Bella Abzug

“Women will change the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature of women.”

Bella Abzug, American lawyer, activist, and politician, 1920-1998

Nicknamed “Battling Bella,” Bella Abzug was a leading figure in the feminist movement of the early 1970s and was a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem. She practiced civil-rights and labor law and was a U.S. Congresswoman who championed the causes of peace and disarmament, abortion rights and childcare, earning her other nickname, “Mother Courage.” Abzug always wore a hat, which she said was to assert her professionalism as a woman. “A woman’s place is in the house: the House of Representatives,” was her 1970 campaign slogan. Bella Abzug Park in Hudson Yards is named for her.

The daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants, Abzug grew up in the Bronx. She had strong opinions from a young age and knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She graduated law from Colombia University, having been rejected from Harvard due to her gender, sparking a life-long crusade for women’s rights. 

In her law practice, she defended minorities who were wrongly accused of crimes, and those persecuted for communist activities at the height of McCarthyism. Abzug was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and founded Women Strike for Peace in 1961.  In 1975, Abzug made history when she introduced the first gay rights bill in Congress.

President Carter named Abzug to the National Advisory Committee of women, but she was soon dismissed for her criticism of his administration. She continued to fight for women’s rights and political emancipation for her entire career, famously quipping “Maybe we weren't at the Last Supper, but we're certainly going to be at the next one.” Even after returning to private practice in the 1980s, she made her opinions known as a contributor to Ms. magazine, was a cable news commentator and wrote Gender Gap: Bella Abzug’s Guide to Political Power for American Women. Despite a battle with breast cancer, she remained a political powerhouse until her death in New York City.


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