Happy Women’s History Month! This is the 22nd blog of a series of blogs called “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known American women who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Bertha Von Suttner, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the second female Nobel laureate.
This is her story.
Born into Aristocracy
According to NobelPrize.org, Bertha Von Suttner was born in 1843 as Countess Kinsky of Prague. A member of aristocratic society, she spent the first 30 years of her life reading, practicing music, and studying languages. She took her first job position at 30 to become a teacher-companion for the Suttner family. After working there three years, she left to work as Alfred Nobel’s secretary in Paris, France.
She did not stay long before returning to marry the Suttner’s youngest son, Baron Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner. The family did not approve of the marriage, which led the newlyweds to flee to the Caucasus, an area north of Turkey. There, they both earned a living by giving lessons in music and teaching languages. They also both pursued writing. In the nine years they spent living in the area, the Baroness put together five books. Four of them were novels and one of them became her first serious book called Inventarium einer Seele or “Inventory of a Soul.” It discussed the idea of societal progress through achieving peace.
Writing of Peace and the Consequences of Militarism
The von Suttners moved back to Austria in 1885, once the Baron’s family seemed to accept their relationship. There, the Baroness came out with several more novels as well as her second serious book called “Das Maschinenzeitalter” or “The Machine Age“. In this book, she discussed the consequences of excessive nationalism as well as how arbitration should replace armed forces. In 1889, Baroness von Suttner published a third book promoting peace and discussing the effects of militarism. But, this time her book was a novel whose heroine experienced hardships because of war. It was called “Die Waffen nieder” or “Lay Down Your Arms” and it brought her the most acclaim out of all her writings.
After this, Baroness von Suttner became heavily involved in politically advocating for peace. She attended peace meetings, joined and formed peace organizations, and lectured while traveling. In the 1890s, she started the Austrian Peace Society, began the fund for the Bern Peace Bureau, created a peace journal with A.H. Fried called Die Waffen Nieder, and took a major role in gathering support for the Hague Peace Conference in 1899. Even after losing her husband and becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, Baroness von Suttner continued to advocate for peace and warn the world about the upcoming conflict she felt coming. She passed in 1914, right before the start of World War I, the conflict she had predicted. Read more about Bertha Von Suttner here.
Read another post from the blog series “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know” here..