Bella Savitsky Abzug ("Bella!") was born on Hoe Avenue in The
City, on the 24th of July (as in "the 4th of July") 1920 -- the
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
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
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!"
the prior, amazingly successful efforts of Bella! -- who prolonged
Willie's life for over five years -- in 1951, Willie was unjustifiably
("state-sponsored murder"). The entire horrible experience
understandably took a terrible toll on Bella!
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! on a campaign stop in 1978
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!
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
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
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
official who was requested to speak),
former Congressmember and Vice President candidate Geraldine
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.
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
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!
ABZUG LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE ("BALI")
"Inaugural Press Conference"
"First Annual Breakfast"
Lexington Avenue & East 68th Street
Manhattan, New York
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
from 10 a.m. to 12 noon
R.S.V.P. for this BALI event at: (212) 566-0188
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.
BALI National Women's and Girl's ConferenceSaturday, November 10th, and Sunday, November 11th, 2007
Bella Abzug Leadership Institute
695 Park Avenue
Manhattan, New York
telephone: (212) 650-3071
Bella Abzug Leadership Institute website:
Remembering Helen A. Henderson