Resource

Life Story: Bella Abzug (1920-1998)

Outspoken congresswoman and women’s rights leader.

This resource is adapted from the New-York Historical Society’s The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 curriculum.

Bella Abzug in New York rallying support for George McGovern and demanding a ceasefire in Vietnam

Dorothy Marder, Bella Abzug in New York rallying support for George McGovern and demanding a ceasefire in Vietnam, 1972. Photograph. Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

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“Bella! for Congress” Pin-back button

“Bella! for Congress” Pin-back button, 1972. Columbia Advertising Company (maker). New-York Historical Society, Gift of Toni Ellen Heisler.

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Athletes carrying a torch that had been relayed from Seneca Falls, New York, to Houston to open the First National Women’s Conference

Athletes Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, and Michelle Cearcy carrying a torch that had been relayed from Seneca Falls, New York, to Houston to open the First National Women’s Conference; they are accompanied by Billie Jean King, Susan B. Anthony, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan, 1977. Bettye Lane / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. © Estate of Bettye Lane

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Hat

Hat. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Judge Emily Jane Goodman.

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Suggested Activities

  • Pair Bella’s life story with that of Phyllis Schlafly. Each woman’s career culminated in leading a major political event in Houston in 1977. Invite students to look at the story of the ERA and the National Women’s Conference from two perspectives.
  • Invite students to think like a curator and create a mini exhibition about Bella Abzug using the images connected to this life story. What do students learn about Bella from the her hat and pin? What do students learn about Bella from the two photographs? How can these resources be put together to tell a story about her life?
  • Learn more about Bella’s involvement in the Vietnam War by reading a different version of her life story in the New-York Historical Society curriculum guide, The Vietnam War, 1945–1975.
  • Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, and Patsy Mink were founders of the National Political Women’s Caucus. Review their respective resources in WAMS and encourage students to think about what each woman brought to this organization and their motivations for participating.
  • Center a lesson on the photograph of Bella, Billie Jean King, and Betty Friedan participating in the torch relay at the National Women’s Conference. Read the life story for each woman and closely study the image. How does each woman represent different aspects of the movement? What did each bring to the conference? What other perspectives would students want to include in this study?
  • Focus a lesson on the photograph of Shirley Chisholm speaking to the women’s caucus at the Democratic National Convention in 1972. The image includes Bella, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan. Review their respective resources in WAMS and consider what each woman might have been thinking about in that moment.
  • Compare Bella’s life story to two other Congresswomen featured in this unit: Helen Gahagan Douglas and Patsy Mink. How did each women build a career in a male-dominated House?

Themes

AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; POWER AND POLITICS; ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE

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