The Bertha von Suttner Project



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A Brief Biography of Bertha von Suttner





Bertha was born in 1843 in Prague.

At age 30, in 1873, she is hired by Baron Karl von Suttner to be governess for his 4 daughters. At this job, she meets her future husband: Arthur von Suttner, the son of the Baron - who is both an engineer and a writer. Arthur is Bertha's junior by 7 years.

At age 33, she becomes the Secretary of Alfred Nobel. The same year that she begins working for Nobel, she secretly marries Arthur von Suttner. Neither Bertha nor Arthur's family approves of the romance, so they marry in private.

At age 42, in 1885, she publishes her first novel, "
Ein schlechter Mensch".

At age 44, in 1887, she seems to become completely awakened after learning about the International Arbitration and Peace Association (IAPA) which was established in 1880 London by Hodgson Pratt. In her
autobiography, she writes that she encountered a record from a meeting of the IAPA "by accident" and that this chance encounter "gave the initial occasion for all that I have endeavored to do as a helper in the peace movement." She claims that she was apoplectic upon hearing about the existence of such a society "What? such a league existed? --the idea of justice between nations, the struggle to do away with war had assumed life? The news electrified me". Her reading the "English scholars and thinkers" (e.g. Herbert Spencer) had prepared her mind to "take in the peace cause."

At age 46, in 1889, she writes her best selling Novel,
Lay Down Your Arms (Die Waffen Nieder).

At age 48, in 1891, she becomes a social entrepreneur, organizing a pacifist group in Austria: The Austrian Peace Society. The following year, 1892, she organizes the German Peace Society. That same year, Alfred Fried recruits her to found a peace journal entitled "Die Waffen Nieder". Fried was 28 at the time. In 1911,
Fried shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Tobias Asser.


At age 56, in 1899, she is the only woman to attend the opening of the
1899 Hague Peace Conference on May 18th. On July 1, during the conference, Fried, takes control of the magazine "Die Waffen Nieder", relaunching it under a new name, "Die Friedens-warte" ("The Peace Watch"). Importantly, at the 1899 conference, von Suttner is a "non-state actor" - effectively a one woman NGO ("non-governmental organization") - and hence not an official delegate to the 1899 Conference. Nevertheless, she feels compelled to be near the historic diplomatic meeting and uses the opportunity to open a "salon" at which she and other peace activists lobby the delegations to support the establishment of a court aimed at replacing armed conflict with arbitration. ** These efforts were successful and the 1899 Hague Peace Conference establishes the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). It was believed that the PCA would end war. The PCA is still in existence today and is one of the entities that is housed at the Peace Palace, in The Hague (more on the Peace Palace below).

At age 62, in 1905, she wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

At age 70, in 1913, she attends the opening of the Peace Palace on August 28. In 1903, Andrew Carnegie provided 1.5 million dollars to erect a symbolic building, a Temple of Peace, which would be "revered by thinking men throughout the world" and would serve as a worthy accommodation to the PCA which was too "end all wars."

In 1914, at age 71, she died - just six weeks prior to the start of World War I.

** The model of private citizens lobbying state delegations was mirrored in 1998 in Rome by the
Coalition of the International Criminal Court (CICC) led by Bill Pace of the United States. The CICC successfully lobbied delegates to the Rome Conference to build a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), and are invited to the annual diplomatic meeting of the state parties that are members of the ICC.


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