Bella Abzug was an inspiring person who teaches us to never give up. She was a fighter for equal rights for women everywhere.
Bella Savitsky was born on July 24, 1920. She was the daughter of Russian immigrants. Her father Emanuel was a butcher. She grew up in the Bronx, in New York City. Some people like to say Bella was born yelling. Her father used to sing while Bella played the violin and her little sister Helene, played the grand piano. Bella Abzug competed with the boys in her neighborhood. When the boys tried to steal her marbles she would defend herself fiercely. She climbed trees, played checkers, became a graffiti artist, and even traded baseball cards. Bella was a very good student in Hebrew school. She had a gang of friends and they went everywhere together. She learned a lot in the tough streets of the Bronx about the power of friends and working together.
By the time she was 11, she was making speeches at subway stops Bella to raise money for the Jewish homeland. By the age of 13 Bella knew everything she needed to know like women's rights to dignity. In the synagogue, women were not allowed to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. When her father died, she marched right into the synagogue every morning and said Kaddish for her father. The people in the synagogue did not approve, but Bella's father had no sons, so they let her pray. She learned to get what you want you must be bold. She would later tell people, "People may not like it, but no one will stop you." Bella continued violin lessons all the way through high school. Bella went to Florence Marshall Hebrew High School and then onto Hunter College. She earned enough money for her family by teaching Hebrew and she also participated in political activities. Bella became the best class president at Walton High School in 1937 and she also became student government president of Hunter College. Bella became prominent with teachers and also made good impressions on teachers.
Bella got into Columbia University Law School. Her first and favorite choice was to go to Harvard but they turned her down because she was a woman. She became editor an editor of the Law Review at Columbia. Bella met a man named Martin Abzug in law school and completely fell in love with him. Bella met Martin while she was visiting some of her relatives in Miami after her graduation in Hunter College. Soon they met and dated. Martin left for service and when Martin came back all he wanted to do was party and Bella was the opposite all she wanted to do was study. Martin then started to help Bella by typing for her because Bella never knew how to type. Martin typed her briefs. They married in June 4, 1944. Martin encouraged Bella to continue working and supported her interest in women's rights.
Bella and her husband have two daughters. Eve Gail (Eegee) was born in 1949, she is a sculptor and social worker and Isobel Jo (Liz) was born in 1952, she is an attorney and political consultant. The family moved to Mount Vernon, an integrated suburb of New York City. The family later moved to Greenwich Village.
After law school Bella joined a law firm that represented unions. People often ignored her when she went to meeting representing a union, so Bella decided to wear a hat to get their attention. A hat made the difference and she got their attention. Hats eventually became her trademark. During the 1950s, Bella was one of the few attorneys willing to take "communist" cases. Martin encouraged Bella to open her own office and she represented people caught up in the 1950s "witch hunt" for communists. One of her most famous cases was Willie McGee. McGee was a black man from Mississippi who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. (They had a long-standing relationship.) After many years of hard work Bella was unable to get his conviction overturned and he went to the electric chair.
In 1961 she helped create a group called Women Strike for Peace. She spoke against poverty, racism, and violence. In 1970, at the ago of 50, Bella ran for Congress and won. She represented Greenwich Village, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, the West Side, and Chelsea. One of her campaign slogans was This Woman's Place is in the House- the House of Representatives. She worked hard for New York for three terms from 1971 to 1977. She was the first to call for the resignation of President Nixon. Bella helped found the National Women's Political Caucus, and wrote legislation making it illegal to discriminate against women trying to get credit, credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Bella never quit fighting until she got what she wanted. She lost her final campaign by less than one percent and President Carter appointed her to chair the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year. She went on to lead an international women's movement. She organized Women USA Fund, they published educational materials. She co founded Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO.) When Bella did something she went for it-all the way!
Bella wrote four book; Bella! Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington, Gender Gap: Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women, Women, Looking Beyond 2000, and Women and the Environment and she even she appeared in a movie, Manhattan.
At the age of 77, Bella Savitsky Abzug died of complications following heart surgery on March 31, 1998.
Hear Bella Abzug speak:
On opposition to the movement for sexual equality
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
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By Himani & Lia, fourth grade, 2005