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Women's Equality Day, August 26, 2007: Here's to you, Bella!

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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. U.S. Representative, Bella Abzug (D-NY)

According to the Jewish Women's Archive Bella Savitsky was "born yelling" in 1920, the year women won the right to vote.

A daughter of Russian immigrants, she grew up poor in the Bronx. At tuition free Hunter College, Bella was student body president . She won a scholarship to Columbia University Law School, where she became one of the few women law students in the nation.

She married Martin Abzug, raised two daughters, and worked as a lawyer for twenty-five years, specializing in labor law, tenants' rights, civil rights and liberties cases. During the McCarthy era, she was one of the few attorneys who fought against the House Un-American Activities Committee

In the 1960's, Abzug helped start the nationwide Women Strike For Peace (WSP), in response to U.S.and Soviet nuclear testing. After that, she became an important voice against the Vietnam War.

Making a connection between feminism and peace, Bella said: "Sometimes I'm asked when I became a feminist, and I usually answer, 'The day I was born.' If I was born a rebel, I attribute it to my family heritage. My father, Emanuel Savitzky, fled to the United States from Czarist Russia when the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 broke out. He hated war."

In 1970, at the age of 50, Bella Abzug ran for congress in Manhattan and won on a strong feminist and peace platform. She quickly became a nationally known legislator, one of only 12 women in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Congress, she was especially noted for her work for the Equal Rights Amendment, national day care centers, ending sex discrimination, and working mothers' priorities.

In 1971, she instituted Women's Equality Day on August 26th, commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave U.S. women full voting rights in 1920. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world's first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. The observance of Women's Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women's continuing efforts toward full equality.

After three terms in Congress, Abzug gave up her seat in 1976 to run for an all male Senate , but lost the democratic primary by less than one percent.

In 1990, Bella co-founded the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), an international activist and advocacy network. As WEDO president, She became an influential leader at the United Nations and at UN world conferences, working to empower women around the globe.

Bella Abzug gave her final public speech before the UN in March of 1998, and died soon after, at the age of 77.

Celebrate Women's Equality Day this year, and remember Bella Abzug and her words of wisdom: "Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over."

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