Rosika Schwimmer papers

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Collection Data

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. Her papers include correspondence, professional writings and speeches, organizational and financial records, miscellaneous personal items, printed matter, artifacts, and photographs.
Schwimmer, Rosika, 1877-1948 (Creator)
Addams, Jane, 1860-1935 (Contributor)
Beard, Mary Ritter, 1876-1958 (Contributor)
Catt, Carrie Chapman, 1859-1947 (Contributor)
Holmes, Oliver W. (Oliver Wendell), 1902-1981 (Contributor)
Károlyi, Mihály, 1875-1955 (Contributor)
Lloyd, Lola Maverick, 1875-1944 (Contributor)
Schwimmer, Franciska (Contributor)
Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968 (Contributor)
Suttner, Bertha von, 1843-1914 (Contributor)
Wynner, Edith (Contributor)
Ford, Henry, 1863-1947 (Contributor)
Campaign for World Government (Organization) (Contributor)
Hungarian Feminists Association (Contributor)
World Center for Women's Archives (Contributor)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1890 - 1983
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 6398
Noncitizens -- Civil rights -- United States
Diplomats -- Hungary
International organization
Women -- Europe -- History -- 20th century -- Sources
Women -- Suffrage
Women and peace
World War, 1914-1918 -- Protest movements
World Center for Women's Archives
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Congress (1st : 1915 : Hague, Netherlands)
Ford, Henry, 1863-1947
Campaign for World Government (Organization)
Henry Ford Peace Expedition (1915-1916)
Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation (1916)
Biographical/historical: 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.
Biographical/historical: Timeline: 1877 Sept. 11 Born in Budapest 1897 Organized National Association of Women Office Workers 1903 Founded Hungarian Association of Working Women 1904 Co-founded Hungarian Council of Women and the Hungarian Feminist Association 1911 Married Bédy 1914 Moved to London 1914 Sept. Met with President Wilson 1914-1915 Lecture tour of U.S. 1915 Apr.-May International 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. 4 Oscar 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 1921 Emigrated to U.S. 1924 May Citizenship application made public 1926 Petition for naturalization rejected 1928 Published Tisza Tales, a collection of stories for children 1929 Successful libel suit against Fred R. Marvin of the Keymen of America 1929 May United States v Schwimmer decided against Schwimmer. Citizenship rejection upheld. 1937 Launched Campaign for World Government with Lola Maverick Lloyd 1939 Published pamphlet Union Now, for Peace or War? 1948 Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 1948 Aug. 3 Died in New York
Content: Rosika Schwimmer's papers, which constitute the bulk of the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection, extensively document her professional life and personal interests, and the activities of prominent colleagues in the pacifist, suffragist, feminist and world government movements. Spanning the 1890s through her death in 1948, the collection consists of correspondence; Schwimmer's literary and professional writings and speeches; subject files; documents stemming from organizations and movements in which she was active; legal, financial and real estate materials; printed matter, including extensive newspaper clippings; a small number of photographs; and personal miscellany, including juvenilia, appointment and telephone books, passports and identity papers, medical files, and artifacts. Over half of the collection consists of Schwimmer's voluminous correspondence, maintained as a matter of business on a daily basis and with incoming and outgoing letters interfiled. The letters exchanged document every milestone in her personal and professional career, her relationships with her colleagues and friends, and her opinions on a wide variety of matters. Especially well-represented are the women's suffrage and reform movements in Europe prior to World War I; the Ford Peace Expedition; Schwimmer's continuing involvement with the American and European peace movements; her contribution to the protection of free speech in the U.S.; her battles with patrioteer organizations throughout the 1930s and 1940s; and her active lobbying for the formation of a world government. Materials are predominantly in English, with significant holdings in Hungarian and German and a small number of items in other European languages. Other series within the collection complement the general correspondence, focusing on Schwimmer's involvement with the Hungarian Feminists Association, the International Women Suffrage Alliance Congresses, the 1915 International Congress of Women at The Hague, and the Ford Peace Expedition and Neutral Conference for Continuing Mediation. There are also documents stemming from Schwimmer's Swiss diplomatic service, and from her activities "in exile" in the United States, including her crusade against personal libel, her attempts to obtain American citizenship and the resulting Supreme Court case, her efforts on behalf of other immigrants and displaced persons during World War II, and her activities founding the World Center for Women's Archives. Researchers interested in Schwimmer's photographs will find occasional examples included here, but are instructed to view the separate finding aid for the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection Photographs for the bulk of photographic materials. In addition, several boxes of images from the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection Photographs are now available through the Digital Gallery of The New York Public Library, under the title "Woman Suffrage and Feminism Photographs in the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection." See the collection guide for further information:
Content: Selected images from the Schimmer-Lloyd Collection Photographs are available in the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery, under the title "Woman Suffrage and Feminism Photographs in the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection."
Content: The Rosika Schwimmer Papers were donated to The New York Public Library in 1944 along with the papers of her fellow activist, Lola Maverick Lloyd, other Schwimmer and Lloyd family members and associates to form the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection. This huge collection was originally arranged as a single unit divided into 22 series. In 2007, the Rosika Schwimmer Papers were reconfigured as a distinct collection, remaining under the administrative aegis of the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection. From the time of Schwimmer's death until the early 1990s, the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection was maintained by Schwimmer's personal secretary, Edith Wynner, who continued to add relevant material. Researchers should use Schwimmer's papers (and the collection as a whole) with the understanding that items post-dating 1948 constitute Wynner's collecting efforts. Larger sections of Wynner additions have been removed to the Edith Wynner Papers. The bulk of Schwimmer's photographs, her personal library and pamphlet collections, and her extensive vertical file on prominent individuals and issues of her time, have been maintained separately within the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection.
Acquisition: Donated by Rosika Schwimmer in 1944 as part of the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection
Content: Processed by Laura Ruttum.
Physical Description
Extent: 160 linear feet (592 boxes)
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b16858115
MSS Unit ID: 6398
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 8ef58200-44cb-013a-d811-0242ac110002
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