Friday, September 2, 2011

Bella Abzug

Though she only served one term in the U.S. Congress, Bella Abzug probably made more impact than any other one term congressperson.  She was outspoken, loud and she wore really big hats.  She was an early feminist and co-sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

She was born in the Bronx in 1920, the daughter of Jewish immigrants.  Her father ran the Live and Let Live Meat Market in Manhattan. She described him as “This Humanist butcher”.  He died when she was 13.

Ms. Abzug said she wanted to be a lawyer from the age of 11, and went to Hunter College, where she was student body President. She applied to Harvard Law school and was rejected because of her gender, then was accepted and graduated from Columbia University.
  There were very few female lawyers when she began her career, and frequently when she went to meetings, she would be told to have a seat and wait for the lawyer.  She credits this for her wearing big hats. She said to be taken seriously women needed to wear hats.  Large hats became her trademark.

Ms. Abzug was an activist for liberal and women’s causes from the beginning and was not afraid to tackle controversial cases.  She defended Willie McGee, a black man accused and convicted (after less than two minutes of jury deliberation).  The case was appealed, but Mr. McGee was eventually executed.

In the 50s she defended people accused of having Communist activities by the HUAC, led by Joseph McCarthy.

In the 60s she was an antiwar activist and was a founder of Women Strike for Peace, and a leader of the movement against President Johnson.  During these years she began her political career. She ran for state assembly and held office there until running for the United States Congress where she served one term.

There were comments about her trademark hats in congress, and she reportedly said, “I watched to see if they wanted me to stop. They did, so I continued wearing them.” While there, she took on the military-industrial complex, the draft, tried to enact national health insurance, and get money for day-care centers. It all would be paid for with money from the Pentagon. Bella was also among the first to advocate for gay rights.   ''She was one of the most exciting, enlightened legislators that ever served in the Congress,'' said Representative Charles B. Rangel.

Bella Abzug fought tirelessly and loudly for women’s issues and peace, both in and out of office.  Her figure was a familiar one at demonstrations and marches for civil rights, women’s rights and peace.
In 1995 she was a leader of a conference in Beijing with the World Conference for Women.  Former President George H.W. Bush commented, ''I feel somewhat sorry for the Chinese, having Bella Abzug running around. Bella Abzug is one who has always represented the extremes of the women's movement.''

When told of his remark, she shot back, ''He was addressing a fertilizer group? That's appropriate."

She died in 1998, after heart surgery.  Ironic, since hear was always somethin she had in abundance.