Skip to main content

Bertha von Suttner Collected Papers

Identifier: SCPC-CDG-B-Austria-Suttner, Bertha von

Scope and Contents

The Bertha von Suttner Papers consist of biographical information, writings by and about Suttner, correspondence and diaries. The bulk of the collection consists of photocopies of material for which the originals are in European archives; unfortunately, the photocopies are often difficult to decipher.


  • Creation: 1881-1917, 1993-1995


Language of Materials

Materials are in English and German.

Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use



Bertha von Suttner was born Bertha Sophia Felicita, Countess Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau in 1843, in Prague. Her father was Count Franz Joseph Kinsky (who died shortly before Bertha was born), was a field marshall and chamberlain to Austria's Emperor, Franz Joseph I. Though the family was impoverished, Bertha was well-read. She was educated at home by governesses and was proficient in languages. An exceptional pianist, Bertha studied voice in Paris, Baden-Baden and Milan. However, by the time she was in her early 30s, Bertha decided to find a job to support herself. She was hired in 1873 by Baron Karl von Suttner as governess to his four daughters. It was there that she met the Baron's son, Arthur Gundaccar. They fell in love and wished to marry, but both families opposed it, and Bertha was forced to find other work. She answered an advertisement from Alfred Nobel in Paris, who, in the autumn of 1875, was looking for a secretary and manager of his household. Nobel was a multi-millionaire from his discovery and manufacture of dynamite, but he was also a humanitarian who promoted many good causes.

Von Suttner's position with Nobel lasted less than two weeks as she decided she could not live without Arthur. They were married secretly on June 12, 1876 and moved to the Caucasus. Over the next few years they eked out a living at various jobs, at the same time enriching their intellectual life by reading widely in science, philosophy and history. During this time the von Suttners wrote and had published six novels, as well as a number of articles. In 1885, Arthur and Bertha were reconciled with his family and were offered a permanent suite in the von Suttner castle in Vienna. It was during a visit to Paris in 1887, that Bertha learned for the first time of the International Peace and Arbitration Association, based in London. The goal of this organization was the establishment of an international court of arbitration. Bertha promptly joined the Association and became its leading spokesperson. In the hopes of reaching a wider audience, she researched war, talking to army surgeons, field officers and others who graphically described the grim realities of its battles and aftermath. Von Suttner used this material in her 1891 novel Lay Down Your Arms. It's definite anti-war themes shocked her contemporaries, but it also received wide popular acclaim in many countries. Bertha published a manifesto in 1891 which attracted the attention of many peace sympathizers, and led to the formation of the Austrian Peace Society. She also helped establish the German Peace Association, the International Peace Bureau in Geneva in 1893, and the Hungarian Peace Society in 1896. Von Suttner is credited with being the first woman political journalist in the German language. Also, in 1899 she held a salon in conjunction with the First Hague Peace Conference (Netherlands), in which peace advocates convinced delegates to make establishing structures for resolving international conflict their primary concern.

For many years, Bertha corresponded with, and visited, Alfred Nobel. She urged him to support the goals of inernational arbitration by establishing a prize for peace. This led to his endowment for prizes to be given each year for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine and physiology, literature, and for work toward peace. Berthaherself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Bertha von Suttner died on June 21,1914, one week before the outbreak of the First World War.


1.25 linear ft. (15 linear in.)


Bertha von Suttner was an Austrian peace activist and intellectual, and the author of one of the first international bestselling novels focused on peace ("Lay Down Your Arms") published in 1891. In her life-long correspondence on peace matters with Alfred Nobel she urged him to establish a prize for peace. Von Suttner was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, the first woman to be thus recognized.

Other Finding Aids

For the catalog record for this collection, and to find materials on similar topics, search the library's online catalog

Custodial History

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is not the official repository for these papers/records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ella Arnhold Lewenz (1949), Dr. F.P. Kahlenberg, (1982) [Acc. 82A-007]; Anne Osterkamp, (1988) [Acc88A-030]; and Beatrice Kempf (1993) [Acc. 93A-023]; Peter van den Dungen (1993) [Acc. 93A-066]

Separated Materials

Photographs have been removed to the Photograph Collection, stamps with a Suttner image to the Stamp Collection, and several items to the Special Manuscripts Collection.

Legal Status

Copyright may have been transferred to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection or may have been retained by the creators/authors (or their descendents), in this collection, as stipulated by United States copyright law. Please contact the SCPC Curator for further information.

Processing Information

Processed by SCPC staff. Original finding aid prepared by Anne Yoder; this finding aid was updated by Wendy E. Chmielewski, July 2012.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore 19081-1399 USA US
610-328-8544 (Fax)