Rózsika Schwimmer. (Carrie Chapman Catt Collection, Bryn Mawr College)

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Schwimmer, Rózsika

(1877–1948), feminist, journalist, and politician. Rózsika (Róza) Schwimmer was born in Budapest into a middle-class Jewish family; her father was a produce merchant. Schwimmer studied at an evening commerce school in Temesvár (Timişoara, Romania) in 1893–1894. Following the bankruptcy of her father’s business, her family moved back to Budapest. There, she first worked as a governess and then as a bookkeeper and a correspondent clerk. She also wrote for various journals such as the Pester Lloyd. From 1904, she supported herself as a journalist and lecturer. From 1911 until 1913, Schwimmer was married to a journalist whose surname was Bédy.

From 1897, Schwimmer was a member of the Nőtisztviselők Országos Egyesülete (National Association for Women Clerks), and from 1901 until 1908 she served as president of this organization. Within this framework, Schwimmer started a political movement to demand equal rights for women, and she established a number of feminist organizations to achieve this goal. With Mariska Gárdos, a social democrat and feminist, she founded the first national labor organization for women, the Magyarországi Munkásnő Egyesület (Hungarian Women Workers Association), in 1903. In 1904, Schwimmer became president of this organization as well. With another leading feminist, Vilma Glücklich, Schwimmer founded the bourgeois radical organization Feministák Egyesülete (Feminist Union) in 1904.

Between 1907 and 1918, Schwimmer edited the leading Hungarian feminist journal, A Nő és a Társadalom (Women and Society). She organized an international congress for women in Budapest in 1913. In 1914, she worked as the press secretary of the International Woman Suffrage Association in London. After the outbreak of World War I, she became a pacifist leader, and during a trip to the United States, she and Jane Addams created the Women’s Peace Party.

At the end of World War I, Schwimmer returned to Hungary and joined the liberal government of Count Mihály Károlyi in 1918. She became the world’s first woman ambassador when Károlyi appointed her as envoy to Switzerland. Schwimmer left Hungary for good in 1919 to campaign throughout Europe against the so-called White Terror that overtook Hungary after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Schwimmer moved to the United States in 1921. She was not granted American citizenship, however, because as a pacifist she refused to declare that she would defend her new country with arms. The Supreme Court denied her appeal 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 to honor her pacifist activities. She died in New York City in 1948; her papers are preserved in the New York Public Library.

Suggested Reading

Rozsika Schwimmer, A magyar nőmozgalom régi dokumentumai (Budapest, 1907); Rozsika Schwimmer, Staatlicher Kinderschutz in Ungarn (Leipzig, 1908); Rozsika Schwimmer, Tisza Tales (New York, 1928); Beth S. Wenger, “Radical Politics in a Reactionary Age: The Unmaking of Rosika Schwimmer, 1914–1930,” Journal of Women’s History 2 (1990): 66–99; Susan Zimmermann, “How They Became Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Movement in Central Europe at the Turn of the Century,” Central European University Historical Department Yearbook, 1997/98 (Budapest, 1999): 195–236.