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Bella Savitsky Abzug (July 24, 1920 – March 31, 1998) was an Americanmarker 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.

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.

Abzug graduated from Walton High School in New York Citymarker, and went on to Hunter Collegemarker 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 Americamarker.

Legal and political career

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. 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. 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.

Legislative career

Abzug served the state of New Yorkmarker in the United States House of Representatives, representing her district in Manhattanmarker, from 1971 to 1977. For part of her term, she also represented part of The Bronxmarker 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.

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 WLIWmarker 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.

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 Collegemarker 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 Collegemarker, 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.

There was also a reference to her on The Simpsons. In an episode where Marge cuts out all of the naked photos in Homer's Playboy magazines, Bart finds them and while Milhouse was reading over his shoulder he says, "look there's a woman." Bart replies, "that's Congresswoman Bella Abzug." Milhouse then says, "Ciao Bella."

Bibliography

  • Bella! Ms. Abzug goes to Washington, Bella S. Abzug (edited by Mel Ziegler), Saturday Review Press, 1972 (ISBN 0841501548)
  • Gender gap : Bella Abzug’s guide to political power for American women, Bella S. Abzug and Mim Kelber, Houghton Mifflin, 1984 (ISBN 0395361818)


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 0374299528)


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. Faber, Doris. Bella Abzug. Lothrup, Lee and Shepard,1976.pages 61-69. Juvenile book.
  3. editor's personal experience with Congresswoman Abzug as co-director of this event.
  4. BALI News and Events published online, Fall 2007.


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