Interview with Bella Abzug, April 27, 1997. “They Thought I was the Secretary.”

 

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In this passage from a 1997 interview, Bella Abzug remembers attitudes she faced as a young lawyer. Experiences such as these reinforced her already strong commitment to working for equal rights and opportunities for women.

FROM THE INTERVIEW:

When I went to represent my law firm anywhere — I was a young kid just out of college — I said, “How do you do? I’m Bella Abzug from the law firm of such and such,” and people would say, “Yes, fine, fine, sit down.” So I’d wait and nothing much would happen, so finally I’d clear my throat and say, “I’m Bella Abzug from the law firm of such and such,” and they’d say, “Yes, we know, but we’re waiting.” I’d say, “What are we waiting for?” And they’d say, “We’re waiting for the lawyer.” They thought I was the secretary. So I had this identity crisis. I went home and discussed it with my husband, Martin. In those days professional women wore hats — and gloves, so I put on gloves and a hat. And every time I went anywhere for business, with the hat and gloves, they knew I was there for business. And I jokingly often say, as you can see, I’ve taken off the gloves. But I like wearing hats and I continue to wear it. When I ran for Congress and got to Washington, they made such a fuss about the hat instead of what was under it that I didn’t know whether they wanted me to take it off or keep it on. I decided that they wanted me to take it off, which made me determined to keep it on.

RIGHTS OWNER: Global Education Motivators.

Translation:

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Why did people think Abzug was the secretary, rather than the lawyer, when she went on professional visits early in her legal career?
2. What would you have done in the same situation, to show your qualifications?
3. What did the hat and gloves Abzug wore originally signify? Why did she decide to continue wearing the hat?
4. What do you think needed to change for Abzug or other women in professions to be taken seriously? Do you think women continue to face similar situations today?

For more information on Bella Abzug, see the Jewish Women’s Archive "Women of Valor" exhibit at http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/abzug

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