The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the highest honors a human being can receive; I like to think of it as the designation for the truly evolved! The lore behind the prize is that Alfred Nobel was always interested in the cause of peace, but he was moved to do something about it by his friend, baroness Bertha von Suttner. She became involved in the international movement against war founded in the 1890s and inspired Nobel to back it financially. By January 1893, Alfred wrote the good baroness a letter of his intentions to establish a prize for “him or her who would have brought about the greatest step toward advancing toward the pacification of Europe.” Clearly this prestigious endowment has spread to include the whole world and includes women and men from many different ethnicities and backgrounds. Since 1901, over 100 Peace Prizes have been awarded. So far, women recipients have received the laurel for a 10 percent average, but as of the last decade, women are catching up. Here are ten priestesses of pacifism:
Baroness Bertha von Suttner was sheroic from the start when she went against her family’s aristocratic ways and worked as a governess and nanny (Does that remind you of any other titled nanny turned peace activist?!), going on to write an antiwar novel Die Waffen Nieder (Lay Down Your Arms) and receiving the prize on the designated day of December 10, 1905.
Jane Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 when she was near death. She had been a strong opponent of World War I and was a controversial choice for that reason; in fact, in an extremely strange pairing, her corecipient Nicholas Murray Butler had been her greatest critic. Her commitment to activism was so great she requested that the organizations she founded, Hull House and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), be listed on her gravestone!
One of Jane Addams’ partners in pacifism was Emily Greene Balch, who worked with her in WILPF and took over leadership of the league upon Addams’ death in 1935. In 1946, Balch received the illustrious honor wherein she was acknowledged for her practical, solution- oriented approach to peace in her special work with Slav immigrants, her staunchness in the face of being fired from Wellesley for her war protests, and her key role in obtaining the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Haiti in 1926 after a decade-long occupation.
After a gap of thirty years in which no women won, two sheroes took the prize for peace in 1976—Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan. Williams, a Belfast housewife, and Corrigan, who had lost two children in her family to the war between the Irish Republican Army and the British soldiers, were leaders in the movement to stop the senseless violence in Northern Ireland. They were cited as having demonstrated “what ordinary people can do to promote peace.”
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the highest honor for her incredible contribution to social justice. By the age of twelve, the devout Catholic girl from Albania knew she wanted to devote her life to the poor and went to India soon after, teaching and working in the Calcutta slums. She founded a new order, The Missionaries of Charity, and continued the work that crossed all boundaries of race and religion. Her image came to symbolize kindness and spirit in action. Her tragic death one week after Princess Diana’s in September of 1997 saw the loss of two great advocates for the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised.
The 1982 Nobel Peace Prize went to Alva Myrdal of Mexico, who shared it with her countryman Alfonso Garcia Robles, both of whose work in the disarmament movement has gone far to lessen the threat of global destruction. Myrdal has worked with peace and social justice since the thirties, and she has written one of the most important books on the subject. She had been passed over (along with many other peaceful sheroes) by the Nobel Committee for mostly male choices until such a hue and cry arose that the prize pickers listened! Alva described her Nobel moment as her “peak” but said the “Norwegian People’s Prize” was “dear to her heart.”
Aside from Mother Teresa, the Nobel shero receiving the most publicity has to be Burmese Buddhist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who won in 1991. Deeply inspired by the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San based her life and actions on what she calls “a profound simplicity,” delineated beautifully in her book Freedom From Fear. Her dedication to freeing the people of Burma from their government under a brutally oppressive dictatorship has gained the respect of the world. Aung San was jailed after winning an election that opposed the military government of Myanmar (Burma). She is not only the national shero of her country but of the world, for her unswerving courage in the face of a cruel and corrupt power.
Rigoberta Menchu Tum was a controversial choice the Nobel committee made in 1992. A Mayan Indian and Guatemalan native, Tum was criticized by many conservative pundits for her involvement in the guerilla rebel group of her country; they saw it as being in conflict with the Nobel ethics of commitment to nonviolence. The truth is, however, that even though her father and many friends and fellow campesinos were burned alive
in a peaceful protest at the Mexican embassy, she never participated in violence and has always worked toward peace and justice for her country within the social political arenas, explaining, “we understood revolutionary in the real meaning of the word ‘transformation.’ If I had chosen the armed struggle, I would be in the mountains now.”
Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) on October 10, 1997, the day after her forty- seventh birthday. Jody, a frank, down-to-earth New Englander has pulled off the impossible—getting governments around the world to agree to help in the cleanup of landmine fields across the globe. Unlike many other eco-political issues, this one has a very human face to it—hundreds of people, many children, are maimed and crippled for life with limbs simply blown off when they step on a landmine. The crisis has received international publicity that helped catapult it to resolution. Jody received some very important assistance in drawing the problem to the world’s attention from another shero, Princess Diana, whose disastrous death in Paris three months before the Nobel award prevented her from seeing the fruition of her landmine work in Jody’s triumph.
Original post found here.