Bella Abzug

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The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.

Bella Savitsky Abzug (July 24, 1920March 31, 1998) was a well-known American political figure, a leader of the women's movement, and a member of the United States House of Representatives.


  • 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. There are those who say I’m impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash, and overbearing. Whether I’m any of those things, or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am —and this ought to be made very clear—I am a very serious woman.
    • Bella!, introduction (1972)
  • Just imagine for a moment what life in this country might have been if women had been properly represented in Congress. Would a Congress where women in all their diversity were represented tolerate the countless laws now on the books that discriminate against women in all phases of their lives? Would a Congress with adequate representation of women have allowed this country to reach the 1970s without a national health care system? Would it have permitted this country to rank fourteenth in infant mortality among the developed nations of the world? Would it have allowed the situation we now have in which thousands of kids grow up without decent care because their working mothers have no place to leave them? Would such a Congress condone the continued butchering of young girls and mothers in amateur abortion mills? Would it allow fraudulent packaging and cheating of consumers in supermarkets, department stores and other retail outlets? Would it consent to the perverted sense of priorities that has dominated our government for decades, where billions have been appropriated for war while our human needs as a people have been neglected?
    • Bella!, “February 7” section (1972)
  • The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be in the arrangement of your chromosomes.
    • Bella!: Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington, Saturday Review Press (1972), p. 80.
  • When I was a young lawyer, working women wore hats. It was the only way they would take you seriously.
    • Entry in American National Biography


  • Earth’s most valuable and most neglected natural resource: women.
  • much of what has been done in the name of progress and growth and development has been done without much regard for the effects on human beings—women, men and children—on water, air and soil, on our delicately balanced, intricately interconnected global ecology.
  • Women are not just victims. We are thinkers, organizers, and activists. We are part of a worldwide women’s movement that has brought into every nation of the world, no matter how poor or oppressed, the message that women can work together to take control of our lives and to bring our collective experience, wisdom, and numbers into the areas where the policies and decisions are being made about the future of our planet.
  • It was thousands of women marching and demonstrating against dangerous Strontium 90 nuclear fallout who helped to win the ban on atmospheric nuclear tests and who have continued their struggle against the nuclear arms race and hazards in areas ranging from Greenham Common, Europe and the U.S. to Africa and Asia.
  • it was Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland’s vision and leadership as head of the UN Commission on Environment and Development that told us of “our common future” and what we must do to assure that we have a livable future. Dr. Brundtland is an inspiring example of what can happen when the right woman is in the right place.
  • Women are both affected by and effectors of the environmental crisis. We must be part—a central part—of the solution. Our views on economic justice, human rights, reproduction and the achievement of peace—all elements of the environment/development crisis—must be heard at local, national, and international forums wherever policies and decisions are made that can affect the future of life on our planet.
  • Women are participating in large numbers at the grassroots levels, but in the overwhelming majority of nations, we still lack effective political power. And that is also true in the United Nations—in the Secretariat and in the member nation delegations.
  • All over the world, ordinary citizens are coming forward to assert their democratic and human rights, and concern about the environment permeates their demands.
  • Some of you may have been at the UN Decade of Women conferences in Nairobi in 1985. That was where global feminism came of age—a symbol of sisterhood, of international women’s networks, of our hopes for a better, fairer, safer world. Nairobi was the birthplace of the “Forward-Looking Strategies” document, the most comprehensive historic statement of our agenda, encompassing peace, equality, human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection. Now we must move on and expand our vision. The women’s movement is strong and continues to grow. We are everywhere, and we will be heard . . . or else we—women, men and children—will all hear from Mother Nature. Remember, hell hath no fury like a woman—or an Earth—scorned and despoiled.

""Plenary Speech" (1995)[edit]

Abzub, Bella. 1995. "Women's Environment & Development Organisation. Bella Abzug. Co-Chair, Women's Environment & Development Organisation (WEDO). Plenary Speech." United Nations.

  • Imperfect though it may be, the Beijing Platform for Action is the strongest statement of consensus on women's equality, empowerment and justice ever produced by governments...It is an agenda for change, fueled by the momentum of civil society, based on a transformational vision of a better world for all.
  • We are bringing women into politics to change the nature of politics, to change the vision, to change the institutions. Women are not wedded to the policies of the past. We didn't craft them. They didn't let us.
  • As women, we know that we must always find ways to change the process because the present institutions want to hold on to power and keep the status quo.
  • Some wonder how I have kept going for so long and how I manage to remain optimistic. When governments were removing the brackets from the document over the last two weeks, the French tested another nuclear weapon in the Pacific, NATO was bombing Bosnia and the Serbs were shelling Sarajevo. Refugee camps overflowed in too many places around this globe. Conditions for women on factory floors did not change. Women died in childbirth and in their homes Hunger gnawed at the bellies of millions. The world went on, in its downward spiral we all know all too well. In the face of so much pain, I remain an incurable optimist. I am fueled by the passion of the women I have been privileged to meet and work with, buoyed by their hope for peace, justice and democracy. I am strengthened by each of them. And to each government delegate who pushed the boundaries of progress I thank you. I thank the United Nations and my sisters in the NGO community for your good humor and hard work. I wish each of you well and sustainable optimism for the days ahead. Never underestimate the importance of what we are doing here. Never hesitate to tell the truth. And never, ever give in or give up.

Quotes about Bella Abzug[edit]

  • She did not appear in Brooklyn, but about five minutes before the Washington press conference started I had a call from an Abzug aide asking whether Bella could appear with me and my supporters at the event. I could not discover whether she intended to endorse me, or what she had in mind, but I said yes because I could see no reason to say no. After my statement, Mitchell and Dellums spoke; they gave me strong and moving endorsements. Then Bella made a strange statement, largely about movements and the underprivileged in politics. She said lit about my candidacy, except that it was "an idea whose time has come," if I remember correctly. Later a reporter asked her whether she had endorsed me or not. Bella hedged. She said she supported "the idea" of my candidacy and would support me in those states where I was running. Bella never offered to campaign for me in Florida, North Carolina or even New York, for that matter. It was a letdown, and also bewildering: if she intended to sit on the fence, why did she ask to appear with me when I made my announcement for the Presidency?
  • I believe in the stubbornness of civil disobedience and I'm not afraid of it. I remember one May Day demonstration. In 1971. Still wartime. We were arrested and we were in this big, sort of football field. Barbara Deming and I were walking around, arm in arm. We had been arrested together. It was very cold. Everybody was finding someone to walk very close to. Later on, one person wasn't enough, we would try to get into groups that huddled: fifteen. But at that point, Barbara and I were walking arm in arm and it was a pretty messy place, because that was the year they arrested thirteen or fourteen thousand people, just picking them up off the street, and then they didn't know what the hell to do with them. At that point we were in a football field. Later, we were put inside a stadium. And so we were walking around, arm in arm, talking to each other, and then congresspeople came in to see what was going on, and Bella Abzug came over to talk to us. She and I had always had these disagreements about the electoral work and what you can call action, direct action, and we would talk to each other about this. So she came over and she looked at me and Barbara walking arm in arm. She asked how we were. She was a congresswoman at this time. She was worried about us. We said we were all right. And then she said, "Well, I guess you're where you want to be and I'm where I want to be." And we laughed, we all laughed together. And I want to say about Bella that she was at this Women's Pentagon demonstration. She came, she walked with everybody, she didn't look for any limelight of any kind. She just sort of walked, and begged me not to get arrested. Again, she said she thought it was a waste of time. I could do more outside. But she really was just a part of the action. That's what we wanted all of our leaders to be, just a part of the women's action.

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