Bertha von Suttner

In these troubled times it is sometime good to remember those who work for peace. Bertha von Suttner was a writer, pacifist and the first women to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner (Baroness Bertha von Suttner),  was born on 9 June 1843 at  Kinský Palace in the Obecní dvůr district of Prague.

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Her parents were the Austrian Lieutenant general Franz de Paula Josef Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau and Sophie Wilhelmine von Körner.
Soon after her birth, Bertha’s mother moved to live in Brno. Due to a series of gambling debts the family were forced to move to Vienna. The family moved to Wiesbaden in 1859 but continued financial hardship caused them to relocate to a small property in Klosterneuburg.
Bertha initially decided upon a career as an opera singer rather than marrying into money and undertook an intensive course of lessons. However, although relatively talented her voice was not good enough for a professional singer.  In 1873, she found employment as a tutor and companion to the four daughters of Karl von Suttner.
Bertha fell in love with the girls’ elder brother, Arthur Gundaccar. They were engaged but unable to marry due to the disapproval of von Suttner. Eager to break the relationship, in 1876 von Suttner encouraged, Bertha to become secretary to Alfred Nobel in Paris.  However, she soon returned to Arthur and married him in secrecy, in the church of St. Aegyd in Gumpendorf.
The newlywed couple settled in Kutaisi, where they found some work teaching languages and music to the children of the local aristocracy. However, their situation was somewhat precarious and worsened in 1877 on the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War. In August 1882, they decided to move to Tbilisi. Here Arthur took whatever work he could, while Bertha concentrated on her writing. Her first significant political work, Inventarium einer Seele (Inventory of the Soul) was published in Leipzig in 1883. The work argues for the inevitability of world peace due to technological advancement; a possibility also considered by her friend Nobel due to the increasingly deterrent effect of more powerful weapons.
After the Bulgarian Crisis began in 1885 the couple felt increasingly unsafe in Georgian society, which was becoming more hostile to Austrians due to Russian influence. They finally reconciled with Arthur’s family and in May 1885 returned to Austria, where the couple lived at Harmannsdorf Castle.
After their return to Austria, Bertha continued her journalism and concentrated on peace and war issues, corresponding with the French philosopher Ernest Renan and influenced by the International Arbitration and Peace Association founded by Hodgson Pratt in 1880.

In 1889 her pacifist novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Down with Weapons!), was published which made Bertha one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. Emboldened by the positive reviews Die Waffen nieder! had received, she called for the establishment of the Austrian Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde pacifist organization in an 1891 Neue Freie Presse editorial. In 1892, she founded and became chairwoman of the German Peace Society. She also became editor of the international pacifist journal Die Waffen nieder!, named after her book. In 1897 she organised a petition calling for the establishment of an International Court of Justice. She presented Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria with the petition. In 1899, she took part in the First Hague Convention.
In 1902, Arthur died and Bertha moved back to Vienna. In 1904, she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin and spent seven months travelled and lecturing across the United States. She gave a speech at the universal peace congress in Boston and had a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt.
On 18 April 1906 in Kristiania, Bertha was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1907, Bertha attended the Second Hague Peace Conference and in 1911 she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation.  In the last months of her life she helped organise the next Peace Conference, intended to take place in September 1914. The conference never took place.
Bertha von Suttner died of cancer on 21 June 1914. She argued that a right to peace could be demanded under international law. That demand remains unfulfilled today.


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