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lawyer, U.S. Congresswoman
Bella Savitzky was born in New York City, on July 24, 1920, a daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She attended the local public schools before entering Hunter College in New York City, where she was elected student body president; she received her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter in 1942. She then attended Columbia University Law School on a scholarship, from which she received her law degree in 1945; she was admitted to the New York Bar in 1947; when she received her law degree, only about 2 percent of the lawyers in the United States were women. She married Martin Abzug in 1944.
Establishing a law practice in New York City, Abzug spent about twenty-five years specializing in labor, 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.
In 1961, Abzug helped found the Women Strike for Peace Movement in response to U.S. and Soviet nuclear testing. The Movement was also an important voice against the Vietnam War. She served as the Movement's chairman until 1971.
In 1968, Abzug was a founder and member of the National and State New Democratic Coalition. In 1970, running with the slogan "This woman's place is in the House -- the House of Representatives," Abzug defeated seven-term Democrat Leonard Farbstein in the Democratic primary on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She then defeated Republican talk-show host Barry Farber in the general election to become the first Jewish woman (and one of only twelve women) in Congress. Abzug quickly established herself as an anti-war activist and as a fighter for social and economic justice. A very outspoken advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm in 1971.
After three terms in the House, Abzug gave up her seat to run against Daniel Patrick Moynihan in New York's Democratic Senate primary for a seat in the then all-male Senate, but lost by less than one percent. She was then a candidate in the 1977 New York City mayoral primary, but was unsuccessful. In 1978, she was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the House in a special election.
In 1977, Abzug presided over the first National Women's Conference in Houston. She then headed President Jimmy Carter's National Advisory Committee on Women until she was fired for criticizing the administration's economic policies (1978-1979). In response, she founded Women USA, a political action organization. All the while she continued to practice law, publish articles, lecture on current issues, and work as a daily news commentator for the Cable New Network, Gender Gap. In 1984, she co-wrote a book with Mim Kelber, Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women.
In 1990, Abzug co-founded the Women's Environment and Development Organization, an international activist and advocacy network.
Abzug gave her last public speech in March 1998, before the United Nations. She died in New York City on March 31, 1998.
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This page was last updated on January 24, 2019.