National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1970-1987: We wrestle with our democratic freedoms, arguing issues old and new

November 3, 1970
Long-time civil rights activist Bella Abzug becomes first Jewish woman elected to Congress

Bella Abzug

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)

She Battled For Women’s Rights

Bella Savitsky Abzug was “born yelling” in the Bronx, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She was giving speeches by age 13. Abzug earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1947. During the McCarthy era, she was among the few attorneys willing to confront the House Un-American Activities Committee, defending the First Amendment rights of individuals suspected of disloyalty.

At age 50, Abzug – wearing trademark flamboyant hats – was one of 12 women elected to the House of Representatives. The next year, 1971, she teamed up with Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisolm to found the National Women’s Political Caucus. After three terms in the House, Abzug ran for the Senate. She lost and, despite later efforts, never again held elective office.

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