Bella Abzug, 1920-1998

  • Bella-Abzug-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Law, and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Congresswoman, Lawyer, and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    A feminist lawyer, civil rights activist, and congresswoman who served in the House of Representatives from NY.

    Bella Savitzky Abzug, nicknamed “Battling Bella,” was born in New York City to a Russian-Jewish immigrants family. In 1940, at the age of 20, she became an attorney and worked on labor, civil and equal rights cases. One of her many activist works was in 1961 when she helped organize the Woman Strike for Peace against nuclear weapons experiments. It was the largest national women’s peace protest during the 20th century.
    In 1971, Abzug was elected to the United States House of Representatives, the ninth woman who represented NY in the House. As a pacifist, on her first day, she introduced a bill to remove all US troops from Vietnam. She was also one of the firsts to introduce a bill for gay rights in Congress. Abzug kept her position till 1977 and used her voice to fight for gender equality and worldwide peace.
    Although failing to reelect to the House, as well as to the US Senate, she continued promoting women’s rights in the US and abroad. In 1991, she co-founded the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, organizing women for international conferences and actions for the Women’s Rights Movement. Abzug also developed and founded the National Women’s Political Caucus to increase the number of women in all aspects of political life.
    In her last years, she traveled the globe promoting gender equality, as far as lobbying to advance the Women’s Agenda for the 21st Century at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. She gave her last public speech before the UN in March 1998. On that month she died after struggling with breast cancer, which led to heart disease.

    “I spend all day figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure”

    “I spend all day figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her father passed away when she was 13. Despite the orthodox Jewish tradition that reserves the right of the mourning ritual (Kaddish) to sons, she insisted on performing it herself for a year.
    • She was known for her wide-brimmed hats which she wore from the beginning of her career in order to be taken seriously as a woman in a men’s world.
    • Her campaign slogan for running for the House was “This woman’s place is in the House – the House of Representatives.”
    • She was married and had two children.
    • She was the first woman to run for Senate, and mayor of NYC, and failed to elect. Hillary Clinton was the first woman elected to the Senate from NY in 2009. Up until today, there was never a female mayor in NYC.
    • She introduced the holiday for Women’s Equality Day, which was established in 1971.
    • The greenway Hudson Park and Boulevard in NYC is officially called Bella Abzug Park.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her


    * The Blue Beret Peacekeepers Award - the highest civilian recognition and honor at the UN
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
    * Honored at the United Nations as a leading female environmentalist

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Bella Abzug

    Video edited and produced by Progressive Source Communications ( for the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute ( ABOUT BELLA: 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. Bella's integrity, courage and outspoken effectiveness continues to inspire women in politics, business and civic engagement around the world.

  • Photo credit - Yanker poster collection @ Library of Congress