Lois Sasson on Bella Abzug

“She was first — she was always first.”

Bella Abzug was one of the fiercest warriors for social justice in the 20th Century, fighting for Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Environmental Equity, and Peace before any of those causes were part of mainstream culture. “She was first, she was always first.” says her good friend Lois Sasson who tells us the story of Bella’s remarkable life. Born in New York City, Bella Abzug became a lawyer in 1945 and immediately went to work on labor rights, tenants rights, and Civil Rights cases. She was one of the few attorneys willing to combat the McCarthy era House Un-American Activities Committee; she was one of the first members of Congress to vocally support Gay Rights with the Equality Act of 1974; and her support for the ERA and women’s rights is legendary. Throughout her long life Bella Abzug was an outspoken advocate for equity and justice on every front, resulting in her nickname “Battling Bella”.

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.

Storyteller

Lois Sasson

Lois Sasson was a jewelry designer and activist for gay rights and women’s rights. Ms. Sasson was part of a power couple in those arenas — her partner of 33 years was Lesley Gore, the singer of many1960s hits. Ms. Sasson never made the headlines for feminist and other causes she supported, but those who did viewed her as a vital presence. Ms. Sasson’s support for social justice causes was often reflected in her high-end jewelry, including bracelets that spelled out “Sisterhood Is Global” and “Visible and Powerful.” as well as early depictions of the AIDS ribbon in gold with proceeds going to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “We must come out to believe in something bigger than safe and comfortable lifestyles,” Ms. Sasson told Curve, the lesbian community magazine, in 2019. “Everyone has to look in the mirror and decide what it is they want to be remembered for.” Ms. Sasson died on Dec. 30, 2020 in Manhattan. She was 80. The cause was Covid-19.

Featured Woman

Bella Abzug

Known for her big hats and an even bigger voice, Bella Abzug left her mark on U.S. politics as a women’s rights champion, bold antiwar activist, and outspoken supporter of Gay rights and environmental justice. She gained notoriety as one of the most colorful and controversial House Members during the 1970s. Once quoted as saying “women have been trained to talk softly and carry a lipstick”—a play on Theodore Roosevelt’s famous declaration that America “should speak softly and carry a big stick”—the determined New York Congresswoman spent much of her life refuting the notion that women should remain on the political sidelines. Despite serving in Congress for only three terms, Abzug’s political flair and unwavering commitment helped inspire an entire generation of women and created a new model for future Congresswomen.