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Bertha von Suttner

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Bertha von Suttner

Bertha von Suttner
Bertha von Suttner c. 1906
Born (1843-06-09)9 June 1843
Prague, Bohemia,
Austrian Empire
Died 21 June 1914(1914-06-21) (aged 71)
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Occupation Pacifist, novelist
Awards Nobel Peace Prize, 1905

Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner (Baroness Bertha von Suttner, née Countess Kinsky, Gräfin Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau; 9 June 1843 – 21 June 1914) was an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus being the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie's 1903 award.[1]

Early life

Suttner was born in Prague, Bohemia, the daughter of impoverished[2] Austrian Lieutenant general (Feldmarschall-Leutnant) Franz de Paula Josef Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau and his wife Sophie Wilhelmine von Körner,[3] a distant relative of the poet Theodor Körner. She had an older brother, Arthur Franz Graf Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau. Suttner's father died at the age of 75, before she was born.

As a child, she learnt several languages, was interested in music, and travelled a lot. To make a living, she had to work as a governess to the wealthy Suttner family from 1873. She became engaged to the Suttners' youngest son, engineer and novelist Arthur Gundaccar Freiherr von Suttner (1850–1902), but his family opposed the match, and she was dismissed. At the intercession of her former employers, she answered an advertisement from Alfred Nobel (1833–1896) in 1876 to become his secretary-housekeeper at his Paris residence. However, she only stayed two weeks before returning to Vienna and secretly marrying Arthur on 12 June 1876, whereupon her bride groom was immediately disinherited.

Suttner's living house in Tbilisi

Bertha and Arthur left Austria and at the invitation of Princess The Knight in the Panther's Skin remained unfinished. After her husband had published several reports from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, Suttner too, under a pseudonym, began a journalistic career writing short stories and essays on the Georgian country and its people, which appeared in several Austrian newspapers.


Suttner and her husband finally reconciled with his famliy and in 1885 could return to Austria, where the couple lived at Harmannsdorf Castle in Lower Austria. She continued her journalistic activity and concentrated on peace and conflict studies corresponding with the French philosopher Ernest Renan and influenced by the International Arbitration and Peace Association founded by Hodgson Pratt in 1880.

Suttner in 1896

In 1889 Suttner became a leading figure in the peace movement with the publication of her pacifist novel, Hague Conventions in 1899, however, she had to realize that her ambitious expectations were belied.

Upon her husband's death in 1902, Suttner had to sell Harmannsdorf Castle and moved back to Vienna. In 1904 she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin and for seven months travelled around the United States attending a universal peace congress in Boston and meeting President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nobel Peace Prize

Though her personal contact with Alfred Nobel had been brief, she corresponded with him until his death in 1896, and it is believed that she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will, which she received in the fifth term on 10 December 1905. The bestowal took place on 18 April 1906 in Kristiania.

In 1907 Suttner attended the Second Hague Peace Conference, which however mainly negotiated on aspects of law of war. On the eve of World War I, she continued to advise against international armament. In 1911 she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation.[4] On 21 June 1914, a few weeks before war broke out, she succumbed to cancer. She had planned to attend the next Universal Peace Congress, which was scheduled to take place in Vienna in the autumn.

In the comprehensive socio-cultural debate of her day, Suttner's pacifism was influenced by the writings of Immanuel Kant, Henry Thomas Buckle, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin and Leo Tolstoy (Tolstoy praised Die Waffen nieder!) [5] conceiving peace as jusnuralistic original state impaired by the human aberrance of war and militarism. Therefore, a right to peace has to be demandable under international law and is necessary in the sense of an evolutionary (Darwinist) conception of history. Suttner was also an accomplished journalist, with one historian stating her work revealed her as "a most perceptive and adept political commentator" .[5]

Commemoration on coins and stamps

  • Bertha von Suttner was selected as a main motif for a high value collectors' coin: the 2008 Europe Taler. The reverse shows important people in the history of Europe, including Bertha von Suttner. Also depicted in the coin are Martin Luther (symbolising the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern period); Antonio Vivaldi (exemplifying the importance of European cultural life); and James Watt (representing the industrialization of Europe, inventor of the first steam engine in the 18th century).
  • She is depicted on the Austrian 2 euro coin, and was pictured on the old Austrian 1000 schilling bank note.
  • She was commemorated on a 2005 German postage stamp.

On film

  • Die Waffen nieder, by Holger Madsen and Carl Theodor Dreyer. Released by Nordisk Films Kompagni in 1914.[6][7]
  • "No Greater Love" (German: Herz der Welt), a 1952 film[8] has Bertha as the main character.

Works in English translation

  • Memoirs of Bertha von Suttner; The Records of an Eventful Life, Pub. for the International School of Peace, Ginn and company, 1910.
  • When Thoughts Will Soar; A Romance of the Immediate Future, by Baroness Bertha von Suttner ... tr. by Nathan Haskell Dole. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1914.
  • Lay Down Your Arms; The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling, by Bertha von Suttner. Authorised translation by T. Holmes, rev. by the author. 2d ed. New York, Longmans, Green and Co., 1906.

See also


  1. ^ List of female recipients of the Nobel Prize
  2. ^ Biography on Timeline of Nobel Prize Winners
  3. ^  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b Bertha von Suttner by Irwin Adams. The World Encyclopedia of Peace. Edited by Ervin László, Linus Pauling and Jong Youl Yoo. Oxford : Pergamon, 1986. ISBN 0-08-032685-4, (vol. 3, pp. 201–4).
  6. ^ Kelly, A. (1991). "Film As Antiwar Propaganda". Peace & Change 16: 97–112.  
  7. ^ Ned Med Vaabnene (1914) – IMDb
  8. ^ Herz der Welt (1952) – IMDb

External links

  • Website devoted to Bertha von Suttner on occasion of her memorialization on the Peace Palace Centenary
  • Nobel Entry
  • More Info from Nobel Winners
  • Another biography on Bertha von Suttner
  • 2005 — the Bertha von Suttner Year
  • Works by Bertha von Suttner at Project Gutenberg
  • Bertha von Suttner (1910). Memoirs of Bertha Von Suttner. Ginn & co. 
  • Online text of "Lay down Your Arms",
  • "Baroness Bertha von Suttner; Author of "Lay Down Your Arms" and Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize". New York Times Review of Books. February 5, 1911. pp. BR61.  )Memoirs(PDF of full review of
  • Claus Bernet (2005). "Bertha von Suttner". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 24. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 1435–1471.  

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