Bella Abzug: A Political Figure and a Leader in the Women’s movement
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Bella Abzug was a fighter for equal rights, human dignity, justice, peace, environment and women’s liberation. She advocated these causes nationally and worldwide.
She was born on July 24, 1920. The daughter of Esther (Tanklefsky) and Emanuel Stavisky, who were poor immigrants. She was raised in the Bronx.
In 1933, Bella was 12 years old when her father died. She defied the convention of the orthodox synagogue that only sons can say Kaddish. She went to the synagogue every day for a year and stood by herself and said the Kaddish for her father.
In 1942, she graduated Hunter College with a degree in Political Science and in 1945, she went to Columbia University to earn a law degree. In 1947, she was admitted to the bar. This was the beginning of her 25 years of practicing law.
After graduating from Hunter College, Bella took a vacation with relatives in Miami. It was during this stay that she met Martin Abzug. He was a writer and the son of an affluent shirt manufacturer. In World War II, he went into America’s mi;itary and they corresponded. In 1944, they married and they had two daughters, Eve Gail and Eegee. They were married for 42 years when he died in 1986.
Her most noted case was in 1950. It was the defense of Willie McGee, a 36 year old truck driver, of Laurel Mississippi, who was convicted of raping a white women, despite the evidence that they had been living together for four years.
In the 1960s, Bella organized the Women’s Strike for Peace to protest the nuclear testing by the Soviet Union and the United States. She was also against the Vietnam War.
Bella Abzug was politically very active and was elected to the House of Representatives as a Congresswoman to serve Manhattan’s 19th Congressional District, in 1970. She served three terms as a Congresswoman.
She wrote a book, “Bella: Ms Abzug goes to Washington,” a diary of her first year in office.
In 1971, she co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus.
She played an important role at the first United Nations Decade of Women conferences in 1975.
In 1976, Bella Abzug gave up her Congressional seat to run in the New York Democratic Party primary race for the United States Senate. She lost by one percent of the vote. In 1977, she lost a close race for Mayor of New York City.
President Carter appointed her as co-chair of his National Advisory Committee on Women. In 1978. In the following year President Carter revoked her position for criticizing his administration.
In 1980, she resumed her private law practice. Her book , “Gender Gap: Bella Abzug’s Guide to Political Power for American Women,” was published in 1984.
From1990 through 1997, she was very active in national and international conferences on women and the environment.
Bella Abzug died of complications following heart surgery in New York City. She was 77 years old.
For additional information, contact
Seymour "Sy" Brody
Special Collections and Archives
S.E. Wimberly Library
FAU Home Page
FAU Libraries Home Page