Day 19: Bertha Von Suttner

Bertha Von Suttner (1843-1921) was an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (and the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie’s 1903 award). Born in an impoverished family in which her father died before she was born, she was still able to learn several languages, develop an interest in music, and travel. She worked as a governess and, after a two week stay as secretary-housekeeper for Alfred Nobel in Paris, returned to Austria to secretly marry Arthur Suttner for whose family she had been a governess. His family disapproving of the marriage, Arthur was disinherited; he and Bertha left Austria for Soviet Georgia where they lived under difficult conditions in Tbilisi and earned their living by writing journalism.


After a family reconciliation they returned to Austria, where Bertha became active in peace and conflict studies and writing. Her novel “Lay Down Your Arms” made her one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. In 1897 she presented Emperor Franz Joseph I with a list of signatures urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice and took part in the organization of the First Hague Conventions. It is believed that, because of her continued correspondence with Alfred Nobel until his death in 1896, she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will.

For today, consider the words of this tireless pacifist: “The adherents of the old order have a powerful ally in the natural law of inertia inherent to humanity, which is, as it were, a natural defense against change…The advocates of pacifism are well aware how meager are their resources… They know that they are still few in number and weak in authority, but when they realistically consider themselves and the ideal they serve, they see themselves as the servants of the greatest of all causes.”


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