About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 12, 2019

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for this afternoon’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from Professor Leandra Zarnow about her new book, Battling Bella: The Protest Politics of Bella Abzug, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up next week here in the McGowan Theater.

Tonight at 7 p.m., we’ll have a special program celebrating the U.S. Bill of Rights as an inspiration to the world. In anticipation of Bill of Rights Day on December 15, a panel of scholars and authors will explore the unique history of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the ways in which it has influenced national constitutions around the world from 1791 to today.

And tomorrow at noon, author Tammy R. Vigil will tell us about her new book, Melania and Michelle: First Ladies in a New Era, which explores how each woman has crafted her public image and used her platform to influence the country, while also serving as a paragon of fashion and American womanhood.

To keep informed about events throughout the year, check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

Tonight’s discussion is part of a series of programs related to our recently opened exhibit, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.

Rightfully Hers commemorates the centennial of the 19th Amendment and tells the story of women’s struggle for voting rights as a critical step toward equal citizenship. The exhibit explores how American women across the spectrum of race, ethnicity, and class advanced the cause of suffrage and follows the struggle for voting rights beyond 1920.

The decades-long fight for the vote in the 19th and early 20th centuries engaged large numbers of women in the political process. Once the national vote was won, women continued their civic engagement by running for seats on county boards, statehouses, and the United States Congress.

In the first Congress after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, three women sat in the House of Representatives. When Bella Abzug took her seat 50 years later, she was one of 13 women in the House. Although part of a small minority in the chamber, Abzug made herself heard.

Like the women who fought for the right to vote in the first decades of the 20th century, Abzug also was the target of criticism and derision. Her vocal support for controversial causes caused friction not only with the opposition but within her own party. She acknowledged that many might call her “brash and overbearing,” but she was always “ a very serious woman.

She was a true heir of the suffragists, and through her own actions paved the way for other women to take their place in the political arena.

Now let’s bring up Professor Zarnow and learn more about “Battling Bella.”

Leandra Zarnow is an assistant professor in the Department of History and affiliated faculty in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Houston. She is a specialist in modern U.S. women’s political, legal, and intellectual history with additional interests in media history and transnational women's activism. Winner of the 2010 Judith Lee Ridge Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians, her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Woodrow Wilson Foundation, among others. A government major at Smith College, she dates her interest in exploring the links between social movement organizing and power politics to her earliest internships at the White House and the Immigration Women Project of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Leandra Zarnow.