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Bella Abzug

1920 – 1998

“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

Hat in the Ring

Bella Abzug was a tough, tart-tongued New Yorker whose ever-present hats and outspoken manner sent an unmistakable message on behalf of causes to protect women, children, minorities, gays and the environment. 

Like many women elected to Congress, Abzug was a “late bloomer.” In 1970, at age 50, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives; she won the election and went on to represent New York for three terms. She pushed on a number of issues, including passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal for a creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction, on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status or sex. She opposed the Vietnam War, coauthored the Freedom of Information Act and was the first legislator to call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Even her opponents across the aisle thought well of her. Millicent Fenwick, the straight-speaking Republican congresswoman from New Jersey, once said she had two heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bella Abzug. Both women, Fenwick said, had integrity and spoke from the heart. 

Bella Abzug gave up her House seat to run for the Senate in 1976, but lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Subsequent attempts at public office also failed, but she remained active in women’s and civil rights causes and in her private law practice. At her funeral in 1998, Geraldine Ferraro remembered her in this way: “She didn’t knock politely on the door. She didn’t even push it open or batter it down. She took it off the hinges forever.”

 

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