Ah, my friends, if you don’t know her, or know about her, let me introduce you to Bella Abzug. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about her is ‘hats.’ Before Madeleine Albright claimed pins/ brooches as her signature wardrobe statement piece, Bella Abzug flaunted her hats, “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.” If you google search images of Bella Abzug, 99.44% of the images show her wearing a hat. Oh, but she was so much more.
The second thing that I think of when I think of Bella Abzug is activism—for civil rights, for feminism, and against the political establishment even as she served the state of New York in the United States House of Representatives for three terms, from 1971 through 1977. She was a woman who spoke her mind, loudly and proudly. She ran her campaigns on an antiwar, pro-feminist platform with the slogan, “This woman’s place is in the House … the House of Representatives!”
Writer Norman Mailer once described Abzug’s voice as an instrument that “could boil the fat off a taxicab driver’s neck.” She knew that her personality irritated some and inspired others, but Abzug had a backbone of titanium. In response to Mailer she said, “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 these things or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am—and this ought to be made clear from the outset—I am a very serious woman.”
And that my friends is what I want to be when I grow up—a very serious woman, with a clear sense of self, and an steadfast sense of humor.
A few facts:
1920, July 24 Born Bella Savitzky in the Bronx, New York.
1944 (maybe 1945?) Married Martin Abzug. They raised 2 daughters.
1942 Earned a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College
1947 Earned her LLB (law degree) from Columbia University Law School
Early 1950s (During the McCarthy era) she was one of the few attorneys willing to fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee.
1961 cofounded Women Strike for Peace, a group that protested the nuclear arms race and, later, the American military commitment in Vietnam.
1970 ran for political office—she was 50.
1974 the first national legislator to introduce a bill to increase the rights of gay Americans; the bill proposed amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual or affectional preference.”
1990 co-founded the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), an international activist and advocacy network.
1998, March 16—gave her final public speech before the UN in March.
1998, March 31— after battled breast cancer, died on in New York City from complications following open heart surgery.
Here’s a bit of Bella Abzug in her own words:
Women’s struggle for equality worldwide is about more than equality between men and women. Our struggle is about reversing the trends of social, economic, political, and ecological crisis a global nervous breakdown! Our struggle is about creating sustainable lives and attainable dreams.
I always had a decent sense of outrage.
Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over.
Maybe we weren’t at the Last Supper, but we’re certainly going to be at the next one.
The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.
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.