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Bella Abzug


Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th and 20th district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1977
Preceded by Leonard Farbstein
Succeeded by Theodore S. Weiss

Born July 24, 1920
New York City, New York
Died March 31, 1998 (aged 77)
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic
Religion Judaism

Bella Savitsky Abzug (July 24, 1920 – March 31, 1998) was an American lawyer, Congresswoman, social activist and a leader of the Women's Movement. In 1971 Abzug joined other leading feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan to found the National Women's Political Caucus. She famously declared "This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives" in her successful 1970 campaign to join that body when she became the first Jewish woman in the United States Congress. She was later appointed to chair the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year and to plan the 1977 National Women's Conference by President Gerald Ford and led President Jimmy Carter's commission on women.

Contents

Early life

Bella Savitsky was born on July 24, 1920. Both of Bella’s parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants in the United States. Her mother, Esther was a homemaker and her father, Emanuel ran the Live and Let Live Meat Market.

When Ms. Abzug was 13, her father died and she was told she would not be allowed to say the Mourner's Kaddish for her father in synagogue as is the tradition/requirement only for sons in her Orthodox Jewish community (for 11 months after the death of a parent although in Conservative and Reform communities both sons and daughters fulfill this duty). However, she did so as one of her first feminist actions because her father had no son. [1]

Abzug graduated from Walton High School in New York City, and went on to Hunter College of the City University of New York, later earning a law degree from Columbia University. She then went on to do further post-graduate work at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Legal and political career

Abzug with New York Mayor Ed Koch (left) and President Jimmy Carter (1978)

Abzug was admitted to the New York Bar in 1947, and started practicing in New York City at the firm of Pressman, Witt & Cammer, particularly in matters of labor law. She became an attorney in the 1940s, a time when very few women did so, and took on civil rights cases in the South. She appealed the case of Willie McGee, a black man convicted in 1945 of raping a white woman in Laurel, Mississippi and sentenced to death by an all-white jury who deliberated for only two-and-a-half minutes.[2] Abzug was an outspoken advocate of liberal causes, including support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Years before she was elected to the House of Representatives, she was active in the organization Women Strike for Peace.[3] Her political stands placed her on the master list of Nixon political opponents.

Abzug was a supporter of the Zionist movement. In 1975 she led the fight against United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 (revoked in 1991 by resolution 46/86) which

"determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination."

She supported various international peace movements, which in Israel was led by Shulamit Aloni and others.

In 1976, Abzug ran for the U.S. Senate, but was narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She was also unsuccessful in a bid to be the Mayor of New York City in 1977, and in attempts to return to the U.S. House from the East Side of Manhattan in 1978 and from Westchester County in 1986. Abzug then founded and ran several women's advocacy organizations, in 1979 Women U.S.A., and continued to lead feminist advocacy events, for example serving as grand marshall of the 1980 August 26 Women's Equality Day New York March. [4]

Legislative career

Abzug served the state of New York in the United States House of Representatives, representing her district in Manhattan, from 1971 to 1977. For part of her term, she also represented part of The Bronx as well. She was one of the first members of Congress to support gay rights, introducing the first federal gay rights bill, known as the Equality Act of 1974, with fellow Democratic New York City Representative, Ed Koch, a future mayor of New York City.[5]

Later life

In 1990, she co-founded the Women’s Environment & Development Organization to mobilize women’s participation in international conferences, particularly those run by the United Nations and appeared in the WLIW video A Laugh, A Tear, A Mitzvah, Woody Allen's Manhattan (as herself), a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live, and the documentary New York: A Documentary Film.

After battling breast cancer for a number of years, she developed heart disease and died on March 31, 1998 from complications following open heart surgery. She was 77.[6]

Family

Congresswoman Abzug was married to Martin Abzug, whom she met on a bus in Miami on the way to a concert by Yehudi Menuhin, from 1944 until his death 1986. The couple had two children: Eve and Liz.

Legacy

In 2004, her daughter, Liz Abzug, an adjunct Urban Studies Professor at Barnard College and a political consultant, founded the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI) to mentor and train high school and college women to become effective leaders in civic, political, corporate and community life.

To commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the first National Women’s Conference, a ground-breaking event held in Houston in 1977 and over which Bella Abzug presided, BALI hosted a National Women’s Conference on the weekend of November 10-11, 2007, at Hunter College, NYC. Over 600 people from around the world attended. In addition to celebrating the 1977 Conference, the 2007 agenda was to address significant women’s issues for the 21st century.[7]

Bibliography

  • Bella! Ms. Abzug goes to Washington, Bella S. Abzug (edited by Mel Ziegler), Saturday Review Press, 1972 (ISBN 0-8415-0154-8)
  • Gender gap : Bella Abzug’s guide to political power for American women, Bella S. Abzug and Mim Kelber, Houghton Mifflin, 1984 (ISBN 0-395-36181-8)

Further reading

  • Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, ... Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way, authored by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, (ISBN 0-374-29952-8)

References

  1. ^ Jaffe-Gill, Ellen, editor The Jewish Woman's Book of Wisdom, Citadel Press, 1998 Abzug, Bella "No One Could Have Stopped Me" p.74
  2. ^ Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, ... Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way, authored by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, (ISBN 0-374-29952-8), pp. 49-56, http://books.google.com/books?id=Swe2xwKRCEcC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  3. ^ Faber, Doris. Bella Abzug. Lothrup, Lee and Shepard,1976.pages 61-69. Juvenile book.
  4. ^ editor's personal experience with Congresswoman Abzug as co-director of this event.
  5. ^ "Narrative: The Task Force’s commitment to ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has a long history". National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. http://www.thetaskforce.org/issues/nondiscrimination/narrative. 
  6. ^ Mansnerus, Laura (April 1, 1998). "Bella Abzug, 77, Congresswoman And a Founding Feminist, Is Dead". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9904EFDF1F3BF932A35757C0A96E958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. 
  7. ^ BALI News and Events published online, Fall 2007.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Leonard Farbstein
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th congressional district

1971-1973 (District moved)
Succeeded by
Charles B. Rangel
Preceded by
William Fitts Ryan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

1973 – 1977
Succeeded by
Theodore S. Weiss

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.

Bella Savitsky Abzug (July 24, 1920March 31, 1998) was a well-known American political figure, a leader of the women's movement, and a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Sourced

  • I’ve been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prize fighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella, Mother Courage, and a Jewish mother with more complaints than Portnoy. There are those who say I’m impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash, and overbearing. Whether I’m any of those things, or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am —and this ought to be made very clear—I am a very serious woman.
    • Bella!, introduction (1972)
  • Just imagine for a moment what life in this country might have been if women had been properly represented in Congress. Would a Congress where women in all their diversity were represented tolerate the countless laws now on the books that discriminate against women in all phases of their lives? Would a Congress with adequate representation of women have allowed this country to reach the 1970s without a national health care system? Would it have permitted this country to rank fourteenth in infant mortality among the developed nations of the world? Would it have allowed the situation we now have in which thousands of kids grow up without decent care because their working mothers have no place to leave them? Would such a Congress condone the continued butchering of young girls and mothers in amateur abortion mills? Would it allow fraudulent packaging and cheating of consumers in supermarkets, department stores and other retail outlets? Would it consent to the perverted sense of priorities that has dominated our government for decades, where billions have been appropriated for war while our human needs as a people have been neglected?
    • Bella!, “February 7” section (1972)

Unsourced

  • All of the men on my staff can type.
  • The establishment is made up of little men, very frightened....
  • I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.
  • I prefer the word "homemaker" because "housewife" always implies that there may be a wife someplace else.
  • Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.
  • The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.
  • This woman's place is in the House — the House of Representatives.
    • Her campaign slogan in 1970
  • Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over!

External links

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