Candl02.gif (3436 bytes)
Candl02.gif (3436 bytes)
Home
Prominent
Supporters
 

U.S. Congresswoman Bella S. Abzug

STONEWALL Veterans' Association
Former S.V.A. Honorary Female Chairperson

1969 - 1998 S.V.A. Supporter



"Bella! goes to Gay Pride" -- Central Park, N.Y., June 1977
(Shown to BSA's rear left is Harold Holzer with glasses and hair!)
[Photo by Williamson Henderson]

Bella Savitsky Abzug ("Bella!") was born on Hoe Avenue in The Bronx, New York City, on the 24th of July (as in "the 4th of July") 1920 -- the year that American women finally obtained "the right to vote".  This is very ironic!  In fact, it happened  in world history only a month after Bella! was born.  The Bella! word was out:  watch out!  This political irony set the motivational, political and spiritual stage for the multi-rights' activist Bella!  During World War II in June of 1944, Bella! married Martin M. Abzug.  In the early 1950s, they had two daughters, Eve Gayle "E.G." and Isobel Jo "Liz" -- ironically, both are openly and proudly Gay!!

Known as the one and only "Mother of the Gay Community", spanning three monumental decades throughout the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, the STONEWALL Veterans' Association ("S.V.A.") first became involved with Bella! via its founder Williamson Henderson during her successful Manhattan campaign for U.S. Congress in 1970.  Williamson, and his equally young boyfriend John Watts, lived since the "Stonewall Summer of 1969" in a New York City rent-stabilized, luxury high-rise apartment building at Fifth Avenue and East 14th Street in Manhattan in the congressional district for which Bella! was campaigning.  Bella! was also impressed with the boyfriend; however, the boys amicably separated the year Bella! took office.  Williamson kept the apartment for a total of ten-and-a-half years throughout the entire 1970s in the district that Bella! was elected Congressmember.  The district included Greenwich Village, Chelsea, NoHo (North of Houston Street), Clinton and the (increasingly Gay) Upper West Side.  With Williamson actively involved with the 14th Street Block Association, which included blocks on both sides of Fifth Avenue plus Fifth Avenue itself, Williamson soon arranged Bella! as the much-publicized guest speaker.  This happened more than once and spanning several years through a few exciting political contests of Bella!  One of the prominent attendees was boxing champion and Stonewall veteran Emile Griffith, Jr.  

In the Spring of 1970, in addition to Bella's campaign, there was the excitement of the start of a new decade in "Fun City" and the seriousness of the anti-Viet Nam War protests.  Bella! vociferously, consistently and famously spoke out against that war.  There was a lot of enthusiasm about the upcoming first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.  Bella! and Williamson (who she often referred to as looking like an "angel"), along with a pack of other veterans of the Stonewall Rebellion -- known as the "Stonewall Vetz" -- were mutually supportive with their consensual issues of Gay rights, womens' rights, tenants' rights and civil rights.  

Regarding civil rights, for example, most people do not know this but many years earlier, Bella! literally risked her life over and over and over in her bravely and continuously defending at various judicial levels the wrongly-accused defendant in the notious Negro-hating South case in Mississippi of Willie McGee, a hard-working, married black man who was ludicrously charged with rape by a white, 'married' Southern slut who had him intercoursing her for years.  When married Willie finally refused to continue the regularly-scheduled  performances, she falsely yelled "rape!"  Despite the prior, amazingly successful efforts of Bella! -- who prolonged Willie's life for over five years -- in 1951, Willie was unjustifiably executed ("state-sponsored murder").  The entire horrible experience understandably took a terrible toll on Bella!

The SVA's Jeremiah Newton also campaigned with Bella!  On one occasion with Bella's old Volkswagen campaign "bus" as the transportation of choice, Jeremiah actually had a huge surprise in his "Travels with Bella!"  He reached out to help this just-arrived scarved woman up the bus ladder.  Incredibly, it was the "Funny Girl" herself!  Jeremiah helped the enthusiastic, Brooklyn-born, Academy Award-winner Barbra Streisand up the chrome bus ladder (standard on the Volkswagen {"VW"} buses) to the roof.  Barbra then precariously stood on the VW roof to publicly speak with Bella at a big campaign stop in Greenwich Village.  Ironically, the newly post-Diana Ross Supremes had their first (number one) song out: "Up the Ladder to the Roof".  Also ironic, the lesbian newspaper 'out' at that time was named "The Ladder"!  There was a great supportive profile of Bella! in "The Ladder".      

Barbra Streisand -- at this point, in 1970, already a Grammy award-winning worldwide singer, Tony award-winning Broadway star, Oscar award-winning  worldwide actress and Golden Globes award-winning global entertainer -- held her own fund-raiser for 'hell-raiser' Bella! during Gay Pride Month at Barbra's new townhouse off Fifth Avenue (and the Gay parade route) at 49 East 18th Street in Manhattan for the latter's ultimately winning Congressional campaign.  Clearly, one of the themes for Bella's historic mission was Barbra's hit song "Don't Rain On My Parade".

Bella! began wearing her 'trademark' hats -- a very smart marketing tool -- because as a female attorney (rare in those years), it helped score her double recognition, professional identity and memorable recognition, versus all of the men, in career stature.  And was she ever right (excuse the inaccurate pun).  Bella! later elaborated, "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".  With her wide-brimmed, usually colorful hats, Bella! became identifiably legendary.  At home she had a huge "hat tree".  Besides hats, Bella! loved music and performing.  She notoriously did the famed Marlene Dietrich in "male drag", singing "Falling in Love Again".  And, likewise attracting the arts, Gay songster Sandy Rapp, a longtime friend of Bella!, composed and recorded the song, "Hats Off to Bella!".  No doubt, besides the obvious inspirations of Bella's trademark hats and the phrase "hats off", the title may have also been inspired by the 1960s pop song "Hats Off To Larry".  A longtime friend of Williamson Henderson's, from when he was President of The Victoria Apartments Tenants' Association, ("TVTA"), which he co-founded with Florence Walder, and she was a Floor Senator (appointed by Williamson), Gay author/playwright Barbara Kahn, wrote the lyrics to the tribute song for Bella!:  "Actions Are the Music of the Free".

Bella! was unprecedently great to and sincerely supportive of the GLBT community, our causes, issues, concerns and emotions.  In 1970, Bella! had the matter of conviction -- and good chutzpah -- to daringly campaign for Gay votes at the infamous Continental Baths & Showplace in the Upper West Side.  Taking a cue from Bella!, a year later, Bette Midler took heed and was performing there, along with Bette's longtime, quietly Gay, Brooklyn-born pianist, Barry Manilow, for her towel-clad "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys".  Once in Congress -- "A Woman's Place is in The House" --  Bella! lobbied loud, clear and lively, locally, for the passage of the New York City Gay Civil Rights Law, introduced in the New York City Council in 1971.  As a congressmember, of course, Bella! carried much more weight in those efforts.  Less than three years after the Stonewall Rebellion, Bella! was the first Congressmember to hire an openly-Gay staff member.  Lord knows, there were plenty of U.S.A. government Gay staff members hired (recall President Lyndon Johnson's scandalous Walter Jenkins, who was caught 'performing' with men in a 'tea room').  However, no known Gay government employees had the support and encouragement to be 'out' Gay -- until Bella! arrived.  She hired an openly-Gay chief-of-staff!  Regarding women's rights, on August 26, 1971, "Women's Equality Day", to commemorate the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for women's suffrage, it was introduced by whom?  Who else?  Bella!

Bolstered by in-person meetings, phone calls and a letter-writing campaign (mostly hand-written) by thousands, including GLBT activist members of the STONEWALL Veterans' Association, in 1974, Bella! and fellow liberal New York Congressmember Edward I. Koch jointly introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives the first Gay Rights Bill (HR-14752) on May 14, 1974.  It was intentionally and significantly introduced on the eve of "Stonewall 5", the Fifth Anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.  This "revolutionary" bill, considered radical by most, was to add "sexual orientation" to the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act.  Bella! consistently dealt with several Gay organizations, including the S.V.A., the Gay Activists Alliance ("G.A.A."), the National Gay Task Force ("NGTF)", then located in her district and a stone's throw from Williamson's home, and, probably her favorite, the Imperial Queens & Kings of Greater New York ("IQKNY").  In all of her political campaigns, Bella! openly provided great attention -- more than any public official -- to actively and openly seeking the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender votes.  Principled Bella! absolutely and always adhered to her equality-for-all philosophy.  And more than any politician, her eternal message was crystal clear:  "Equal protection of the laws and respect for the rights of ALL individuals are fundamental principles of the American Constitution".

                                                                                          
                                                                            WLh and Bella Abzug

Williamson accompanying Bella! on a campaign stop in 1978  
[Photo by Martin Abzug]

                        *

For nearly four decades, Bella! battled many political and civil rights issues -- women's, environmental, tenants, GLBT and many more.  At the times, to many, they seemed "left wing" or even "radical".  Now, most of Bella's proposals are considered mainstream and/or popular and, in fact, many are now law.  In her later years, Bella!, while remaining active in politics (ask "Manhattan Borough President" Debby Glick) fighting against unworthy or inept wannabees and fighting for worthy, qualified and respectful candidates such as the winning Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields.  Bella's causes and issues also continued as did her participation.   

Bella! also bravely battled a few personal medical issues.  As a result of bad complications from heart surgery, Bella! passed at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday, March 31, 1998, at nearly 78 years of life!  Bella's youngest daughter Liz Abzug thoughtfully and very personally called to inform the S.V.A. of the sad news.  The huge services for the one and only Bella! were greatly held at the Riverside Memorial Chapel (more like a cathedral) at Columbus Avenue and West 76th Street in Manhattan, New York, on Thursday, April 2nd at high noon!  Among those present and most of whom gave spoken tributes at Bella's services -- in addition to Bella's two Gay daughters Eve and Liz and their partners Joan Kaplan and Erica "Mini" Forman, respectively -- were the following luminaries:  former N.Y.C. Mayor Ed Koch, longtime Bella! alternating political ally/foe (ironically, he and Bella lived currently for many years in the same grand co-op building in Manhattan), Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (the only current public official who was requested to speak), former Congressmember and Vice President candidate Geraldine Ferraro, Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda, Phil Donohue, Marlo Thomas, Jodie Foster, Tony Randall, Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna, feminist leaders Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, N.Y.S. Comptroller Carl McCall, N.Y.S. Attorney General Oliver Koppell, openly-Gay Attorney General candidate (1994) Karen Burstein (to whom Bella! was a mentor), N.Y.C. Public Advocate Mark Green, N.Y.C. Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., and at least a dozen individual N.Y.C. councilmembers as well as state senators, state assembly members, state committee members, district leaders, et al., Broadway and film producer Marty Richards (arrived in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce), singers Lesley Gore, Royal Jones and Sandy Rapp and so very many others to S.R.O. overflowing out into the streets capacity.  And, that was just from those invited!  The crowds overflowed to the street.  It was a fitting production that would have been loved and appreciated by Bella!  All that was missing was Bella! doing Marlene Dietrich in top hat, tails and cane as could only be done by the unforgettable show-woman Bella!  

Is it just irony that Bella! died on the final day of "Women's History Month" (March)?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Considering Bella! was born only a 30-day notice before the "Women's Right to Vote"....  Perhaps not just irony!  Long before she departed, Bella! wrote, among many other documents, a best-selling book.  The name?  What else?  "Bella!" -- with the exclamation point!

The Bella S. Abzug Memorial Statue Project and Fund Committee commenced on October 29, 2002.  The goal was to have a full-size statue of Bella! created with the chosen location of Washington Square Park, where Bella! lived for so many years.  Famous Bella! visited the famous park regularly year-round even when she had to travel there a block away via wheelchair.  The B.S.A. Committee used to meet monthly at the renowned Women's Environment & Development Organization ("WEDO") headquarters in Manhattan.  For your information, Bella! founded WEDO.  Of course, the Bella! project has the full support, love and promotion of the STONEWALL Veterans' Association.

 


Much too belated a gesture for the Bella:  "Come in, Ms. Abzug!"
[The New York Times printed the memorable Newsday cartoon by Marlette]
 
 


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Bella!
 Updates

 



2006

The BELLA ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE ("BALI")

holds its
"Inaugural Press Conference"
and
"First Annual Breakfast" 
at
Hunter College
Eighth Floor

Lexington Avenue & East 68th Street
Manhattan, New York
on
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
from 10 a.m. to 12 noon

R.S.V.P. for this BALI event at:  (212) 566-0188

Event Host:
Liz J. Abzug, Bella's youngest daughter and BALI Chairperson


BALI's Women Honorees:  
* =new= Councilmember Melissa M. Viverito (Manhattan #8)
* =new= Councilmember Rosie L. Mendez (Manhattan #2)
* =new= Councilmember Jessica S. Lappin (Manhattan #5)
* =new= Councilmember Inez E. Dickens (Manhattan #9)
* =new= Councilmember Darlene Mealy (Brooklyn #41)

Special BALI Speakers:
Gloria Steinem, Feminist Activist
Jennifer Raab, Hunter College President
Lesley Gore, Singer/Songwriter
Margarita Lopez, Former N.Y.C. Councilmember
Robin Morgan, Friend of Bella!
BALI high school recipients from N.Y.C.

Representing the STONEWALL Veterans' Association at the aforementioned BALI event is its director Williamson Henderson in addition to S.V.A. officers Bert Coffman, Storme DeLarverie, Leigh McManus, Ruthybird Campbell and Dave West plus S.V.A. assistant AnDre M. Christie.

   


   
 

2007

BALI National Women's and Girl's Conference

Saturday, November 10th, and Sunday, November 11th, 2007
Hunter College
New York, New York

BALI Concert on Saturday evening @ 8 p.m.
* Lesley Gore -- a favorite Stonewall singer
* Helen Hooke & The Honey Bees
* Sandy Rapp
* Pink Royale
* Mobley



 
    
2010

Annual Bella & Bella Fella Awards

Wednesday, April 7th
@ 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

City Hall Restaurant
137 Duane Street
Manhattan, N.Y.





  
Bella Abzug Leadership Institute 
Suite 1233-E
695 Park Avenue
Manhattan, New York
U.S.A.  10021
telephone:  (212) 650-3071
e-mail:  info@AbzugInstitute.org
Bella Abzug Leadership Institute website:  

www.AbzugInstitute.org


 

 


13 November
2012
Remembering Helen A. Henderson

*



Candl02.gif (3436 bytes)

Candl02.gif (3436 bytes)

Home

Prominent
Supporters