Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Battling Bella

Bella Abzug (died 31 March 1998)

A 1971 photo of Bella Abzug
in one of her trademark hats

Political activist, critical voice in the second-wave feminist movement, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and notable hat-wearer, Bella Abzug is the woman who memorably stated, in her 1970 political campaign, "This woman's place is in the House—the House of Representatives."

Born in 1920, the same year women in the U.S. finally achieved the right to vote, Abzug dedicated her life to social and political activism. Asked about why she always wore a hat, Abzug once explained, "I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee."

If you want to get a sense of Bella Abzug, check out the short video, "Bella Abzug: In Her Own Words." There are lots of great books, but you might start with this one, an oral history edited by Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom: Bella Abzug: How One Tough Broad from the Bronx Fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, Pissed Off Jimmy Carter, Battled for the Rights of Women and Workers, Rallied against War and for the Planet, and Shook Up Politics Along the Way.

Some Memorable, Prescient, and Important Abzug Quotations
  • I've been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prize fighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella, Mother Courage, and a Jewish mother with more complaints than Portnoy.
  • Maybe we weren't at the Last Supper, but we're certainly going to be at the next one.
  • They used to give us a day--it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985 they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows, if we behave they may let us into the whole thing. Well, we didn't behave and here we are.
  • The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.
  • Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over.
  • 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.
  • We are coming down from our pedestal and up from the laundry room. We want an equal share in government and we mean to get it.
  • I am not elevating women to sainthood, nor am I suggesting that all women share the same views, or that all women are good and all men bad.
  • If we get a government that reflects more of what this country is really about, we can turn the century--and the economy--around.
  • Abortion doesn't belong in the political arena. It's a private right, like many other rights concerning the family.
  • I prefer the word "homemaker" because "housewife" always implies that there may be a wife someplace else.
  • The establishment is made up of little men, very frightened.
  • All of the men on my staff can type.
  • I am not being facetious when I say that the real enemies in this country are the Pentagon and its pals in big business.
  • The inside operation of Congress -- the deals, the compromises, the selling out, the co-opting, the unprincipled manipulating, the self-serving career-building -- is a story of such monumental decadence that I believe if people find out about it they will demand an end to it.

From the left, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisolm (speaking),
Gracia Molina de Pick, Betty Friedan, and LaDonna Harris