Abzug, Bella Savitzky

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ABZUG, BELLA SAVITZKY (1920–1998), U.S. social activist, politician, and advocate for women's rights. Abzug was born in the Bronx, New York, to a religious, immigrant family. Her father, Emanuel Savitzky, a butcher, then salesman, died when Bella was 13, and her mother, Esther, became the family breadwinner. Abzug attended Walton High, an all-girls public school. Active as a teenager in the Labor Zionist group Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, she studied Hebrew at the Florence Marshall Hebrew High, continuing her studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She taught Hebrew and Jewish history at a Bronx Jewish Center. In 1938, Abzug enrolled in Hunter College, where she led demonstrations against fascism. Graduating in 1942, she worked for a defense contractor, then entered Columbia University Law School on scholarship. One of only a few women in her class, she became an editor of the Columbia Law Review. Midway through law school, she married Martin Abzug; the couple had two daughters. Following graduation, Abzug opened her own law firm, specializing in labor union and civil liberties work.

In 1961, Abzug helped found Women's Strike for Peace and served as its national legislative and political director. An early opponent of the Vietnam War, she founded the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative and helped to organize the Dump-Johnson campaign. She won election to Congress from Manhattan's 19th Congressional District in 1970, becoming one of 12 women in the House, the first elected on a woman's rights/peace platform. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus. Returned to the House twice more, Abzug's major legislation included the Equal Credit Act, Social Security for homemakers, family planning, abortion rights, Title ix regulations, the Freedom of Information Act, the Right to Privacy Act, the "Government in the Sunshine" Law, and the Water Pollution Act. The first to call for President Nixon's impeachment during the Watergate scandal, she conducted inquiries into covert and illegal activities of the cia and fbi. Abzug also sponsored pioneering legislation to permit the free emigration of Soviet Jewry, and was a leading supporter of economic and military aid to Israel. In 1975, she led the fight to condemn the un General Assembly's resolution equating Zionism with racism, and played a leading role in condemning anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish attacks at international feminist conferences in Mexico and Copenhagen.

In 1976, Abzug left the House to run for the Senate from New York but lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a four-way race. In 1977, she presided over the first National Women's Conference in Houston. With colleagues in 1980, she established women usa; a decade later she co-founded and co-chaired the Women's Economic Development Organization (wedo), an international advocacy group supporting women's empowerment, economic development, and environmental security. Her books included Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for Women (1984), written with Mim Kelber.


J. Antler, The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America (1997); J. Nies, Nine Women: Portraits from an American Radical Tradition (2002).

[Joyce Antler (2nd ed.)]