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Author photo. Photo by Warren K. Leffler (Library of Congress)

Photo by Warren K. Leffler (Library of Congress)

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Bella Savitsky, a daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, grew up poor in the Bronx, New York. By age 13, she was giving her first speeches and defying tradition by saying Kaddish for her father at the local synagogue. She went to Hunter College and became student body president. She won a scholarship to Columbia University Law School, where she was named editor of the law review although one of only a handful of female law students. In 1944, she married Martin Abzug, with whom she had two children. Bella Abzug was admitted to the NY Bar in 1947, and started practicing at the firm of Pressman, Witt & Cammer, specializing in labor law and tenants’ rights cases for more than 20 years. It was a time in the USA when very few women practiced law. She began wearing what became her signature, wide-brimmed hats, to ensure that she was not mistaken for a secretary. In 1970, Bella Abzug decided to go to Congress, and challenged a 14-year incumbent in the Democratic primary for a district on the West Side of Manhattan. She won the primary, and then beat talk show host Barry Farber in the general election. She became known as "Battling Bella" for her support of social and economic justice and women's rights, and her opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. As co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, Rep. Abzug helped bring more women into politics. She took on so-called tough issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment, child care, and reproductive rights.

She was one of the first members of Congress to support gay rights, introducing the first federal gay rights bill, known as the Equality Act of 1974, with Rep. Ed Koch, future mayor of New York City. Her career in Congress ended with an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1976. She returned to private practice as a lawyer until 1980, and was a television news commentator and magazine columnist.
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