Our Mothers Ourselves

Bella Abzug -- A Woman's Place is in The House. A Conversation with Liz Abzug.

August 18, 2020 Liz Abzug Season 2 Episode 1
Our Mothers Ourselves
Bella Abzug -- A Woman's Place is in The House. A Conversation with Liz Abzug.
Chapters
Our Mothers Ourselves
Bella Abzug -- A Woman's Place is in The House. A Conversation with Liz Abzug.
Aug 18, 2020 Season 2 Episode 1
Liz Abzug


This is the first of a three-part series published over the course of three weeks, honoring the 100th anniversary of the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. 

A Woman's Place is in The House (the title refers to Abzug's famous campaign slogan) celebrates Bella Abzug, a lawyer, Congresswoman and leader in the fight for women's rights. She was Gloria Steinem's mentor, and worked as a labor and civil rights lawyer. Fresh out of Columbia Law School in 1945, she spent four years defending Willie McGee, a young Black man in Laurel, Mississippi who had been convicted of raping a white woman.

Katie speaks with Bella Abzug’s daughter Liz Abzug, about her mother’s childhood; Bella’s own parents, who immigrated from Russia; what it was like to have a mother like Bella Abzug; and the issues surrounding women’s rights that
remain unresolved half a century later.

Liz and Katie also listen to clips from Harvey Fierstein's 2019 one-person play, "Bella Bella," (now an Audible Original), directed by the marvelous Kimberly Senior, as well as clips of Abzug herself from the 1970s, speaking on the women's movement.

Liz Abzug founded and runs the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, which inspires and trains young women to become leaders in the fight for social equality. 

Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Show Notes Transcript


This is the first of a three-part series published over the course of three weeks, honoring the 100th anniversary of the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. 

A Woman's Place is in The House (the title refers to Abzug's famous campaign slogan) celebrates Bella Abzug, a lawyer, Congresswoman and leader in the fight for women's rights. She was Gloria Steinem's mentor, and worked as a labor and civil rights lawyer. Fresh out of Columbia Law School in 1945, she spent four years defending Willie McGee, a young Black man in Laurel, Mississippi who had been convicted of raping a white woman.

Katie speaks with Bella Abzug’s daughter Liz Abzug, about her mother’s childhood; Bella’s own parents, who immigrated from Russia; what it was like to have a mother like Bella Abzug; and the issues surrounding women’s rights that
remain unresolved half a century later.

Liz and Katie also listen to clips from Harvey Fierstein's 2019 one-person play, "Bella Bella," (now an Audible Original), directed by the marvelous Kimberly Senior, as well as clips of Abzug herself from the 1970s, speaking on the women's movement.

Liz Abzug founded and runs the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, which inspires and trains young women to become leaders in the fight for social equality. 

Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Intro :

My mother was a woman of tremendous integrity. My mother was curious, sensitive, compassionate, honest, always there for us, unflappable, loyal, complicated, she is devoted, resilient, dazzling, giving, vivacious extraordinary.

Liz Abzug :

The professor from the back of the room says, "Hey Abzug. Where the heck are your mother's balls?" I said, "I wasn't aware that she had any balls."

Katie Hafner :

Hello, and welcome to Our Mothers Ourselves. Today kicks off a three-part series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. This first episode is an interview with Liz Abzug. She's the daughter of Bella Abzug. Bella served three terms in Congress, and she was a key figure in the Women's Movement in the 1970s. She was one of very few women get a law degree in the 1940s. And she had a deep commitment not just to women's rights, but to civil rights. And she was well ahead of her time in advocating for gay rights. She died in 1998. And yes, she often wore a hat. Liz Abzug is the founder and executive director of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute. Liz Abzug, thank you so much for coming on to Our Mothers Ourselves to talk to me about your amazing mother.

Liz Abzug :

You're welcome!

Katie Hafner :

To start off, if you had one word to describe your mother, what would it be? And it can't be "hat?"

Liz Abzug :

It wouldn't be "hat." Okay. Okay. Outstanding.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. As in a standout and outstanding.

Liz Abzug :

Right, exactly.

Katie Hafner :

I like that. So let's jump right in to her life. She was born July 24, 1920.

Liz Abzug :

Mm hmm.

Katie Hafner :

She was would have celebrated her hundredth birthday this past July. And it also happens to coincide with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Liz Abzug :

Yes, she was very proud to be born in 1920. The year that suffrage and women won the right to vote.

Katie Hafner :

So she was born in New York?

Liz Abzug :

Yes, in the Bronx.

Katie Hafner :

In the Bronx. And tell me about her parents. And her, her maiden name was...

Liz Abzug :

Savitsky. Our parents were Russian immigrants. Our father was a character, both of them actually very strong. The father opened up a business called The Live and Let Live Meat Market on 9th Avenue and 39th Street, which was pretty funny.

Katie Hafner :

So speaking of which, that's a segue straight into this first clip, which is the Harvey Fierstein play that he produced in wrote...

Liz Abzug :

And and that I was a consulting producer, and worked with him over a year!

Katie Hafner :

It is, I was laughing so hard I last night and I was playing clips. So I'm, I've just cued up this, this one little clip that takes place in 1976. It was the Democratic primary for Senate.

Liz Abzug :

United, yeah. For United States Senate. She was the first woman to run for US Senate, New York.

Katie Hafner :

She lost by just a hair, and the entire play takes place when she's waiting for the results. And she basically gives the audience her entire life story. I would advise people to run, not walk to their computer and download this. It's an Audible original. Here we go:

Harvey Fierstein :

You may not consider the Bronx a haven for political activism. But where do you think revolutions begin? I was raised to fight the establishment. Resistance was in my blood. We wore black armbands to protest World War One. I knit woolen caps for Russian soldiers. My father opened his butcher shop in Hell's Kitchen, in an act of protest against the imperialist powers of World War One. He named the place The Live and Let Live Meat Market.

Katie Hafner :

Hahaha!

Liz Abzug :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So...

Liz Abzug :

Let me, can I just add something here?

Katie Hafner :

Please do.

Liz Abzug :

Many of the lines are based on her exact lines. In other words, her exact statements are exact quips that he used and integrated into his great, you know, script.

Katie Hafner :

And The Live and Let Live Meat Market, so remind me what "live and let live" refers to?

Liz Abzug :

Well, he was he felt guilty in a way, a man about having a business on one hand. I mean, my my grandparents came here thinking that the pathway for Jewish people, they should have equal access and as well as all other immigrant and minority groups. And so I think that he was sort of feeling guilty about setting up a for-profit business. But on the other hand, he knew that he had to do it. And I think he just liked the irony of the name. He was a funny guy. My grandfather was a funny guy. I didn't know him. He died before I was born. Because he died early on when my mother was thirteen years old. But-

Katie Hafner :

And how, how about your grandmother? Did you know her?

Liz Abzug :

Oh, I knew were very well. She died in my second year of law school. She was quite the driven- You know, she raised both of her kids, my mother and my aunt, as a single parent. Got them both to go to Columbia, my mother to Columbia Law, my aunt to the fine arts program at Columbia. But she was very driven, and she drove them to be the best that they could be in all aspects of their lives.

Katie Hafner :

And this brings us to the second clip, you were just segwaying perfectly for me. This is from Harvey too. This I just love. Here we go:

Harvey Fierstein :

She made a lunch for me to take every day of law school. An entire pound of liverwurst between two slices of bread. And you eat it all! You need the iron! On graduation day I stood before her, so proud in my cap and gown. She smiled and said, "Oy. Lawyers work so hard. You should have been an actress."

Katie Hafner :

So your your grandmother basically raised your mother and her sister to be the best they could be. And your mother, she thought the only way to change the world was to be a lawyer. Is that right?

Liz Abzug :

That's correct.

Katie Hafner :

So she applies to Harvard Law School. They said, "Thanks but no thanks. we don't take women." So then she got a full scholarship to Columbia.

Liz Abzug :

That's right. That's right.

Katie Hafner :

Okay, so your parents got married in 1944. And your mom met your dad, Martin Abzug. Who your mother, as played by Harvey, likes to call "my darling Martin." They met on a bus in Miami?

Liz Abzug :

That's correct. And my my father, they were both on the bus in Miami. Both on break, vacation from their various lives. And my father started reciting Shakespearean poetry to my mother. I mean, he fell in love with her kind of at first sight. My mother thought he was totally crazy to be doing that. But somehow he managed to get, I guess, at the end of the bus ride her number. You know, to call her after that.

Katie Hafner :

Mm. And it sounds like it was a just a wonderful love affair, from beginning to end.

Liz Abzug :

Yes, it was. I mean, they were soulmates. You know what I mean?

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Liz Abzug :

You know, was intellectually an emotional soul connection. And he was incredibly, obviously, supportive of her career. As she was of his. As a writer, a novelist, and then you know, a finance guy. A stockbroker.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. I read somewhere that he once said, you know, this politics stuff is kind of Greek to me but absolutely supported her 1,000%.

Liz Abzug :

Yes, he did.

Katie Hafner :

Well, actually, let's, let's before I ask you about your childhood, I wanted to.. We've got to sort of get in and out of the hats pretty quickly. And it cannot go unaddressed.

Liz Abzug :

Oy.

Katie Hafner :

And, but this is a fun, this is a funny way to do it. Which is, in the Harvey Fierstein play, he, or she, talks about what appear to be the origins of the hats.

Harvey Fierstein :

I'd say "Hellooo! I'm Bella Abzug, I'm here with the law firm of so and so," and then we'd sit in silence. Again I say, "Hellooo! I'm Bella Abzug, I'm at the law firm of so and so." "Yes. We heard you. We're waiting for the lawyer." Well, at that time, only 2% of the Bar was women. So to them, I must have been a secretary or a clerk. But then my darling Martin's suggested that a secretary would never appear in a hat and gloves. Only a professional woman would. So from then on, if I was on duty, I wore a hat and gloves. Believe me, no one tells a woman wearing a hat and gloves can fetch them a cup of coffee. You ask Jackie Kennedy.

Liz Abzug :

The only thing is, what he leaves out there. What he leaves out there is that the line in truth, which she always said is, I kept the hat on in subsequent years, but I took off the gloves.

Katie Hafner :

Hahaha! Clearly, she was a role model.

Liz Abzug :

Sure was, yeah.

Katie Hafner :

So tell me what it was like to be a kid in that household.

Liz Abzug :

And so the first thirteen years of my life, I lived, we lived in Mount Vernon, New York, which is an inter- integrated suburb, you know, bedroom community of New York. And so everybody there, my friends, most of their mothers never worked. You know, mothers took care of the house and the children. And so when my parents both were commuting into the city every day, my mother wasn't there. They were really sort of surprised. And they used to make fun of it in a way. Because we also at that time, in order to, to really run the household, we had a housekeeper. Who was more like a second mother to me, who lived with us for twenty one years, actually, from the time she started, and... Alice. She was a big, you know, African American woman from the South. So the kids would see her calling me for dinner, and they would say, you know, "Who is that?" They really, you know, sort of couldn't get over that my mother, you know, wasn't there and around, you know, every day. I knew I had a mother that was definitely not like every other mother of my friends are. And then, and many mothers even beyond my own friends' mothers, you know. She was very unusual, and I knew this is something different I had to deal with.

Katie Hafner :

What year did she first decide to run for Congress?

Liz Abzug :

1970. It was '69-'70, because obviously she ran in '70. She had been supporting all these different men in very significant ways. And she said, "Why should I do that? I should, you know, take the position myself and craft legislation and fight for the people."

Katie Hafner :

You know, I'd like to play something where we hear a little bit of her own words. It's a neighborhood rally, or speech that she's giving. Here we go:

Bella Abzug :

The Women's Movement is something real. It's not some intellectual, upper middle class thing that people try to make it. It's our problems. It's ours. It's us. It's on today. And more than today, it's on tomorrow. We come together for today, because we have to build a tomorrow for ourselves, for our neighborhoods, and for our kids. And their neighborhoods, and their hopes, and their future. In the neighborhood, in the city, in the state, and in the country.

Katie Hafner :

Wow.

Liz Abzug :

Yeah.

Katie Hafner :

And to say, "this is, this is our future. We need to do this for our kids."

Liz Abzug :

Yeah well, let, one thing. Many things. But one of the things that was so great about my mother is that she was always ahead of her time. She was prescient about things. She also believed that the future must be better than current or past, and that she wanted to make sure that particularly youth and others would be inheriting a planet where they could then you know, fight for, and complete the movement of social justice and feminism. And she was really that way. That's why she always a lot of young people around her, working for her. Until the end of her life, you know.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. In watching the, the series, Mrs. America. Episode Seven, which is titled "Bella," she comes across as very much the peacemaker. Kind of this diplomatic approach. That was the sense I got from it.

Liz Abzug :

Yeah. That's, and that is true. That depiction was totally true. I mean, what was left that, Margo Martindale did a great job. And she studied hard. I mean, I can tell you that she really studied her mannerisms, my mother's walk. That segment did capture that part of my mother. Trying to bring everybody together. And in the Women's Movement in particular, because there was always, you know, some dissension among the ranks. And so she was very good at that, because she was very intelligent and perceptive about how you can, you know, you need to bring everybody together. To create change, you need to be someone who pulls people together and to be a leader.

Katie Hafner :

In this little segment, she goes to Gloria Steinem's place. And your mother starts to talk about, about the Willie McGee case. Why don't you describe the Willie McGee case and then I'll...

Liz Abzug :

This case totally informed the rest of her life. Politically, Movement-wise, as a leader in the Feminist Movement. And here's what the case was. Don't forget. When she did this, she had just graduated Columbia. She was probably, you know, twenty six, seven years old. And she was a newly practicing lawyer. And what happened is this group, National Civil rights group called the Civil Rights Congress came to her. They had heard that this young upstart, incredible lawyer, who was arguing, you know, rape, litigating rape cases, on labor law, and some Civil Rights stuff. They came to her and they said, "Would you go to the South? Because we need someone to represent a black man." That was Willie McGee, who was accused of raping a white woman who he had a consensual relationship with. And my mother said to them, at first, "I can't go the South, I know nothing about it." And they said, "Yeah, but you are an incredible litigator. You really care about Civil Rights for blacks. And you need to go. We need you!" Because the local lawyers there were all getting very harassed, and he had locals whereas this was Laurel, Mississippi. It was the height of Jim Crow. And the white lawyers who were representing Willie down there live down there, and they were afraid for their lives. So for the appeal, they brought, you know, mom came in. And she worked with the lawyer, the local lawyers, and she stayed on that case for four year. When she went there to get, to go into court to represent him, right, to go back and forth to New York to Laurel. The local people would not even give her a hotel room because they knew she was this, you know, white Jewish lawyer from the North coming down to represent Willie. So one night, she even had a sit up in in the bathroom stall of a bus station, women's bathroom stall. To set up in there because she couldn't get a hotel room. And she, next morning, you know, got up, washed her face and hands-

Katie Hafner :

Oh my god.

Liz Abzug :

And went in to court to represent him! It was really hard time for her. And another part of it was that she at one point she was eight months pregnant. And near the end of the case, she argued that case up to the state court, to the Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court. She, they wrote a petition of exoneration to the then President Truman, which he rejected. The case was remanded to the state court, and then the local court, and- He was executed. But one of the times that my mother was really involved in the case, she had been pregnant. Eight months pregnant. And she actually had a miscarriage at eight months because she was so, you know, shaken apart. And my father was, of course very, very scared. Because he thought every time she went down there, you know, the Ku Klux Klan or what we're gonna get her!

Katie Hafner :

Well, let's play this clip. This is Margo Martindale as your mother talking to Gloria Steinem.

Margo Martindale :

I was eight months pregnant. When I went down to Jackson. It was the first Supreme Court petition I'd ever written. It was my first trip to the South. It was the first time I got a death threat. They said Willie McGee's white woman lawyer should be executed along with him in the electric chair. The whole time I was scared shitless. I lost the baby. Stress, the doctor said. They got to me.

Katie Hafner :

So when you were a kid, did she push you? To do well, or to do good, or-

Liz Abzug :

To do good, and to do well, absolutely. To fight for justice, social justice, and positive change always. To fight for what, against what was injustice always. To speak up against it always. From a little kid, you know, that's why- In fact, you know, in the old days. Back then, when they did drills to, you know, train the kids how to, you know, if there was a nuclear bomb that was dropped. You know, how they used to tell kids go into your desk, which is ridiculous! Ridiculous, totally ridiculous. And at one point, they did it in my classroom, or against the wall, you know, come out of the class and put your arms over your head and protect your head and stand you know, flat against the wall. But they did this thing with the desks, you know, the teacher said, you know, "go up under your desks." And I got up and said, "I'm not ducking under the desk! That's not going to save us if they drop a nuclear bomb here!" And she brought me to the principal's office, and the principal called my mother and said, "You know, this is what happened, you know, we want to suspend you know, your kid." And my mother was laughing hysterically. And she said, "Don't be ridiculous. You're gonna suspend her over something that she has the right to express? I mean, I think it's incredible. I think it's great. And if you do suspend her, I support. I'm still gonna say the same thing!"

Katie Hafner :

Do you remember, what's your earliest memory of what your parents believed in and fought for?

Liz Abzug :

Well my mother represented a lot of the actors and writers when they went before the Committee.

Katie Hafner :

The House Un-American-

Liz Abzug :

The House Un-American Activities Committee. And you know, she represented Pete Seeger. She even represented Einstein very briefly. He was called before the Committee. And, you know, she also there was taking big risks. Because, you know, they were, they would accuse, probably accuse her of being communist. And they did actually, both of my parents at different times. And so-

Katie Hafner :

Your mother had an FBI file-

Liz Abzug :

That's right.

Katie Hafner :

And she was worried the CIA was tapping her phone, right?

Liz Abzug :

She was, until the end of her life, by the way. She used to tell me when we would talk about anything that was really personal or controversial. She said, "oh let's not talk on the phone about it."

Katie Hafner :

Wow.

Liz Abzug :

And I actually I saw her FBI file, because she got it under the Freedom of Information Act. So actually... Which was her bill, by the way. The Freedom of Information Act was a bill that she introduced to the Congress, that was passed. The "Sunshine" Law.

Katie Hafner :

Let me just say on behalf of every journalist I know, we thank you so much. And, and she was the first with so many things. I mean, she was the first to call for Nixon's impeachment, right?

Liz Abzug :

That's right. That's right. She was was just elected, newly elected to Congress. And in her second month, she stood on the Capitol steps to call for his impeachment. Nixon's impeachment over the war in Vietnam. That takes a lot of guts, man. you know?

Katie Hafner :

You probably wouldn't have traded her for any other mother.

Liz Abzug :

Well, you know, later in life when I was in college. And, you know, publicity she was getting. That was not always great for my sister and I, I'll tell you. If you were, you know, doing the kids thing that you do in college. I mean, you know, you had to be careful kind of what you were doing. Because you knew that, you know, it would get out eventually in some kind of article.

Katie Hafner :

And it wasn't just the celebrity, but also the political leanings. You had to worry about those who didn't agree.

Liz Abzug :

Yeah, but my mother was- And father, okay, I'm not gonna leave him out here.

Katie Hafner :

Darling Martin, my darling Martin!

Liz Abzug :

Darling Martin, yeah. I mean, you know, they were smart enough to know, and committed enough to their, you know, lives, and their political views, and their social justice views, to transmit to us that, you know, you stand up for what you believe in. You know, you stick to your principles. You, it's okay as long as you're clear on it, and you have integrity. And the way you communicate it, you know, is with dignity. And that you're not beating up on anybody else while you're doing it. Necessarily be, you know. So if someone was going to, as they did, you know, fight against what we were saying. Or disputed, or, you know, think poorly of it. I, you know, that's one thing my parents are very clear on and instilled in us. That you just stand by what you believe, And you don't give up on your principles. You just don't.

Katie Hafner :

So is there something that you didn't realize about your mom until you were an adult?

Liz Abzug :

Uh... hm. That's a hard question to answer, actually.

Katie Hafner :

Well, let me just help you along here. I think that, you know, when we're kids, they just loom so large. I don't know about you. But I remember, actually my father, who was a brilliant physicist and musicologist, and I just thought nothing could ever happen to him. And he said to me once that he was worried about cancer. And I thought, how could you? Because your're, nothing can happen to you! I think that, to me was epiphanous. And I've always sort of felt very bad about that. That I didn't want to allow him to be fallible in any way?

Liz Abzug :

Right.

Katie Hafner :

Or scared of anything?

Liz Abzug :

Right. So I mean, my mother was a lot more sensitive than what she led everybody to believe, you know.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Liz Abzug :

And as we got older, as I got older, we got closer. And she was hurt by a lot of things that was said to her. There's no question about it. But I don't think many people realized that. That she really suffered hurt when there was negativity lodged against her about her political views or her weight, you know, later in life. And she was very sensitive. And when my father died in 1986. In the middle of her last political campaign for Congress, my father had a massive heart attack, right? And he died during that election, before the primary. Right before she was, you know, going to be the primary. And she turned out to, you know, be victorious in that, but she was devastated. And never the same, by the way. Her friends always commented on it. She was just different. It just impacted her so deeply. I mean, she couldn't function the same way as- That was clear to us.

Katie Hafner :

What do you think she make of what's going on today? Dare I even bring it up?

Liz Abzug :

Yeah, really. You know, it's obvious. I mean, she would have been calling for his impeachment, by the way, right away. Right away. I mean soon, probably in the first year of his presidency, before he got to be the dictator and crazy man that we see today. And she would have figured out, you know, other procedural ways in which to organize, you know, the Democrats. And to try to push the investigations, and to open up the records much faster. Because that's who she was. I mean, she was a brilliant tactician, as a lawyer and otherwise.

Katie Hafner :

I wanted to ask you to tell me about what you do.

Liz Abzug :

I've been a lawyer. I was a professor for many years at Barnard and Columbia, where I taught Urban Studies and women in Leadership. And then, a couple of years after my mother died, in 1998. I said, I want to make a living legacy to all her work. And so I formed a not for profit organization which is named after her called the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute. Where we, where we train and try to inspire young women in high school, actually middle school, high school college, to grab the mantle of leadership. We train them in leadership skills and in debate. Because I wanted to carry on her work. And my work as an activist, feminist, gay rights person, you know, activist. To the next generation. To the current generation, and then, and have that last in their thinking. And have them complete the work of, you know, equality.

Katie Hafner :

So she, she died in 1998. She was 77. Did you get to say goodbye to her?

Liz Abzug :

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, she was- The story that is very important to know, she was- The day before we took her to the hospital, before she actually died a couple weeks later. She was in the UN making a speech in the, you know, to the delegation, actually. To, in before the Secretariat, on you know, Women's Platform for Action. And, you know, it's like an hour and a half speech. And as she continues this speech, you can hear that she's sort of not having, you know, her breath was compromised. So we took her out of there, right from there, the UN, to the hospital. And she needed a valve replacement and she had needed it for a long time. And she said, "I'm not going to do that. I have too much work. I'm going to leave. I know this. She told me." Her doctor, he said, "You're not leaving, you have to have this now. Your oxygenation in your blood is so low that if you leave you're gonna die. Right away." So she then had the operation, and she was in intensive care for two weeks after that. So the truth is we had a lot of time to say goodbye. She died too young, Katie, she died too young. You see people in politics, you know, who worked like she did. You know, seven days a week, you know, these eighteen hour days. It really wore her down.

Katie Hafner :

Is there anything I haven't heard from you about what it was like to be the daughter of Bella Abzug? That you might want to tell me?

Liz Abzug :

The pressure was high, you know? The expectations were very high for me.

Katie Hafner :

I bet.

Liz Abzug :

And when I was in law school-

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Liz Abzug :

Very high, very hard. When I was in college, very- Again, she was speaking at colleges all over the country, even spoke at my college! And the level, again, of expectation of my ability and studies, to excel I mean, and to be kind of out there as an activist, were very high.

Katie Hafner :

Yeah.

Liz Abzug :

And in fact-

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. And on your sister.

Liz Abzug :

My sister, she's a sculptor, and now and for many now, for many years, she's been a social worker and a therapist.

Katie Hafner :

Uh huh.

Liz Abzug :

So, and she's a lot more introverted than I am. And so it was much harder for her, even, than me. Because she's a lot more, you know, internal and, you know, not so much into being in crowds or, you know, being out there. She certainly learned to be political, and she certainly respected my mother to the hundredth degree. But it wasn't her preference.

Katie Hafner :

Did you resent the pressure? Or did you just know it came with the territory?

Liz Abzug :

Both. Totally both. So much so that I was making a little, in a class, a political science class in college. And each kid in the class had to make a presentation on something we were studying. And I was studying at that time, Russia, and I was making the presentation. And the professor asked, at the end of it asked me a question. And I really didn't know the answer to that question. I was hesitant, and I answered it with a very, you know, insufficient kind of meek answer because I didn't know. The professor from the back of the room says, "Hey, Abzug. Where the heck are your mother's balls?" I was a freshman in college. I mean-

Katie Hafner :

Oh my god.

Liz Abzug :

And, and, and what do you do in front of fifty other kids? You know, you're a first year student. Humiliating that was. So you know what I said? I said, "Dr. Conacolin, I wasn't aware that she had any balls." And I don't know where that came from. That was a gift from my mother on high, you know what I mean? Because it just came out. And I was lucky. And everybody, you know, my classmates were, you know, cheering and saying hooray, you know, clapping. But I mean, that just gives you an idea of the level of, you know, people's invasion and pressure towards us. and-

Katie Hafner :

Yeah. Yeah. Not just from her, obviously, but from the outside world. Expected you-

Liz Abzug :

Yeah. Yeah. And one other thing, Katie. We had to share her, you know? We had to share Bella with the world. With the women's community, with the political community. And it's not always great to feel that you're sharing your mother, you know, with the world. And that is very difficult, as it was for my sister and at times for my father.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm. But she loved you guys. I mean, that's my sense of it.

Liz Abzug :

She did. Eh, listen. There's no question. We both knew that, my sister and I. My father certainly knew it. She was, as she used to say, she was there for all of our important events and school, which she was.

Katie Hafner :

Hey.

Liz Abzug :

And I knew that, yeah.

Katie Hafner :

That's better than a lot of parents!

Liz Abzug :

No, no, I got it. And what she gave to us when she was there was just, you know, so much love. And hassle. I mean, she, you know, hassled us. But so much love and support. The best she could give, as any mother would.

Katie Hafner :

Did she send you off to school with a liverwurst sandwich?

Liz Abzug :

No, no, no. My mother, honestly? Honestly now, this is honest, inside information. She didn't cook one meal for me in my lifetime. She warmed up a meal or two, but she never cooked straight out one meal in my lifetime!

Katie Hafner :

Oh, my goodness!

Liz Abzug :

It's true. It's true. I kid you not, I'm not exaggerating. That is true. So you can imagine how I, you know, it was kind of odd. My father was not a cook either. We used eat out a lot. You know, that's cool. When I was young-

Katie Hafner :

Did Alice cook?

Liz Abzug :

Yeah, Alice, that's what I was just about to say. I mean, she was an incredible cook. So we were very fortunate in that respect. I mean that that really substituted a lot, greater than I could have ever wanted, you know.

Katie Hafner :

So in commemorating your- The centennial both of your mother's year of birth and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. We're going to end with this:

Bella Abzug :

The Women's Movement has become an indestructible part of American life. It is the homemaker deciding that raising children, cleaning and cooking, and all the other things she does for our family is worth her to be thought of respect and value. It is the young woman student asserting that she wants to play baseball, carry a torch, major in physics, or become a brain surgeon. It is the working woman demanding that she get the same pay and promotion opportunities as a man. It is a divorced woman fighting for Social Security benefits in her own right. It is the widow embarking on a new career. It is the mother organizing a daycare center. It is the battered wife seeking help. It is the woman running for public office. It's the woman on welfare looking for a decent part of American society.

Katie Hafner :

Wow.

Liz Abzug :

Wow is right, right? Let me just say this. We in this country had a National Women's Conference since the days of suffrage. And so this was a major big deal. I mean, they had, you know, twenty thousand people attend that Conference from every state and territory in the country. And my mother, who chaired it as appointed by Jimmy Carter, President Carter, was insistent that this really work on all the major issues of concern to women. And you know, it was really pretty monumental. And the other thing I want to say is, that was how many years ago? You know, forty three years ago?

Katie Hafner :

Mhm, mhm.

Liz Abzug :

And look at the things that she spoke about. It's unfinished business. Unfinished business, because all those things. Many, all those things actually, that she spoke about are still unresolved.

Katie Hafner :

Well, Liz Abzug, I want to thank you so much for doing this.

Liz Abzug :

Oh, you're welcome, Katie. I enjoyed it.

Katie Hafner :

It was entertaining. It was edifying. It was depressing.

Liz Abzug :

All of the above, right? Well, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.

Katie Hafner :

And that's it this week for Our Mothers Ourselves. Our theme song was composed and performed by Andrea Perry. Paula Mangin is our artist in residence. Elizabeth Kaye books the show, and Alice Hudson is the show's producer. A special thanks to Harvey Fierstein for just being an outright genius. Join us next week for the second installment of the 19th Ammendment series. I'll be talking to Coline Jenkins. She's the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader in the Women's Movement a century ago. Our Mothers Ourselves is a production of Odradek Studios. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Have a great week, everyone.