world. It was still revived in the few years after the war, but from 1950 onwards, this old beautiful tradition was forgotten.

Children's Day military music in Ferenciek Square in 1927 (Pesti Hírlap, May 7, 1927)

Cover photo: Little girl gives her donation on Children's Day in 1908 (Vasárnapi Ujság, April 12, 1908)