On International Women’s Day we remember Rozika (Rózsika) Schwimmer

Rózsika Schwimmer was a Hungarian-American feminist, journalist, politician and relentless fighter for woman’s rights in Hungary and the United States.

Rozika (Rózsika) Schwimmer

Born in 1877 in Budapest and trained as a bookkeeper, Schwimmer was an occasional journalist for various papers such as Pester Lloyd. She got involved with the Hungarian union movement and became the leader of the National Association for Women Clerks (Nőtisztviselők Országos Egyesülete). Later with Mariska Gárdos, a Social Democrat, she founded the first Hungarian labor organization for women, the Hungarian Women Workers Association (Magyarországi Munkásnő Egyesület). Schwimmer was also active in a feminist organization, the Feminist Union (Feministák Egyesülete.)

Schwimmer got international exposure after organizing a congress for women in Budapest in 1913 and later was invited to be the press secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Association in London. In 1915 during a trip to the United States, she and Jane Addams created the Women’s Peace Party. Schwimmer also met automaker Henry Ford, who vehemently opposed the US involvement in World War I. The billionaire was so impressed with Schwimmer’s initiatives that he agreed to charter a steam ship, dubbed the “Peace Ship.” Religious leaders and journalists joined with Ford and the feminists on board to sail to various European ports holding consultations. They drafted a platform for peace, but the initiative did not succeed

Schwimmer (left) and Henry Ford (sitting) organized the Peace Ship in 1915

Schwimmer returned to Budapest and in 1918 the government of Count Mihály Károlyi named her ambassador to Switzerland. She was the world’s first woman in that role. After Horthy’s brutal right-wing takeover she never returned to Hungary; in 1921, like many of the anti-Horthy exiles, she moved to the United States.

Peace Delegates on the ship.

Schwimmer made headlines when she was not granted US citizenship because, as a pacifist, she refused to declare that she would defend her new country with arms. The case was heard by the US Supreme Court and denied in 1929. Schwimmer served as vice president of the International League for Peace and Freedom and as president of the International Campaign for World Government in New York. She was awarded the World Peace Prize in 1937 in honor of her pacifist activities.

She died in New York City in 1948.

György Lázár

2 Comments

  1. Sandor Kerekes says:

    Good article. I never heard of her before. Further food for inquiring thought the she was obviously Jewish and most likely (or perhaps possibly) lesbian. Foe whatever that is worth.
    Thanks for the interesting piece.

  2. György Lázár says:

    Hi Sándor, thanks for the comment. Yes, her ancestry was Jewish. She was married to a Hungarian journalist and used her married name in Hungary, Bédy-Schwimmer Rózsa. They later divorced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *