Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug

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A leading liberal activist and politician, Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was especially known for her work for women’s rights. After graduating from Columbia University’s law school, she became involved the antinuclear and peace movements. In the 1960s, she helped organize the Women Strike for Peace and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Seeking to make a greater impact, she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she advocated for women’s rights and withdrawal from Vietnam. After leaving office in 1977, Abzug continued to work on many causes, including the establishment the Women’s Environmental Development Organization.

Born Bella Savitzky on July 24, 1920, in New York, New York, bold and outspoken, Bella Abzug was a leading liberal activist and politician in the 1960s and 1970s, especially known for her work for women’s rights. She knew from experience the challenges women faced professionally and politically. Abzug had applied to the Harvard Law School, but she was rejected because of her gender.

After graduating from Columbia University’s law school, Bella Abzug worked as a lawyer for a number of years. In the 1960s, she became involved the antinuclear and peace movements. Abzug helped organize the Women Strike for Peace in 1961. To promote women’s issues and to lobby for reform, she helped establish the National Women’s Political Caucus with leading feminists Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.To have a greater impact on the political process, Bella Abzug ran for Congress, winning a seat in the House of Representatives. After taking office in 1971, she fought for women’s rights and objected to the war in Vietnam.

After winning re-election twice, Abzug left office in 1977. She made a bid for mayor of New York City, but lost to Ed Koch in the primaries. Abzug continued to work on many causes in the 1980s and 1990s and established the Women’s Environmental Development Organization.

Known for her big hats and an even bigger voice, Bella Abzug left her mark on U.S. politics as a women’s rights champion and determined antiwar activist. She died on March 31, 1998, in New York City, from complications following heart surgery. She was married to Martin Abzug from 1944 until his death; the couple had two daughters.

Biography courtesy of

Meet the Woman Behind Women’s Equality Day

O n Aug. 26, 1970, 50,000 women marched down New York City&rsquos Fifth Avenue in an undeniable display of the strength of second-wave feminism. They were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted American women the right to vote, but they were also protesting the limits and expectations placed on American womanhood, demanding changes to childcare and abortion policies and education and employment opportunities. Many abandoned their usual domestic duties for the day, with spiritual sisters across the country staging sit-ins and takeovers of all-male bars.

One year to the day after the Women&rsquos Strike for Equality March, Congress passed a resolution designating Aug. 26 as Women&rsquos Equality Day, and 45 years later, the day continues to be a moment to reckon with how far women&rsquos rights have come, and how far they have yet to go.

Though in truth there are many women to thank for establishing Women&rsquos Equality Day&mdashdating back to the suffragists who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848&mdashthe woman most directly responsible was Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a Democrat from New York, who introduced the bill that would formally establish the day of recognition.

Abzug&rsquos push for Women&rsquos Equality Day was, in fact, far more symbolic than many of the more concrete policies she made a reality in her six years in Congress, not to mention in the two decades prior to her election, which she spent as a lawyer fighting for human rights and civil rights. While in Congress, she co-founded the National Women&rsquos Political Caucus along with Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm, working to secure more elected positions for women in politics. She later introduced the first federal gay-rights bill, along with future New York City mayor Ed Koch. Failed bids for Senate and New York City mayor hardly slowed her roll, and she would continue fighting for equal rights until her death in 1998.

But Abzug is remembered as much for her accomplishments as for the way she went about realizing them: neither quietly nor politely, thank you very much. She was known for being brash and outspoken, described in the pages of TIME as &ldquotruculent and courageous,&rdquo with a New York City accent Norman Mailer said “could boil the fat off a taxi driver’s neck.&rdquo She spoke, almost always, from beneath a wide-brimmed hat which she began wearing in her early days as a lawyer when she was repeatedly mistaken for a secretary. As TIME wrote of her just 10 days before that 1971 resolution was passed: &ldquoNo one, friend or enemy, denies that Bella Abzug has a certain presence.&rdquo

Bella Abzug - HISTORY

Bella S. Abzug, New Yorker, feminist, antiwar activist, politician and lawyer, died yesterday at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. She was 77.

She died of complications following heart surgery, said Harold Holzer, who was her spokesman when she served in Congress. She had been hospitalized for weeks, and had been in poor health for several years, he said.

Ms. Abzug represented the West Side of Manhattan for three Congressional terms in the 1970&aposs. She brought with her a belligerent, exuberant politics that made her a national character. Often called just Bella, she was recognizable everywhere by her big hats and a voice that Norman Mailer said &apos&aposcould boil the fat off a taxicab driver&aposs neck.&apos&apos

She opposed the Vietnam War, championed what was then called women&aposs liberation and was one of the first to call for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. Long after it ceased to be fashionable, she called her politics radical. During her last campaign, for Congress in 1986, she told The New York Times, &apos&aposI am not a centrist.&apos&apos

Bella Abzug was a founding feminist, and an enduring one. In the movement&aposs giddy, sloganeering early days, Ms. Abzug was, like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, an icon, the hat bobbing before the cameras at marches and rallies.

After leaving the House in January 1977, she worked for women&aposs rights for two more decades. She founded an international women&aposs group that worked on environmental issues. And she was a leader of a conference of nongovernmental organizations that paralleled the United Nations&apos fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

Even then, she continued to rankle. Former President George Bush, on a private visit to China that coincided with the Beijing conference, said to a meeting of food production executives: &apos&aposI feel somewhat sorry for the Chinese, having Bella Abzug running around. Bella Abzug is one who has always represented the extremes of the women&aposs movement.&apos&apos

When told of Mr. Bush&aposs remark, Ms. Abzug, 75 and in a wheelchair, retorted: &apos&aposHe was addressing a fertilizer group? That&aposs appropriate.&apos&apos

Her forceful personality and direct manner made her a lightning rod for criticism from those who opposed the idea of holding a women&aposs conference. After Bob Dole, then the Senate majority leader, said he could not imagine why anyone &apos&aposwould want to attend a conference co-chaired by Bella Abzug,&apos&apos she responded that she was not running the meeting but simply participating with more than 30,000 other women over how best to achieve equal rights.

But much of what Ms. Abzug agitated for -- abortion rights, day care, laws against employment discrimination -- was by that time mainstream political fare.

In Congress, &apos&aposshe was first on almost everything, on everything that ever mattered,&apos&apos said Esther Newberg, Ms. Abzug&aposs first administrative assistant and one of many staff members who quit but remained devoted. &apos&aposShe was first to call for Richard Nixon&aposs impeachment, first to call for an end to the war.&apos&apos

Ms. Abzug made enemies easily -- &apos&aposSometimes the hat and the mouth took over,&apos&apos Ms. Newberg said -- but Ms. Abzug saw that as a consequence of a refusal to compromise, as well as a matter of sport. Of her time in the House, Ms. Abzug wrote in a journal that was published in 1972 as &apos&aposBella,&apos&apos &apos&aposI spend all day figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure.&apos&apos

She worked relentlessly at organizing and coalition-building. A founder of Women Strike for Peace and the National Women&aposs Political Caucus, she spent a lifetime prodding for change, with a lawyer&aposs enthusiasm for political channels, through organizations from the P.T.A. to the United Nations.

She made friends easily, too. &apos&aposShe&aposs fierce and intense and funny,&apos&apos said her longtime friend Gloria Steinem. &apos&aposShe takes everyone seriously. When she argues with you fiercely, it&aposs because she takes you seriously. And she&aposs willing to change her mind. That&aposs so rare.&apos&apos

Her First Speech, In a Subway Station

Bella Savitzky Abzug was born on July 24, 1920 in the Bronx, the second daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her father, Emanuel Savitzky, whom Ms. Abzug later described as &apos&aposthis humanist butcher,&apos&apos ran (and named) the Live and Let Live Meat Market on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan.

She said she knew from the age of 11 that she wanted to be a lawyer, and not long afterward gave her first public speech, in a subway station, while collecting for a Zionist youth organization. She went from Hunter College, where she was student body president, to Columbia University Law School, where she was an editor of The Law Review, to a practice representing union workers.

Ms. Abzug traced the wearing of her trademark wide-brimmed hats to those days. She once recalled: &apos&aposWhen I was a young lawyer, I would go to people&aposs offices and they would always say: &aposSit here. We&aposll wait for the lawyer.&apos Working women wore hats. It was the only way they would take you seriously.

&apos&aposAfter a while, I started liking them. When I got to Congress, they made a big thing of it. So I was watching. Did they want me to wear it or not? They didn&apost want me to wear it, so I did.&apos&apos

All the while, she was a leftist and an agitator. Later, exasperated with her Congressional aides, she wrote: &apos&aposI just don&apost understand young people today, quite frankly. Our struggle was political, ideological and economic, and we felt we couldn&apost make something of ourselves unless we bettered society. We saw the two together.&apos&apos

In the 1950&aposs, Ms. Abzug&aposs law practice turned to other cases identified with the left. One client was Willie McGee, a black Mississippian convicted of raping a white woman and sentenced to death. Ms. Abzug, who was pregnant at the time, argued the case in Mississippi while white supremacist groups threatened her. Though the Supreme Court stayed the execution twice, Mr. McGee was eventually executed.

She also represented people accused of Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy&aposs Congressional committee and its counterpart in Albany.

In the 1960&aposs, Ms. Abzug became an antiwar activist. A founder of Women Strike for Peace, she became its chief lobbyist, protesting nuclear testing and, later, the Vietnam War. She organized insurgent Democrats into other groups, too, becoming a leader of the movement against President Lyndon B. Johnson and a prominent figure in the 1968 Presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy.

During those years, Ms. Abzug started navigating New York City politics. She and her husband, Martin, moved from Mount Vernon, the Westchester suburb where they had raised their two daughters, to a town house at 37 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. In 1970, Ms. Abzug ran for Congress.

The 19th Congressional District, which snaked from lower Manhattan to the West 80&aposs, had four registered Democrats to every Republican and had been represented in Congress for seven terms by Leonard Farbstein, a solid but rather somnolent liberal. Ms. Abzug won the Democratic primary with 54 percent of the vote.

Campaign Became A Women&aposs Crusade

At this point, Bella Abzug became national news, a flash of local color in a political year. She seemed to be everywhere, clapping backs and jabbing biceps. Her campaign headquarters next to the Lion&aposs Head, a writers&apos and journalists&apos bar in Greenwich Village, was also a day-care center for her legions of female volunteers. The women&aposs crusade she led brought considerable, if sometimes derisive, attention.

Though she eventually took 55 percent of the vote, she had genuine Republican opposition, unusual in an era when New York&aposs main political action consisted of various Democratic factions knifing one another. The Republican-Liberal candidate was Barry Farber, a well-known radio talk show host. Mr. Farber drew many Democrats who resented Mr. Farbstein&aposs humiliation or were simply put off by Ms. Abzug&aposs style.

To her chagrin, Mr. Farber accused Ms. Abzug, who advocated direct negotiations between Israelis and Arabs, of flagging in her support of Israel. For years after that, she made a point of stating her Jewish credentials, dating to childhood: her family was religious and she went regularly to synagogue (though she was bothered that women were relegated to the back rows of the balcony), studied Hebrew and was enrolled for a time at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

When Ms. Abzug went to Washington, she sought an appointment to the Armed Services Committee. She wanted a resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and she vowed to take on the military-industrial complex. She wanted to end the draft. She wanted national health insurance, money for day-care centers and housing, and more money for New York City, all to be paid for with billions siphoned from the Pentagon&aposs budget.

She got little of this, but during the next six years &apos&aposshe was indefatigable,&apos&apos Ms. Newberg recalled. &apos&aposShe yelled a lot,only because she couldn&apost get everything done.&apos&apos And if she couldn&apost, Ms. Newberg added, it was partly because &apos&aposher agenda was too pure for her moment in time.&apos&apos

Ms. Abzug did become expert at parliamentary rules, worked them skillfully and was famously well prepared for every vote, hearing and committee spat. The &apos&apossunshine law&apos&apos requiring governing bodies to meet publicly came out of a subcommittee she headed. She coaxed funds for New York from the Public Works Committee. She was a co-sponsor of the women&aposs equal rights amendment. &apos&aposShe was one of the most exciting, enlightened legislators that ever served in the Congress,&apos&apos said Representative Charles B. Rangel of Manhattan, with whom Ms. Abzug sometimes collaborated and sometimes sparred.

From her first day on Capitol Hill -- the day she dismayed her colleagues by introducing her Vietnam resolution -- Ms. Abzug derided the Congressional club, the seniority system, the log-rolling and back-scratching. She did not spare fellow Democrats when she spoke of liberals, it was usually dismissively. She badgered the House leadership over committee appointments and votes.

She badgered the President, too. Invited to a reception at Richard Nixon&aposs White House, she accepted (while writing in her journal, &apos&aposWho wants to listen to his pious idiocies?&apos&apos), then announced to Nixon in the receiving line that her constituents demanded a withdrawal from Vietnam.

For all of her railing against Democrats who went along to get along, Speaker Thomas P. O&aposNeill named her one of his dozen assistant whips, and by most accounts she worked well with some of the crustiest fixtures in the House.

Still, a 1972 report by Ralph Nader estimated that Ms. Abzug&aposs sponsorship of a measure often cost it 20 to 30 votes. Her reputation as an irritant came from all quarters. Jimmy Breslin wrote of a campaign worker who repaired to the Lion&aposs Head one night, holding his side and swearing never to work for Ms. Abzug again. &apos&aposShe punched me,&apos&apos he explained, in a quarrel over scheduling. The next day, Mr. Breslin reported, Ms. Abzug called the aide. &apos&aposMichael, I called to apologize,&apos&apos she said. &apos&aposHow&aposs your kidney?&apos&apos

Mr. Breslin also recounted the Congresswoman&aposs introduction to Sol Linowitz, the former chairman of the Xerox Corporation and a Democratic Party luminary: &apos&aposAre you the man that used to be head of the Xerox?&apos&apos Ms. Abzug asked. &apos&aposThat&aposs right,&apos&apos Mr. Linowitz replied. &apos&aposI&aposm glad to meet a big shot,&apos&apos Ms. Abzug said. &apos&aposI&aposm in hock $35,000 on my campaign.&apos&apos

Ms. Abzug acknowledged loneliness in her years in Congress. &apos&aposOutside of Martin and the kids, I don&apost feel very related to most people at this point,&apos&apos she wrote in 1971. &apos&aposI feel detached in social situations. I&aposm always thinking about other things, about Congress, about the issues, about the political coalition I&aposm trying to organize. It never leaves me. I even have trouble relating to some of my closest friends, though God knows I still love them, even if they don&apost know it.&apos&apos

Always, she returned to Manhattan to spend weekends with her husband.

She had married Martin Abzug in 1944. The two New Yorkers met on a bus in Miami, when both were on the way to a Yehudi Menuhin concert. Mr. Abzug, a stockbroker and an author of two published novels, had next to no interest in politics. In an interview in 1970, he murmured, while his wife was out of the room, &apos&aposThe political bug is a curious bug.&apos&apos But he was, she said, her best friend and supporter, and &apos&aposone of the few unneurotic people left in society.&apos&apos

Corrosive Ambition Hampers a Career

Ms. Abzug&aposs own ambition was too corrosive for many people, even -- or, perhaps, especially -- for her fellow New York Democrats. When the State Legislature sliced up her district in 1972, they urged her to challenge one of the two conservative incumbent Democrats in adjoining districts, Representative John J. Rooney or Representative John M. Murphy. Instead, she opposed a liberal Democrat, William Fitts Ryan, in the 20th District, encompassing the Upper West Side and the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

The primary was bitter and, eventually, politically expensive to Ms. Abzug. Bill Ryan was one of the earliest heroes of the city&aposs insurgent Democrats, an early opponent of the Vietnam War and a genuinely well-liked man who, as many of his constituents knew, was waging a gallant fight against cancer.

Mr. Ryan defeated Ms. Abzug in the Democratic primary but died before the general election. The Democratic County Committee appointed Ms. Abzug as the candidate to replace him, but she was challenged by Mr. Ryan&aposs widow, Priscilla, who ran on the Liberal line. Ms. Abzug won in November, but she had made dedicated enemies who believed she was an overly aggressive politician who would not hesitate to attack anyone who got in her way. Ten years later, she was denied a seat in the state&aposs delegation to the national party&aposs biannual conference because New York leaders considered her disruptive.

In 1976, she gave up her House seat to run for the Senate. She lost in the primary, to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, by a margin of only 1 percent. Two more campaigns quickly followed. (In a 1978 interview, she said: &apos&aposI&aposm a politician. I run for office. That&aposs my profession.&apos&apos) She lost to Edward I. Koch in a crowded mayoral primary in 1977. The next year, running for the House again, she lost, again by just 1 percent, to a little-known Republican, S. William Green.

She was appointed co-chairwoman of President Jimmy Carter&aposs National Advisory Committee on Women, and then, after disagreeing with him over economic policy, was dismissed. The majority of the committee members resigned in protest. Ms. Abzug, unapologetic, said with a shrug, &apos&aposI&aposve got to find myself another big, nonpaying job.&apos&apos

Her next and last campaign was in 1986, this time for a House seat in Westchester County. She won the primary in a burst of the old, ebullient campaigning style, but lost in November to Joseph J. DioGuardi, the Republican incumbent.

It was during that campaign that Martin Abzug died. Her friends said Ms. Abzug never recovered. Nine years later, she said, , &apos&aposI haven&apost been entirely the same since.&apos&apos

There was one more bid for office, for her old House seat on the Upper West Side, when she announced her candidacy to replace Representative Ted Weiss on his death just before the 1992 election. But she was quickly eliminated from the field at the party convention.

During the next decade, Ms. Abzug suffered from ill health, including breast cancer, but continued to practice law and work for women&aposs groups. She wrote a book, &apos&aposGender Gap,&apos&apos with her old friend Mim Kelber. She started a lobbying group called Women U.S.A. and founded the Women&aposs Environment and Development Organization, a group that works with international agencies.

In addition to her daughters, Eve and Liz, Ms. Abzug is survived by her sister, Helene Alexander of Great Neck, N.Y.

&apos&aposI&aposve been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prizefighter, a man hater, you name it,&apos&apos Ms. Abzug said of herself in &apos&aposBella.&apos&apos &apos&aposThey call me Battling Bella, Mother Courage and a Jewish mother with more complaints than Portnoy.&apos&apos

&apos&aposThere are those who say I&aposm impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash and overbearing. Whether I&aposm any of these things or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am -- and this ought to be made very clear at the outset -- I am a very serious woman.&apos&apos

Making a difference

Bella Stavisky attended an all-female high school in the west Bronx, where she was elected president of her class. She then went

Bella Abzug decided that she could do more to help people if she became a lawyer. She entered Columbia Law School, where she became editor of the Columbia Law Review. After graduating in 1947, she worked as a labor lawyer and represented civil rights workers. She became committed to helping poor people gain justice and a decent life in the days following World War II.

In the 1950s Abzug became deeply involved in the early civil rights movement. In 1950 she agreed to defend an African American man named Willie McGee. McGee was accused of raping a white woman with whom he had been having an affair, found guilty, and sentenced to death under the harsh laws in place in Mississippi during that time. Although she lost the case, Abzug succeeded in delaying the man's execution for two years by appealing the ruling twice to the Supreme Court.

In the late 1960s Abzug continued to do what she could to help ethnic minorities, women's groups, and the poor. During these years she became active in the Democratic Party. After the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 she joined with other like-minded Democrats to found the New Democratic Coalition. She also joined in the movement to ban nuclear testing, a movement that became more of an antiwar movement as the United States deepened its involvement in the Vietnam War (1955�). In this war, the United States supported the anti-Communist government of South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by the Communist government of North Vietnam.

The Pioneering Bella Abzug

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The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug
By Leandra Ruth Zarnow

“Battling Bella,” a new biography of Bella Abzug, starts off in 1977, a year after she lost her bid to become a United States senator, with Andy Warhol on his way to do a portrait of the former congresswoman. It was commissioned by Rolling Stone for a cover celebrating Abzug’s campaign for mayor of New York that year. Then Elvis died and the cover was postponed. By the time it finally ran in October, she had already lost the Democratic primary.

It’s kind of a perfect beginning. Abzug was one of the most recognizable figures in America during the 1970s — a time when there was absolutely no shortage of outsize political personalities. But her tenure in elected office was pretty brief — only six action-packed years in the House before she lost her nail-biting Senate primary race to Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

In revisiting her career, Leandra Ruth Zarnow, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston, makes a good case that despite the loss, Abzug continued to have an impact. While she was best known as an extremely outspoken public figure, she was also a kind of genius at behind-the-scenes organizing. (Her campaign offices almost always featured day care, an Abzug passion.) Reading about how the mostly female volunteers steamrollered the traditional New York Democratic machine, feel free to think of her as a middle-aged, Jewish, Vietnam-era version of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. That would please Zarnow, who sees a whole lot of similarities between our era and the 1970s, when Democratic progressives were going head-to-head against establishment moderates for control of the party’s agenda.

Abzug was a native New Yorker — her father, a World War I pacifist, ran a business he named the Live and Let Live Meat Market. After law school, she volunteered to go to Mississippi to defend Willie McGee, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Arriving in 1951 to argue the case, Abzug, who was eight months pregnant, was refused accommodations at the hotel where she’d rented a room, and wound up spending the night sitting nervously and sleeplessly in a stall in the bus stop bathroom. She pursued the case through two appeals and numerous death threats, before McGee was executed.

When she ran for the House in 1970, Abzug, with her omnipresent hats and flashy polka-dotted dresses, became, as Zarnow writes, “the most recognizable woman in U.S. politics.” That wasn’t necessarily all that hard — at the time only 14 of the 435 House members were women, most of them trying to look as inconspicuous as possible in a deeply male world. It was inevitable that Abzug, who liked to say she was “born yelling,” would make a splash. When President Gerald Ford was in hot water for his pardon of Richard Nixon, he agreed to testify before a congressional committee as long as there was a time limit “and no questions from Bella Abzug.”

There were the many, many critics, not all of them high-minded. “With idol appreciation came degrees of hate: abusive mail, death threats, lampooning and weight shaming. Some questioned her authenticity as an activist, feminist, heterosexual woman, devout Jew and loyal American,” Zarnow writes. You can’t help thinking she was lucky to have missed the age of Twitter. But men did feel more liberated to make fun of a woman’s looks in public back then. The all-male New York press club Inner Circle featured a well-padded Bella impersonator in its 1971 show, who danced around singing: “I guess I’ve never been the high-fashioned kind / Mother Nature gave me a big behind.”

Abzug’s career has been the subject of a lot of books over the years, and Zarnow focuses on her progressive politics rather than her persona. The book gives rather short shrift to Abzug’s many failings as a boss. (She reportedly told staff members who called in sick: “I don’t give a damn. As long as I’m paying your salary you’ll show up.”) An aide claimed that when he and Abzug had a disagreement, she gave him “a whack on the side” that left him doubled over in pain. To be fair, the next day, she was on the phone: “I called to apologize. How’s your kidney?”

Abzug won her first campaign by organizing like hell against the veteran incumbent Representative Leonard Farbstein with squads of volunteers who were mainly women. Once she got to Washington, her fellow House Democrats weren’t always thrilled with her voluble performances on the floor — on one occasion, Zarnow reports, they thwarted her attempt to force a vote on an antiwar resolution by “physically holding her down.” But her organizational talents came in handy. She mastered the procedures, attaching amendments to totally unrelated pieces of legislation — as one aide said, “the way Southern senators did” — and tweaking bills so that funding for pretty much any program included a provision banning sexual discrimination.

Given her short stint in Washington, Abzug accomplished quite a lot, particularly when it came to women’s rights. (Zarnow also gives her credit for an amendment to the Federal Highway Act that earmarked funds for the creation of wheelchair access ramps.) She survived a Republican attempt to redistrict her out of office, and if she had stayed on, she might have piled up seniority and legislative achievements for the rest of her life. But just into her third term, she decided to run for the Senate seat occupied by the conservative James Buckley. So did a lot of other people — the field vying for the party nomination seemed to include half the Democrats in the city. The United Nations ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a moderate, turned out to be the prime contender. Zarnow says that Abzug, who lost 25 pounds for her campaign, made a mistake in softening her feisty image: “It allowed the contest to become a choice between feminine and masculine leadership.” But she also argues that Abzug leaned too heavily on “democratic socialist principles” at a time when New York City was teetering on bankruptcy and people were perhaps more scared than angry.

The 1976 Democratic primary race became a political legend. Moynihan talked about encouraging business development and making social welfare programs more efficient. Abzug ran the gamut from fighting to keep local day care centers open to wondering if it would be possible to make use of a rumor that Moynihan had body odor. And she refused to promise she’d support her opponent in the general election if he beat her. Everything seemed to be down to the wire. The final blow, many people felt, came when The New York Times endorsed Moynihan. The decision, by the publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, was a shock to the opinion page editor John Oakes, who was on vacation at the time. Oakes published a short protest, but the deed was done. Moynihan eked out a narrow win.

Abzug quickly tried to get Ted Weiss, who had just won the Democratic line in her old House district, to give it back. But Weiss wasn’t in the mood, and although she’d repeatedly try to win another office, she never did.

Nevertheless, this was a woman who was hard to discourage. Abzug tried working on the inside, heading Jimmy Carter’s National Advisory Commission on Women, but it was something of a disaster. (Carter fired her when the commission attacked his economic policies.) Then she found a new cause in international feminist issues. By the time of her death in 1998, Zarnow says, she had become so well known for her efforts “that leaders in other countries were called the ‘Bella Abzug of Nigeria’ or ‘the Bella Abzug of Mongolia.’”

You have to wonder what she’d be doing if she were around today. Running campaign offices for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders? If she did, I’ll bet they’d have day care.

Final Years and Death

In the mid-1990s, Abzug began to have health problems. She battled breast cancer, but she didn&apost let the disease prevent her from doing her life&aposs work. She traveled to China in 1995 for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.

In early 1998, Abzug was admitted to a New York City hospital with heart trouble. She died on March 31, 1998, from complications following heart surgery. 

Friends and allies mourned the passing of this great political powerhouse. Her onetime opponent, Koch, said, "The women of the world, not just the country, owe her a great debt. She stood up for them as nobody else. She was their champion," he told the Boston Globe.

Today the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute is working to maintain her legacy. The organization helps support and train young women to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Feminist Activist Bella Abzug Paved the Way for Women Politicians

“This woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives,” declared Bella Savitsky Abzug when she launched her campaign for Congress in 1970. It was a typical Abzug quote, combining colorful wit with an attack on an injustice: the lack of women in elected office.

A database of women in Congress by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for American Women and Politics is revealing on this front. When Abzug first took office in 1971, there were only 13 women in the House. By the time she left, in 1977, she was one of 18 women in that chamber. Today there are 101. When she ran (unsuccessfully) for the U.S. Senate from New York, in 1976, there were no women in the Senate today there are 26.

Abzug was a precursor to several current members of Congress — including John Lewis, Jan Schakowsky, Karen Bass, Raúl Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who began their careers as organizers and still use those skills to give a voice to and help represent the people left out of the political process.

New generations of Americans may have been introduced to Abzug recently, thanks to the nine-part miniseries, Mrs. America, which featured three-time Emmy-winning actor Margo Martindale as “Battling Bella,” as Abzug was known. The show depicted Abzug as one of the key feminist agitators of the 1970s who went to battle with conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly over the Equal Rights Amendment.

Abzug spent most of her career as an agitator for civil rights, unions, peace, and women’s equality. But after she arrived on Capitol Hill, she had to balance her role as both a pioneering congresswoman (an insider) with her instincts and talents as a defiant organizer and activist (an outsider).

As part of the Women’s Rights Movement, Abzug and other feminist leaders — including Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Jill Ruckelshaus, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy, and Midge Costanza — debated how to balance their principled views and pragmatic goals of persuading the Democratic Party to adopt women’s rights positions in its official platform. These conversations took place in the early 1970s, before same-sex marriage was legal and sexual harassment and rape were mainstream public issues, so advocacy for these topics was viewed as radical by most Americans. As a pragmatic politician, Abzug was used to making compromises and calculating trade-offs to win legislative victories that improved people’s lives. She was often the broker between different factions within the women’s movement, mentoring fellow feminists about when to push for one-step-at-a-time reforms and when to pursue overthrow-the-patriarchy revolution. She spent her adult life walking that tightrope.

Abzug was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York City, in 1920, the same year that women won the right to vote. Her father, a World War I pacifist, ran a butcher shop, which, after the onset of World War I, he renamed the Live and Let Live Meat Market. He died when Abzug was 13. Her family’s Orthodox synagogue forbade women to recite the “Mourner’s Kaddish,” the mourning prayer, a duty traditionally reserved for males 13 and over, but Abzug went to the synagogue every day for a year and recited the prayer anyway. According to Alan H. Levy’s book, The Political Life of Bella Abzug 1920-1976, she later recalled: “I stood apart in the corner. The men scowled at me, but no one stopped me. It was those mornings that taught me you could do unconventional things." Her Jewish upbringing gave her a strong sense of outrage against anti-Semitism, discrimination against women, and other forms of injustice.

According to Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom’s oral history and biography on Abzug, 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, Rallied Against War and for the Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way, she was elected senior-class president at the all-girls Walton School, and graduated during the Depression, in 1938. As president of Hunter College’s student council and a leader of the radical American Student Union, she led demonstrations against Nazism and fascism in Europe, supported the unionization of the college’s staff, pushed to introduce African American and Jewish history courses in the curriculum, and challenged the firing of faculty members accused of radicalism.

After college, she applied to law schools, and won a scholarship to Columbia University Law School. Abzug interrupted her law school education to work in a shipbuilding factory during World War II. She was one of only seven women out of 120 students in her class at Columbia, but nevertheless managed to become an editor of the Columbia Law Review, and graduated in 1944.

The history of the feminist movement is often told with the “first wave” of women’s suffrage activists, from 1848 to 1920, fighting for the right to vote, and then the rise of “second wave” feminism, beginning in the 1960s, expanding the agenda of women’s political issues. It is well-known that many of the leading first-wave feminists had roots in the abolition movement against slavery. But often overlooked is the fact that many of the leading figures of that second wave — including Abzug, Betty Friedan, Ella Baker, Esther Peterson, Gerda Lerner, Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, and others — had engaged in what was called “the woman question,” particularly the concerns of working-class and Black women, in the 1940s and 1950s through their involvement in socialist, communist, and labor union organizations. In college, law school, and afterward, Abzug traveled in these left-wing circles. For years, she was the subject of FBI surveillance in a secret memo, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover even called her “dangerous.”

These political views and social ties led Abzug, after law school, to join a progressive firm that represented workers and their unions. She took cases that challenged the twin evils of Jim Crow racism and Cold War McCarthyism. Yet even in her progressive law firm, Abzug faced constant sexism. As detailed by Leandra Zarnow in the journal Law & Social Inquiry, one of the firm’s partners even insisted that Abzug carry his briefcase to court. She never learned how to type because, according to Braun Levine and Thom’s book, she once explained, “If I knew how, the lawyers would’ve always asked me to type things, and I just decided I was not gonna learn how to type.” (Early in their marriage, her husband, Martin, typed her legal briefs.) Although Abzug was hardly shy, she realized that some of the union leaders and other lawyers paid less attention to her than to the male attorneys. So she decided to wear wide-brimmed hats, which drew notice and soon became her trademark.

Abzug achieved notoriety for her defense of Willie McGee, a Black man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi and sentenced to death in a 1945 trial. Abzug was hired by the left-wing Civil Rights Congress to help with McGee’s appeals, and was eight-months pregnant when she traveled to the Magnolia State, in 1951, to argue his case to the court.

As a white, Jewish, radical female lawyer from New York, she was attacked by white supremacists and local newspapers, including the Jackson Daily News, which wrote, as Abzug retold it, that “they should burn Willie McGee’s white woman lawyer along with him in the electric chair.” According to Braun Levine and Thom’s book, when Abzug arrived in Jackson, the hotel where she had made a reservation claimed not to have a reservation on the books and sent her away. Other hotels also refused to give her a room, so she wound up spending the night in the city’s bus station.

In court, she argued that McGee’s civil rights had been denied because Black Americans could not serve on juries and an all-white jury had convicted him after just two and a half minutes of deliberation. Unlike the male lawyers who represented McGee in three previous trials, Abzug argued that her client’s sexual relationship with his white accuser was consensual, which focused attention on the social taboo of interracial sexual relations. In doing so, she challenged the racist practice of applying the death sentence for rape convictions only in the case of Black defendants.

The case became a cause célèbre among liberals and leftists in the United States and internationally. Despite the best efforts of Abzug and other attorneys, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. McGee was executed in an electric chair in May 1951. His execution was broadcast live on local radio. The strain involved in that case caused Abzug to have a miscarriage.

In the 1950s, the heart of the McCarthy era, Abzug was one of the few attorneys willing to represent people unfairly accused of being members of or having close ties to the Communist Party. Her clients included actors, schoolteachers, and public figures, such as folk singer Pete Seeger, and they were dragged before congressional committees and blacklisted for their radical beliefs and affiliations.

While breaking new ground as a trial lawyer, Abzug also became involved in the peace movement. In 1961, she helped organize the Women Strike for Peace, which, at the height of the Cold War, opposed the arms race and nuclear testing. The group later became a key part of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Abzug viewed the arms race, racial discrimination, welfare rights, equal job opportunities, and Social Security — along with gay rights — as “women’s issues.” As a feminist activist, she recognized the untapped potential of women as a progressive voting bloc and as elected officials.

Activists, including Abzug, stand behind a “Keep Abortion & Birth Control Safe and Legal” banner during the March for Women's Lives demonstration in Washington, DC, on April 9, 1989. (Getty Images)

In the most recent installment of FX and Hulu’s nine-part series Mrs. America, Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) steps into the limelight as the national face of the pro–Equal Rights Amendment movement when she is chosen by President Jimmy Carter to preside over the first-ever National Women’s Conference. Working with Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), and gay rights activists to unify factions within the women’s liberation movement, Abzug makes arrangements for the conference while Phyllis Schlafly and the conservative opposition struggle to coordinate a response.

The episode also contains a number of more surprising details. Did Schlafly really collaborate with the Ku Klux Klan? Did Jimmy Carter really have a closeted lesbian as an adviser? Below, just as we did for the first six episodes, we break it all down.

Episode 7 opens with a scene in which Schlafly gets a pie thrown in her face by a stranger at an event. Though this moment seems nearly too slapstick to be true, this did, in fact, actually happen. According to the Associated Press, which captured the aftermath in a photo, the real Schlafly was “pied” while at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on Saturday, April 16, 1977. The show’s depiction matches the scene described almost exactly, with one small difference. In the show, the pie appears to be a cream pie whereas, in reality, it was apple.

The man responsible for throwing the pie was Aron Kay, a left-wing activist who made a name for himself by flinging desserts at famous people whose politics he disagreed with. Over the course of his pie-throwing career, Kay’s victims included such prominent figures as former CIA Director William Colby, William F. Buckley, and Andy Warhol. Kay told the AP that he targeted Schlafly because of her anti-ERA efforts and chose an apple pie because “It was in the tradition of motherhood and apple pie.”

Abzug takes center stage in this episode as the former U.S. representative, fresh off a failed Senate campaign, takes on a new role as the leader of the National Women’s Conference. Both the Senate campaign (she lost narrowly in the primary) and the ensuing appointment by Carter are true to life. As the show suggests, Abzug was a natural choice to run the conference as she had introduced a bill proposing federal support for such a conference the previous year.

The show also makes reference at times to Abzug’s somewhat brash behavior, including in a moment when Gloria Steinem chides her for throwing coleslaw at a colleague. While I was not able to verify the coleslaw story, I did find a different story about Abzug nearly throwing a different food at Betty Friedan. In a 2007 oral history of Abzug, her friend and fellow activist Barbara Bick recalls:

I saw Bella pick up her dish—it was heaped with chewed-up chicken bones—and she was slowly rising. We all went silent because she was going to throw it. Betty went white. Finally I was able to get my hand on Bella’s arm and make her sit down.

In this episode, Rosemary Thomson steps up to bat in the effort to derail the National Women’s Conference. As the show depicts, Thomson was a close friend of Phyllis Schlafly’s and also served as the head of the Illinois chapter of the Eagle Forum. Early on in Episode 7, the leaders of the Eagle Forum devise a plan to get conservative delegates elected to participate at the conference by establishing a new organization that they hope will act as a cover. The result is the International Women’s Year Citizens’ Review Committee, presided over by Thomson herself. In the end, Abzug and Steinem see what they are up to, but the organization is successful in rustling up support from Christian women, and they manage to win delegates in a number of states. All of this roughly matches up with what really happened. According to the book Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, the Citizens’ Review Committee was established in March of 1977, just a few months before the convention, and as news of it circulated, “conservative groups, working in loose coalitions that varied from state to state, managed what were called ‘takeovers’ of several conferences including Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Nebraska, and Utah.”

In a surprising moment in this episode, Schlafly—who has until now been the fearless leader of the conservative anti-feminist coalition—appears to back down from a chance to confront her pro-ERA opponents. While it is unclear whether Thomson and the other Eagles had expected Schlafly to appear at the Illinois meeting, it is true that newspapers wrote that she was “considered likely” to appear, touting the bout as a “Battle With Bella,” as one headline put it. She never showed.

A new character in this episode is Midge Costanza, a representative from the Carter administration who arrives early on to offer Abzug the position of presiding officer of the National Women’s Conference Commission. This matches up with history, as do the show’s references to Costanza’s biography. The real Costanza was indeed a top assistant to President Jimmy Carter and, as the show mentions, was the first woman to hold the title of assistant to the president. In this episode, we see her advocate for the inclusion of lesbian and gay rights in the conference agenda. The real Costanza, who died in 2010, was a strong advocate for gay rights and one of the first politicians to argue on behalf of the National Gay Task Force within the Democratic Party, even as she herself remained closeted. (More on that later.)

Early on in Episode 7, we see the pro-ERA team sitting around a conference table discussing their plans for the National Women’s Conference. Abzug suggests that they appoint Betty Friedan as a commissioner and several other women, including Gloria Steinem, express their doubts about this idea, citing Friedan’s lack of support for the lesbian community. One woman pushes back especially hard on the proposition, saying, “If Betty is on that stage, it’ll send a message that we’re not welcome. I’ll resign.” This is our introduction to Jean O’Leary who, like nearly everyone on the show so far (setting aside a few of Schlafly’s fellow Eagles), was indeed a real person. The real O’Leary, who died in 2005, was a prominent gay rights activist who was the co-executive director of the National Gay Task Force and later helped to found National Coming Out Day. In this episode, she joins forces with Midge Costanza to advocate for the inclusion of lesbian and gay rights in the conference agenda. All of this matches up with historical records. According to the 2016 book American Women on the Move: The Inside Story on the National Women’s Conference, 1977, O’Leary was indeed responsible for ensuring that the “sexual preference” resolution was included in the broad array of recommendations proposed at the conference. Also in 1977, O’Leary made history when she led the first-ever delegation of gay activists to the White House to meet with President Jimmy Carter’s staff. (Costanza was integral in arranging the meeting.)

As the episode moves along, we learn that Costanza and O’Leary are in a relationship that they feel forced to keep hidden from the public. The two women were in fact together at the time of the conference, though, since Costanza was still in the closet, neither revealed the relationship for many years. In an interview on the podcast Making Gay History, O’Leary discussed Costanza’s decision to keep their relationship a secret, saying, “She knew, at least for much of her career, that she could never have done what she did, could never have been Jimmy Carter’s adviser, and could never have invited gay activists to the White House if anyone knew that she was gay.”

In this episode, as Phyllis Schlafly and the anti-ERA movement gain traction among Christian groups, we begin to hear rumors of their getting support from members of the Ku Klux Klan. These echo references in earlier episodes to the controversial far-right group the John Birch Society. In both instances, Schlafly denies any association with the groups, though her disavowal of them comes off as somewhat lukewarm, and despite pressure from Alice (Sarah Paulson), she appears hesitant to denounce them fully. In reality, it’s true that the stop-ERA movement stirred up interest from members of the KKK, particularly surrounding the National Women’s Conference in Houston, even as the Catholic Schlafly could never comfortably embrace the anti-Catholic Klan. As this episode suggests, the Klan was particularly roused by the inclusion of gay and lesbian rights on the conference agenda. A New York Times article from November 1977 quotes Robert Shelton, then the so-called imperial wizard of the Klan, saying that Klansmen planned to attend the conference in order “to protect our women from all the militant lesbians who will be there.”

At one point in the episode, Gloria Steinem references a Mississippi delegate being the wife of the “grand dragon” of the KKK. This, too, is true. Dallas Higgins, wife of George Higgins, was one of 20 Mississippi delegates to attend the conference, though she told the Clarion-Ledger that she was not there to represent the Ku Klux Klan, adding, “If we (Klan members) were going to disrupt the convention, we would have done it in Mississippi (at the July IWY conference in Jackson).” Her own husband, however, sang a different tune. George Higgins boasted about the Klan’s influence to Florida Today, saying, “We controlled the [meeting] in Mississippi.”

Whispers about Klan involvement in the anti-ERA movement quickly spread. Both Steinem and Abzug made public statements in which they referenced Klan involvement in the anti-ERA movement. Abzug claimed, “In some states there were disruption attempts by the ultra-right, like the Ku Klux Klan, who still want to keep their women home washing the sheets.” Such comments prompted Schlafly to publish a statement in her Eagle Forum Newsletter emphatically denouncing the allegations. In her book Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics, University of South Carolina historian Marjorie Spruill Wheeler quotes Schlafly’s denial: “This is not only false—it is ridiculous! Of course all eagles know that there has been NO contact between any of us and the KKK, and that the KKK has done NOTHING to defeat ERA.” However, Wheeler also quotes Schlafly describing herself as “tolerant” and as saying, as she does in the episode, “I let people be against ERA for the reason of their choice.”

In the end, it is not entirely clear to what extent the stop-ERA movement was supported by the KKK, if it was at all. In Arizona State University historian Donald T. Critchlow’s book Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism, he concludes that the claims of collusion “appear unfounded.”

As for Schlafly’s alleged ties to the far-right John Birch Society, these, too, have been a subject of dispute for decades, and there is certainly enough evidence to raise eyebrows. Though Schlafly publicly denied ever having been a member of the fringe group, she also said in one interview in 2011, “I think they’re fine people.” More convincing are personal letters quoted in a recent article in the Daily Beast, which suggest that both she and Fred Schlafly may in fact have been members themselves back in the 1950s. The article states that, in a letter, Schlafly wrote, “The John Birch Society is doing a wonderful work, and my husband and I both joined promptly after the Chicago meeting.”

As the battle over the ERA intensifies, tensions within the Schlafly family also appear to heighten. In this episode, friction emerges between Phyllis and her eldest daughter, “Phyl” (short for Phyllis), who has recently started college at Princeton. Eventually it is revealed that Phyl has decided to change her name to Liza in an effort to distance herself from her mother’s reputation. This anecdote is taken directly from history. According to The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority, Carol Felsenthal’s biography of Schlafly, the young Phyllis changed her name to Liza shortly after starting college, because “on many campuses, her mother was Public Enemy No. 1” (this phrase is used verbatim in the episode). It seems that the new name stuck. The Schlaflys’ fourth child still goes by the name “Liza” and is even referred to as such in Phyllis Schlafly’s biography on the Eagle Forum website.

Correction, May 13, 2020: Due to a production error, the photos of Midge Costanza and Annie Parisse were originally misidentified as Jean O’Leary and Anna Douglas, and vice versa.

Women’s Rights Advocate Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug, or “Battling Bella” as she was called, was a lawyer, social activist, leader of the Women’s Rights Movement, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York. A Columbia University law school graduate, Abzug became involved in the women’s rights movement alongside the antinuclear and peace movements. She, with many other prominent feminists of the era, founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

On July 24, 1920, Bella Savitzky was born in New York City to Emanuel and Esther Savitzky, Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her father ran a market and her mother was the homemaker. Growing up, Bella was very competitive and beat everyone in every competition she took part in.

At thirteen, Savitzky’s father died. She defied the Orthodox tradition of the father’s sons reciting the Kaddish and would go to the synagogue every single morning for a year to recite the prayer. Savitzky graduated from high school before studying at Hunter College and then the City University of New York. Later on, Bella Savitzky attended Columbia University and earned a degree in law in 1947.

For many years, Bella Abzug (she had married Martin Abzug in 1944), worked as a lawyer. She was admitted to the New York Bar shortly after graduating from law school and began practicing at a local firm, mostly on labor law. At the time, it was very uncommon for women to study law. Abzug began to take on cases in the South regarding civil rights. In 1945, Willie McGee was a black man convicted of raping a white woman and was then sentenced to death by an all white jury. Abzug appealed the case, but lost it and he was executed.

In 1961, Abzug helped in organizing the Women Strike for Peace. Nicknamed Battling Bella, Abzug later was on President Nixon’s master list of political opponents when she was a representative due to her political stands.

Bella Abzug, a Democrat, ran for Congress in 1970 against Leonard Farbstein, who had been a representative for fourteen years. She defeated Farbstein in the Democratic primary. In the general election, Abzug also beat Barry Farber. Her district was eliminated in 1972, so that year she ran against William Fitts Ryan in the democratic primary. Though Ryan was terribly ill, he defeated her. Though shortly before the general election, he died, and Abzug took his spot after also defeating his widow, who also went up against her in the general election. In 1974, Abzug was easily reelected.

Abzug was one of the first members of Congress who supported gay rights. She introduced the first gay rights bill in federal government along with Representative Ed Koch. Along with that, as the chair of the Subcommittee on Government Information and Individual Rights, she also chaired historic hearings regarding secrecy in the government. Her colleagues in the house voted her as the third most influential member of the house in the U.S. News & World Report.

In 1976, Abzug ran for the Senate in 1976, but barely lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Though she won by less than one percent, all the news coverage was on her three male opponents, and never on her.

Abzug, though having left Congress, was still a high profile figure. In 1977, she ran for Mayor of New York City, but lost. She also tried twice more, once in 1978 and then in 1986, for the House, but lost. Abzug wrote the book Bella: Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington and with Mim Kelber, The Gender Gap. She continued advocating for women’s rights and came up with many plans for equality for women in not just the U.S., but also the whole world.

In the early 1990s, Abzug and her friend and colleague, Mim Kelber, founded the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, or WEDO. Abzug was the organization’s president and was very influential at United Nations conferences. She worked hard to empower women all over the world.

Continuing her women’s rights work, Abzug went on to develop the Women’s Caucus for women members of the New York City Council. It also used new ideas to get more women involved in UN Conferences and analyzed documents, proposed gender-sensitive policies, and lobbied for women’s rights at UN conferences.

In her last years, Abzug was confined to a wheelchair, though that did not stop her from her busy life of advocacy and travelling. Until her death, she led WEDO and her final speech was given before the UN in March of 1998.

On March 31, 1998, seventy-seven year old Bella Abzug, who had suffered from breast cancer before developing heart disease, after complications from an open heart surgery. Abzug was interred in Queens, New York at the Old Mount Carmel Cemetery and inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Carter appointed Abzug to run the landmark conference in Houston, Texas. Vigorously opposed by Phyllis Schlafly, it attracted more than 20,000 delegates from across America, including Maya Angelou, Billie Jean King, and three First Ladies. Sessions focused on the ERA, domestic violence, and education reform, among other issues.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Abzug agitated for reproductive rights and environmental conservation at United Nations conferences from Nairobi to Rio. The co-founder of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) spoke at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, where Hillary Clinton stated, “Women’s rights are human rights.”

Watch the video: epimtx x Anti - Bella Official Music Video (September 2022).


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