Bella Abzug

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Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was a prominent civil rights attorney.

Biographical information

"Bella was "born yelling" in 1920. A daughter of Russian immigrants, she grew up poor in the Bronx. By the age of thirteen, she was already giving her first speeches and defying convention at her family's synagogue. At tuition free Hunter College Bella was student body president, and on scholarship at Columbia she was one of only a minuscule number of women law students across the nation.

"Abzug then worked as a lawyer for the next twenty five years, specializing in labor and tenants’ rights, and civil rights and liberties cases. During the McCarthy era she was one of the few attorneys willing to fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee. While she ran her own practice, she was also raising two daughters together with her husband Martin.

"In the 1960’s, Abzug helped start the nationwide Women Strike For Peace (WSP), in response to U.S.and Soviet nuclear testing, and soon became an important voice against the Vietnam War.

"At the age of 50, Abzug ran for congress in Manhattan and won on a strong feminist and peace platform. She quickly became a nationally known legislator, one of only 12 women in the House. Her record of accomplishments in Congress continually demonstrated her unshakable convictions as an anti-war activist and as a fighter for social and economic justice.

"After three terms in Congress, Abzug gave up her seat in 1976 to run for an all male Senate, but lost the democratic primary by less than one percent. In an increasingly conservative political climate, Abzug also lost later bids for city mayor and for Congress.

"In 1977, she presided over the historic first National Women's Conference in Houston. She then headed President Carter's National Advisory Committee on Women until she was abruptly fired for criticizing the administration's economic policies in 1979.

"In response, Abzug founded Women USA, a grassroots political action organization. At the same time, she was playing a major role at the UN International Women's Conferences, practicing law, publishing and lecturing. In 1986 she suffered the loss of her greatest supporter, her husband Martin.

"In 1990, Bella moved on to co-found the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), an international activist and advocacy network. As WEDO president, Abzug became an influential leader at the United Nations and at UN world conferences, working to empower women around the globe.

"Abzug gave her final public speech before the UN in March of 1998, and died soon after, at the age of 77. Her death is still being mourned in this country and around the world." [1]

"As a lawmaker, Ms. Abzug co-authored the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts. She was the first to call for President Nixon's impeachment in the 1970s and cast one of the first votes for the Equal Rights Amendment.

"She is currently co-chair of the Women's Environmental Development Organization (WEDO). In this capacity, she served as senior advisor to UNCED Secretary General Maurice Strong and successfully campaigned to incorporate key issues of the women's agenda into official statements approved at the Earth Summit. In 1991, she presided over the Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet." [2]

"Reelected for three terms, Abzug served from 1971 to 1977 and was acknowledged by a U.S. News & World Report survey of House members as the "third most influential" House member. In a 1977 Gallup poll, she was named one of the twenty most influential women of the world...

"After Abzug was defeated in a four-way primary race for the Senate in 1976 by less than one percent, President Carter appointed her chair of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, and later cochair of the National Advisory Commission for Women. Active in the UN Decade for Women conferences in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), and Nairobi (1985), Abzug became an esteemed leader of the international women's movement. She also led the fight against the obnoxious Zionism Is Racism resolution passed in 1975, which was finally repealed in 1985 in Nairobi. Long active in supporting Israel, especially in Congress and in Israeli-U.S.-Palestine peace efforts, she insisted that Zionism was a liberation movement. Always controversial, her definition of Zionism embraced the international peace movement represented in Israel by Shulamith Aloni and others who promoted the peace process.

"During this time, Abzug's not-for-profit advocacy organization, Women USA Fund, organized with Brownie Ledbetter, Patsy Mink, Gloria Steinem, Maxine Waters, and Mim Kelber, published educational materials and created the Women's Foreign Policy Council, which led to the creation of WEDO." [3]

"The last time I saw Bella was in 1995, just before she left for China for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I wanted her to do an oral history so her entire amazing political journey could be recorded. I wanted to hear her talk about founding Women Strike for Peace with Cora Weiss, and how they lobbied for nuclear disarmament." [4]


  • Bella Abzug and Mim Kelber, Gender Gap: Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984).
  • Bella Abzug and Mel Ziegler, Bella!: Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972).

Sourcewatch Resources


  1. Bella Abzug, Jewish Womens Archive, accessed August 27, 2008.
  2. Bella Abzug, International Institute for Sustainable Development, accessed August 27, 2008.
  3. Bella Abzug, Jewish Virtual Library, accessed August 27, 2008.
  4. Bella Abzug, The Nation, accessed November 9, 2009.
  5. National Womens Political Caucaus, History, National Women's Political Caucus, organizational website, accessed November 20, 2011
  6. Margaret Sanger Award, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, accessed November 25, 2011.