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Radical Politics in a REAcnoNARY Age: The Unmaking ofRosiL· Schwimmer, 1914-1930 Beth S. Wenger In 1914, when Rosika Schwimmer first arrived in the United States, the American press welcomed her as a prominent Hungarian pacifist, suffragist , and ferninist. Jewish newspapers hailed her as "Hungary's great Jewess, the darling of the women's rights advocates in Europe and America."1 Only fifteen years later, Schwimmer would be an impoverished , stateless, poUtical refugee. Blacklisted by a host of right-wing organizations, she was accused of being both a German spy and a Bolshevik agent as weU as "an agent of a far more dangerous organization, the poUtical-economic movement of Jewry."2 By the 1920s, few feminists and pacifists supported Schwimmer's radical views and most disassociated themselves from her, fearing attacks from conservative critics. American Jews also distanced themselves from Schwimmer, blaming her for inciting Henry Ford's anti-Semitic campaign during the media-ridiculed Peace Ship expedition of 1915. The final blow to Schwimmer came in 1929 when the Supreme Court denied her request for American citizenship because, as a pacifist, she refused to pledge her willingness to bear arms in defense of the country. Schwimmer remained in the United States until her death in 1948, making repeated but futile attempts to clear her name. Although she never stopped participating in peace efforts, the propaganda war against her had effectively terminated her career as an activist and pubUc speaker. By no means a helpless victim, Schwimmer was accurately characterized as "extremely inteUigent but unusuaUy stubborn and forceful, [a woman] who wiU try everything to carry out her wül."3 She described herself as a "very, very radical feminist." A portly woman, Schwimmer wore pince-nez upon her round face and tucked her thick brown hair into a bun at the back of her head. A proponent of the dress reform movement, she refused to wear a corset or brassiere. In 1911, Schwimmer married Paul Bédy, the journaUst, but was divorced two years later. She never discussed her brief marriage, nor remarried, nor had any chUdren. Schwimmer's life revolved around her poUtical and social concerns. Along with woman suffrage and pacifism, her campaigns included birth control, marriage reform, and aboUtion of child labor. In the international movement, Rosika was known for her fiery speeches and established early in her career a ©1990 Journal of Women-s History, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Fall)____________________ My special thanks to Nancy Cott and Paula Hyman of Yale University for their critical comments on this paper and ongoing guidance and encouragement. 1990 Beth S. Wenger 67 reputation for stubbornness and intolerance. A single-minded worker in every cause she undertook, Schwimmer could be exceptionally harsh toward anyone who did not share her views. Her brilliance and energy were matched by an autocratic and domineering spirit. As one author has observed, "No one was neutral about Rosika Schwimmer. A human dynamo with a forceful personality and tireless energy, she was somebody you either loved or hated—frequently people did both at different times.4 Schwimmer provoked such strong reactions not only because of her strong and exceptional character but also as a result of the particularly volatile period in which she Uved. The general climate of America in the twenties, characterized by persistent attacks upon groups perceived to be radical or disloyal, made both Jews and feminists (as weU as other groups) increasingly susceptible to conservative condemnation. As a Jewish woman from a foreign country and an uncompromising pacifist and feminist, Schwimmer suffered the consequences of living in a generation that became anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and anti-feminist during the 1920s. Rosika Schwimmer's personal history unfolded against a backdrop of fear 68 Journal of Women's History Fall and suspicion that encompassed Jews, feminists, Bolsheviks, and a host of other, often imagined, conspirators. The mounting suspicion of Jews and feminists was, in part, the force behind the attacks on Schwimmer. Moreover, she occupied the radical fringe of the pacifist and ferninist movements, both inaeasingly divided and battered during the 1920s. Within this context, Schwimmer's transformation from "the darling of the women's rights advocates" to a "woman without a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 66-99
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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