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A Very Serious Woman

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They called her “Battling Bella,” and Bella Savitsky Abzug (1920-1998) lived up to that nickname. Born in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bella earned an undergraduate degree at Hunter College and a law degree from Columbia University. After passing the New York bar in 1947, Abzug was hired as a labor lawyer, one of the few women practicing law in the United States at the time. As a lawyer, she not only fought for labor rights, but also handled civil rights cases. In order to be taken seriously, Abzug began wearing what became her signature large hats so that she would not be mistaken for a secretary. 

Abzug first ran for office when she was 50 years old. In 1970, she won a seat in the House of Representatives, representing the West Side of Manhattan, and was re-elected three times before attempting to win a place in the Senate. Although her Senate campaign was unsuccessful, as was her 1977 mayoral campaign against Ed Koch, Abzug continued her high-energy activities in her many political involvements. She was co-chair of President Carter’s National Advisory Committee on Women and Chair of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. Abzug also helped create several prominent organizations such as WomenUSA and Women’s Environment and Development Organization.

In addition to being an advocate for women’s rights, Abzug was also an outspoken Zionist. Her ardor for Zionism began with her membership in the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair. In 1975, Abzug led the fight to rescind the United Nations resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism. (It was not revoked until 1991.)

In 1986, Abzug lost her husband Martin, whom she had met on a bus heading to a concert in Miami shortly after she graduated Hunter. Their two daughters mourned Abzug’s passing on March 31, 1998. 

This Treat was written in honor of Women’s History Month. 

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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