Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York, USA
Rosika Schwimmer (11 September 1877 – 3 August 1948) was the first woman Ambassador (Hungarian Ambassador to Switzerland) in 1918.
She was a Hungarian-born pacifist, feminist and female suffragist. Born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1877, she graduated from public school in 1891. An accomplished linguist, she spoke or read eight languages. In her early career, she had difficulty finding a job that paid a living wage and was sensitized by that experience to women's employment issues. Gathering data to provide statistics on working women, Schwimmer came into contact with members of the international women's suffrage movement and by 1904 became involved in the struggle. She co-founded the first national women's labor umbrella organization in Hungary and the Hungarian Feminist Association. She also assisted in organizing the Seventh Conference of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, hosted in Budapest in 1913. The following year, Schwimmer was hired as a press secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in London. When World War I broke out, she was branded an enemy alien and left Europe for the United States, where she spoke on suffrage and pacifism. She was one of the founders of the Woman's Peace Party and the organization which would become the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1915, after attending the International Congress of Women in The Hague, she worked with other feminists to persuade foreign ministers in Europe to support the creation of a body to peacefully mediate world affairs and was instrumental in convincing Henry Ford to charter the Peace Ship. From 1916 to 1918, Schwimmer lived in Europe working on various plans to end the war. With the establishment of the First Hungarian Republic, she was appointed as one of the world's first female ambassadors (from Hungary to Switzerland) in 1918. When the Republic was toppled by a coup d'état, she fled to the United States, renouncing her Hungarian citizenship. Applying for naturalization, Schwimmer was rejected on the basis of her pacifism. The case was overturned on appeal in 1928, and the following year the appeal was overturned by the US Supreme Court in the decision United States v. Schwimmer. For the remainder of her life, she remained stateless.
Having been denied citizenship, Schwimmer became stateless and remained so throughout the remainder of her life. She proposed that the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom host a conference to address the issue of a lack of nationality. The event was held in Geneva in 1930 and she drafted a plan for world citizens to be internationally recognized. Because of poor health, which included complications from diabetes, and an inability to work, she was supported by loyal friends. In the early 1930s, she moved to New York City, where she lived with her sister, Franciska, a pianist, and her secretary, Edith Wynner. In 1935, she formed the World Center for Women's Archives with Mary Ritter Beard. The purpose of the archive was to document the individual and organizational achievements of influential women as an educational reference for women to study the history other women. Schwimmer received an honorary World Peace Prize in 1937, organized by Carrie Chapman Catt, Albert Einstein, Sylvia Pankhurst, Romain Rolland, Margaret Sanger, and others, which provided her with a prize of $7,000. Also in 1937, Schwimmer formed the Campaign for World Government with Lloyd, the first World Federalist organization of the 20th century. The purpose of the organization was to establish world governance with a constitution, elected representation, a supranational legal system to resolve conflicts between nations, and an International Criminal Court to address human rights issues. Schwimmer was one of the pioneers who backed creation of the International Court of Justice as a means to provide equal participation and protection for all people regardless of ethnicity, race, or gender. Between 1938 and 1945, Schwimmer campaigned to aid European colleagues, such as Helene Stöcker, escape from Nazi Germany. In 1946, United States v. Schwimmer was overturned in Girouard v. United States, which determined that the Supreme Court had used an incorrect rule of law in Schwimmer, as well as in the cases United States v. Macintosh, 283 U.S. 605 (1931) and United States v. Bland, 283 U.S. 636 (1931). In 1948 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but had little chance of obtaining it, in spite of support from backers in Britain, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and the United States. No prize was given that year, the Nobel Committee concluding that "no one living deserved it", an allusion widely considered to be referring to the death of the Mahatma Gandhi.
Rosika Schwimmer died of pneumonia on 3 August 1948 in New York City. She was buried the following day at Ferncliff Cemetery. She is remembered as one of the primary spokespersons for Hungarian women in the era before World War I and as the co-founder of the Hungarian suffrage movement. Schwimmer's unpopularity during her lifetime discouraged scholarship. Historians in the 21st century have begun to analyze her life and reassess her import. After the World Centre for Women's Archives closed in 1940, Schwimmer's papers have been held in various archives including the Benson Ford Research Center in Dearborn, Michigan, Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, the Peace Collection at Swarthmore College, and in the Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection of the New York Public Library. Schwimmer's story illustrates the profound changes that occurred in the United States in the interwar period. Although she was never granted American citizenship, her life paralleled shifts in American society and values. Upon her arrival in the United States there was optimism that World War I could end quickly. When she returned in 1921, her pacifism was seen as a sign of disloyalty. A rising conservatism affected feminist groups and transformed them. Although the Peace Ship mission was largely seen as a failure, it changed the war press coverage in Europe, which to that point had been highly censored. The conference that was established in Stockholm in February 1916 served as a clearinghouse for discussing the war and how to end it. It also helped neutral nations avoid bowing to the pressure to enter the war. Her citizenship case became the basis for a lengthy campaign to change the naturalization laws to recognize that philosophical or religious belief were inadequate reasons for denial of citizenship. In 1952, the law was finally changed to allow conscientious objectors to take an oath that they agree to serve in a non-combatant capacity.
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