Helena Maria Swanwick was born in Munich, Germany in 1864, the only daughter of Oswald and Maria Sickert, and sister to the painter, Walter Richard Sickert. The family moved to England when she was four years old. She was educated at Notting Hill High School and Girton College, Cambridge, obtaining her Moral Science Tripos in 1885, and later her ad eundem Master of Arts Degree at Dublin. She married Frederick Tertius Swanwick in 1888 (he died in 1931).
Swanwick's resume included being a lecturer in psychology, economics and sociology; a teacher in girls' clubs; first Editor of Common Cause magazine (organ of the constitutionalist suffragists); Editor ofForeign Affairs magazine (1924-1928); Honorable Secretary of the Manchester Women's Suffrage Association; Executive Member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies; Honorable Secretary of the Committee of Organized Women (1914-1915), which provided work and relief for women unemployed because of the war; first Chair of the Richmond Day Nursery (1914-1916); Vice President of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Geneva; Chair of the British Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Executive Member of the Union of Democratic Control (started by Ramsey MacDonald in 1914); Vice President of the Richmond (Surrey) Labour Party; and Member of the Committee of Inquiry Into Sexual Morality. Swanwick helped pioneer the League of Nations Society, representated Great Britain at the International Conference of Women, and was appointed by Ramsey MacDonald to be a member of the British government delegation to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva in 1924 and in 1929.
Swanwick was a well-known journalist and lecturer on feminism, social justice, and peace. Her dream was that women, if they used their power, could make an end to war. She contributed articles to the Manchester Guardian and the Observor and to other journals. Her books included The Small Town Garden, The Future of the Women's Movement, Some Points of English Law, Women in the Socialist State, Builder of Peace [a history of the Union of Democratic Control], I Have Been Young, Collective Insecurity, and The Roots of Peace. Her many years of distinguished public work and efforts for international cooperation were officially acknowledged when J. Ramsay MacDonald was successful in having her made a Companion of Honour in 1931.
Swanwick died in Maidenhead, England in Nov. 1939.