#WomenWednesday Recognizes First Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Activist. Writer. Nobel Peace Prize Winner. These are a few adjectives that describe Bertha von Suttner.

Born in 1843 to an Austrian family of military nobility, von Suttner was the product of an aristocratic society that accepted militaristic traditions without question. Yet she would go on to challenge these as a peace advocate later in life.

As an adolescent, von Suttner had dreams of an operatic career. But upon learning that her vocal skills were not up to par, she turned to academics: philosophy, science, and languages – even teaching herself Italian.

At the age of 30, von Suttner left home to seek employment as a governess in the household of Baron and Baroness von Suttner and later fell in love with their son, Arthur von Suttner. However, the Baroness disapproved of their love and soon found von Suttner a new position in Paris as the secretary and housekeeper of Alfred Nobel – a Swedish scientist who invented dynamite and later create the Nobel Peace Prize. After one week of separation, Arthur and Bertha eloped in Vienna and moved to the Caucasus.

During their stay in the Caucasus, von Suttner published her first article under a pseudonym. In 1883, she published her first novel, Inventory of a Soul, which advanced her own theories on the how society could progress through achieving peace. Her novel gained momentum in literary circles.

She continued to write. She produced acclaimed works such as Daniela Dormes (1886) and The Machine Age (1889). The success of those novels later led the von Suttners to move to Paris, where she became re-acquainted with Nobel and learned about the International Peace and Arbitration Society. Von Suttner was immediately taken in with the goals of the organization and utilized her literary talents to spread the message of peace to the masses.

Her purpose-driven mission lead to her writing her best-known work Lay Down Your Arms (1889). The book was widely acclaimed and cemented her place as at the forefront of the anti-war movement of the time.

Von Suttner continued to promote her agenda of a peaceful world society. As a result, she became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 – an award she actually encouraged Nobel to create.