Schwimmer, Rosika, 1877-1948

Alternative names
Dates:
birth 1877
death 1948
Gender:
oac, LC, harvard, fivecol, VIAF, WorldCat, nypl, umi, lc
English Unknown , Hungarian Unknown , German Unknown

Biographical notes:

Schwimmer was a Jewish pacifist and writer, born in Hungary. Her application for American citizenship was denied by the Supreme Court in 1929 on the grounds of her pacifist views. Justice Holmes wrote the dissenting opinion. (United States v. Schwimmer; 49 S. Ct. 448)

From the description of Correspondence between Rosika Schwimmer and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1930-1935. (Harvard Law School Library). WorldCat record id: 235152187

Public official.

From the description of Rosika Schwimmer papers, 1930-circa 1948. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70981021

Hungarian feminist and pacifist.

From the description of Rosika Schwimmer papers, 1914-1937. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754868173

B. Sept. 11, 1877 in Budapest, Hungary; suffragist, feminist leader in Hungary and internationally; was instrumental in founding several Hungarian societies for the advancement of trade unionism, land reform, feminism, female suffrage and pacifism; worked to promote peace during World War I; helped to form a number of U.S. and international peace groups, including the Emergency Peace Federation, the Henry Ford Peace Expedition, and the Woman's Peace Party; was appointed Hungary's foreign minister to Switzerland in 1918, the first woman to receive that honor; upon the overthrow of the government by a communist regime, Schwimmer escaped to Vienna in February 1920, and then to the United States in 1921; was refused U.S. citizenship and slandered because of her pacifist refusal to bear arms in defense of the country; received the World Peace Prize in 1937, and in 1948 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; d. Aug. 3, 1948 in New York City.

From the description of Collection, 1914-1948. (Swarthmore College, Peace Collection). WorldCat record id: 29401657

Rosika Schwimmer (1877-1948) was born in Budapest, Hungary, the oldest child of Max B. Schwimmer, a grocer and horse dealer, and Bertha Katscher Schwimmer, member of a distinguished Jewish literary family. She married in 1911 but divorced two years later. An accomplished linguist, fluent in more than half a dozen languages, Schwimmer initially devoted herself to the cause of woman suffrage. She attended the 1904 Berlin meeting of the International Council of Women at which the International Women's Suffrage Alliance was founded. She settled in London in 1911 as press secretary of the Alliance. With the outbreak of World War I, Schwimmer focused her efforts on peace. In 1914 she traveled to the U.S. to speak with President Wilson and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on behalf of the Alliance's endorsement of neutral mediation of the war. Her flamboyant personality and ardent peace advocacy provided the spark that kindled sentiment for the Woman's Peace Party. She was also influential in organizing the 1915 Congress of Women at The Hague and establishing the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (later Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)). The Ford Peace Ship, the ocean liner sponsored by Henry Ford that sailed to Europe in 1915-16 carrying an unofficial mediation commission, brought its passengers, including Schwimmer, a notoriety that led to her resignation from WILPF in 1918. Upon her return to Hungary, Schwimmer was appointed ambassador to Switzerland. In 1921 she returned to the U.S. where her attempts to resume her career and gain citizenship were thwarted by accusations that she was a spy. Her final citizenship application was denied in 1924 when she refused to affirm her willingness to bear arms in defense of the United States. She remained in the U.S. as an alien for the rest of her life, supported by her old friend and co-worker for peace, Lola Maverick Lloyd.

Lola Maverick Lloyd (1875-1944) graduated from Smith College in 1897. A pioneer suffragist and pacifist, in 1915 she co-founded with Jane Addams the Women's Peace Party, and later the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She was also a delegate to the Congress of Women at the Hague in 1915 and sailed on Henry Ford's Peace Ship. Lloyd and Schwimmer co-chaired the Campaign for World Government.

From the guide to the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection MS 141., 1912-1950, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Rosika Schwimmer (1877-1948) was a Hungarian-born writer and political activist who spent her life working for the causes of feminism, pacifism, and world government.

She was the mastermind of the 1915 Ford Peace Expedition, and in 1937 co-founded the political-lobbying organization Campaign for World Government.

From the description of Rosika Schwimmer papers, 1890-1983 (bulk 1904-1948). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 232115171

Suffragist; Feminist; Pacifist; Diplomat.

Schwimmer, Rosika (1877-1948), born Budapest, Hungary; suffragist, feminist leader in Hungary and internationally; was instrumental in founding several Hungarian societies for the advancement of trade unionism, land reform, feminism, female suffrage and pacifism; worked to promote peace during World War I; helped to form a number of U.S. and international peace groups, including the Emergency Peace Federation, the Henry Ford Peace Expedition, and the Woman's Peace Party; was appointed Hungary's foreign minister to Switzerland in 1918, the first woman to receive that honor; upon the overthrow of the government by a communist regime, Schwimmer escaped to Vienna in February 1920, and then to the United States in 1921; was refused U.S. citizenship and slandered because of her pacifist refusal to bear arms in defense of the country; remained in U.S. as an alien for the rest of her life, supported by her old friend and co-worker for peace, Lola Maverick Lloyd. She received the World Peace Prize in 1937, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948. Lola Maverick Lloyd (1875-1944) graduated Smith College, 1897; pioneer suffragist; pacifist; co-founder, with Jane Addams, of the Women's Peace Party, 1915; and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1915 was a delegate to the Congress of Women, the Hague, and sailed on Henry Ford's Peace Ship. Also co-chaired, with Rosika Schwimmer, the Campaign for World Government.

From the description of Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection, 1912-1950. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 50119461

Rosika Schwimmer (1877-1948) was a Hungarian-born writer and political activist who spent her life working for the causes of feminism, pacifism, and world government. Born in Budapest, Schwimmer was descended from several generations of Jewish merchants and intellectuals. She was the oldest of three children of Max Bernat Schwimmer, a horse merchant, and his wife Berta Schwimmer, née Katscher. Her maternal uncle, Leopold Katscher, was a well-known and widely-published pacifist lawyer and journalist whose beliefs influenced his niece and would significantly shape her career.

Rosika attended school briefly in Budapest and at a convent school in the Transylvanian town of Temesvár (modern-day Timisoara, Romania), where the family also operated an experimental farm. She received a classical education featuring music and foreign languages. Although she completed only eight years of formal schooling, she eventually came to speak four languages--Hungarian, German, French and English--and was able to read an additional four--Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish.

When the family fortunes began to falter in the late 1890s, Schwimmer began work as a bookkeeper in various Budapest offices. The working conditions she experienced led to her first forays in political organizing, and soon into involvement in the Hungarian suffrage and pacifist movements. Her activities also brought her beyond the borders of the Dual Monarchy, when she became a corresponding secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). Her position with the IWSA would prove invaluable to her career, as it brought her into contact with other feminists and suffragists, and cemented her involvement in international political movements.

Little is known about her brief, childless marriage in 1911 to a journalist by the name of Bédy. Differing accounts maintain that Mr. Bédy passed away in 1912, or that the couple divorced in 1913. Following the marriage, Rosika rejected her Hungarian married name of Bédy-Schwimmer Rósza (or B. Schwimmer, Rosika), preferring the title "Madame Schwimmer."

In 1914, Schwimmer moved to London to begin work as the press secretary for the IWSA. When the outbreak of World War I prevented her from returning to Hungary, she sought Carrie Chapman Catt's assistance in arranging a lecture tour of the United States. Schwimmer traveled to twenty-two states, lecturing primarily on the themes of woman suffrage and the human cost of war. At a lecture in Chicago, she met Lola Maverick Lloyd, a millionaire active in the American feminist and pacifist movements. Mrs. Lloyd would become her professional partner and financial support in later years.

Schwimmer was determined to convince Woodrow Wilson to act as a neutral mediator to stop the war in Europe. Her efforts culminated in a September 1914 audience with the President, arranged by Catt. The meeting with the hesitant president was unsuccessful.

In April of 1915, Schwimmer attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague. At the Congress, she was selected as a member of the board of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (later the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF). Perhaps more significantly, following the Congress, Schwimmer joined a convoy of women traveling to the belligerent countries to meet with diplomats and discuss the possibility of armistice. The women obtained documents from dignitaries on both sides of the conflict, stating their willingness to accept compromise if proposed by a neutral party. These documents failed to persuade President Wilson to mediate, when Schwimmer met with him a second time in November of 1915, but did convince automobile magnate Henry Ford to finance a new plan.

The Henry Ford Peace Expedition, also known as the Ford Peace Ship, was hastily organized in late November and early December of 1915. The participant list was drafted and redrafted, while an eager Ford trumpeted his desire to "Get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas!" He pushed for a start date before Schwimmer felt the endeavor was quite ready, and indeed a number of the luminaries initially invited declined to attend. Schwimmer quickly completed the passenger list, hired the Danish ship Oscar II, and enticed numerous journalists to join the venture and report from the seas. With this preliminary work achieved, the expedition finally set sail from Hoboken on December 4.

The voyage across the Atlantic was far from pacific, with several camps debating the best means of bringing the hostile countries into agreement. All the while, the journalists reported criticism of the venture to the international press, lambasting Schwimmer and the pacifists for their lack of a coherent plan. Upon arrival in Christiania (modern-day Oslo), perhaps embarrassed by the negative press and claiming illness, Ford abandoned the expedition and returned to the United States. He continued to provide funding for the ensuing Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation, while never indicating who was to be his successor and primary representative at the Conference. In the face of increasing criticism and the stress of attempting to manage competing coalitions, Schwimmer resigned her chairmanship in March of that year. The Neutral Conference limped on fairly unsuccessfully for another year.

While the Ford Peace Expedition can be seen as the high point of Schwimmer's career, it resulted in the collapse of her political influence in America. The failure of the grand venture, her intractable personality and tendency to clash with those with whom she did not agree, and the public perception that the Expedition had bilked Ford of massive amounts of money contributed to the destruction of her public reputation in the United States. She spent much of the 1920s through the 1940s attempting to resurrect her image, becoming embroiled in several libel suits, including one against Upton Sinclair for his portrayal of her in the book Upton Sinclair Presents William Fox.

Following the end of the war, Schwimmer returned to newly-independent Hungary, headed by Prime Minister Count Michael Karolyi. Karolyi appointed her the first female Hungarian minister to Switzerland, a position she held from November 1918 to March of 1919. Amidst the chaos of Bela Kun's Communist "Red Terror" and the ensuing anti-Semitic "White Terror" of the Admiral Horthy government, Schwimmer managed to escape to Vienna in January of 1920. The following year she emigrated to the United States under the financial sponsorship of her friend Lola Maverick Lloyd.

In 1924 Schwimmer applied to become a U.S. citizen. But as a lifelong pacifist, she refused to swear to take up arms in defense of the country in case of war, and her application was denied. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in May of 1929 the case of the United States v. Schwimmer was found against her. Despite this loss, the case became famous for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s minority opinion affirming the protection of all speech, "not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate." Schwimmer, now stateless as a result of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the denial of U.S. citizenship, would remain so until her death.

In 1937, Schwimmer and Lola Maverick Lloyd founded the Campaign for World Government, a lobbying organization with headquarters both in New York and Chicago. Dissatisfied with the League of Nations (and later the United Nations) Schwimmer believed that only a federal world legislative body could prevent future wars between nations.

In her later years, Schwimmer would also work with author and historian Mary Ritter Beard to create the World Center for Women's Archives, an organization devoted to the documentation of women's lives and political activities.

Schwimmer suffered for much of her life from ill health. Having fought diabetes through experimental treatments for decades, she passed away in August 1948. Shortly before her death, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. No prize was awarded that year.

  • 1877 Sept. 11Born in Budapest
  • 1897Organized National Association of Women Office Workers
  • 1903Founded Hungarian Association of Working Women
  • 1904Co-founded Hungarian Council of Women and the Hungarian Feminist Association
  • 1911Married Bédy
  • 1914Moved to London
  • 1914 Sept.Met with President Wilson
  • 1914-1915Lecture tour of U.S.
  • 1915 Apr.-MayInternational Congress of Women at The Hague
  • 1915 Nov.Second meeting with President Wilson
  • 1915 Nov.Met with Henry Ford, began planning Peace Ship
  • 1915 Dec. 4Oscar II set sail
  • 1916 Feb.Ford Neutral Conference began
  • 1916 Mar.Resigned from conference
  • 1918 Oct.Appointed to the National Council of Fifteen, which briefly governed Hungary
  • 1918 Nov.-1919 Mar.Served as Hungarian Minister to Switzerland
  • 1920 Jan.Escaped to Vienna
  • 1921Emigrated to U.S.
  • 1924 MayCitizenship application made public
  • 1926Petition for naturalization rejected
  • 1928Published Tisza Tales, a collection of stories for children
  • 1929Successful libel suit against Fred R. Marvin of the Keymen of America
  • 1929 MayUnited States v Schwimmer decided against Schwimmer. Citizenship rejection upheld.
  • 1937Launched Campaign for World Government with Lola Maverick Lloyd
  • 1939Published pamphlet Union Now, for Peace or War?
  • 1948Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1948 Aug. 3Died in New York

From the guide to the Rosika Schwimmer papers, 1890-1983, 1904-1948, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)



Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.

Links to collections