Bella Abzug

The Jewish congresswoman was a champion of women's rights, human rights, equality, peace, and social justice.

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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.

Women Across the Country

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.

WSP's peace work, "flowed naturally into the campaign to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam," and Abzug was active both nationally--lobbying and leading WSP delegations to Washington--and locally. In Manhattan, she organized peace action committees and built coalitions among "the peace movement, liberal Democrats and Republicans, women's groups, poor people, blacks and other minorities, and young people" to pressure candidates to adopt anti-Vietnam stances. Abzug continued her influential political work for peace throughout the sixties, until finally, in 1970, she decided to run for office herself (Gender Gap: Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women, Houghton Mifflin, 1984).

Passionate Politics

Tossing aside the conventional advice that newcomers ought to keep quiet, Congresswoman Abzug was an outspoken advocate and activist from the start. On just her first day in office, she introduced a resolution demanding a set date for withdrawal from Vietnam. With her passionate politics and famous hats, the charismatic Abzug immediately captured the nation's attention. But with that fame often came a furious backlash, and many in the press claimed she was too "irritating" and "brash," too unwomanly to be effective.

Abzug's reputation inside Congress was an entirely different story. "Without a doubt, the hardest working Member," she was always prepared on the issues. She built strong coalitions and developed "brilliant, effective--and winning" strategies, particularly through her mastery of the arcane Rules of the House. Abzug won even her staunchest enemies respect with her dedication and determination. By her third term, she had become one of the most powerful members of the House, and was voted third more influential Congressperson by her colleagues--behind only Speaker Carl Albert and Majority Whip Tip O'Neill.

Congress's Hardest Working Member

A leader of the women's movement, Abzug was a vigilant sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and continually struggled to pass legislation on issues like childcare and abortion. She succeeded in pushing through a number of feminist amendments and bills including the Equal Credit Act, providing women with fair access to consumer credit, Title IX regulations, and the enforcing equal opportunity for women in federally funded educational institutions. Abzug was also one of the founders of the National Women's Political Caucus.

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